^^ photo from st. sebastian, when i just wanted to go to bed, but caroline was scaling the side of vending machine...^^
as mentioned here, i really appreciate it when germans let me speak german. this is because i think one of the most impolite things you can do is cut someone off in the middle of a conversation and switch to a different language. why is that offensive to me? well, i’m glad you asked.1. i have a friend who lives in spain. she is eastern european but she's dating a spanish boy and she speaks, like, 5 langauges - spanish being one of them. while ordering in a restaurant a few months ago, the waiter cut her off mid-sentence and began speaking english with her (previously, she had been ordering in spanish). mortified, she assumed her spanish wasn't good enough (even though it’s so good) and that it was inconveniencing the waiter to stoop to her level of communication, so she proceeded in english (keep in mind english is not her native language, nor is it the waiter's). halfway through the conversation, she realized that the waiter's english was so bad, he was misunderstanding half of what she said. he realized this too and his face reddened. she asked him, ''so will you let me speak to you in spanish now?''. embarrassed, he agreed.
2. story #1 reminds me of a time erica and i were on the u-bahn in vienna. now, i speak german but erica speaks german. her accent might sound american but she is never at a loss for words like i so often am. we asked an austrian girl standing next to us for the number of the ÖBB (austrian rail system). we asked her in perfect german (i mean, asking that question requies, like, level 1 german) and she replied in broken english, ''okay, you, um, you must, um, take the 1, 4, and 5 and then the, um....how do i say it in english...um, um....''. alright, maybe she was just excited to practice her english with someone but this interaction took way longer than it should have. had she told us in german, we would have understood perfectly and the conversation would have lasted 10 seconds as opposed to 2 minutes (we were in a huge rush). also, ''take'' in her mind apparently means ''dial'' or ''press'', which confused us and delayed the whole process even longer.
3. speaking of erica, we were on a train in austria later that same summer, when the food cart rolled by. she asked the man who was pushing the cart (again, in perfect german) what kind of sandwiches he had that day (again, level 1, basic german). when he began speaking in english, we exchanged a glance of “is this really happening again?” and as he was describing the menu to us in english, erica sighed, shook her head and told him never mind. he rolled the cart away and she looked at me with tears in her eyes. i mean, this man (totally unintentionally) made her cry! she said to me, “i just don’t know how my german’s going to get any better if no one will let me speak it”.
4. i know a different friend who studied french for years and then moved to paris for awhile. her french was good when she moved but after a few months it was awesome. she was trying on clothes in an h&m dressing room when she asked an employee for a different size. he interrupted her, laughed and asked in english, “are you trying to speak french?”.
5. the most recent of these stories happened shortly after i picked caroline up from the airport. i wanted to get a bagel from the munich train station and when i ordered it in german, the girl responded to me in english. feeling discouraged, annoyed and frustrated, i switched to english and told her the bagel i wanted… to go. moments later, she handed me my bagel on a plate with a fork and knife. i stood for a moment, contemplating how i was going to carry this on the train with me and wondering, so the plate and silverware are free? then i asked her in english since that was the game she wanted to play, if i could have a bag, which led to a pointless conversation that took much longer than necessary as her english wasn’t that good. my german isn’t perfect but if my german is better than your english, can we please just speak german? we’re in germany, for crying out loud. if you want to practice your english, either ask me if we can switch to english (i’ve had people do that before and when i know they just want to pratice, i’m happy to oblige!) or get a tandem partner. but i didn’t move over here to practice my english. sorry. please stop treating me like an idiot.
basically, i just wonder -- how are we supposed to practice these languages and counter the stereotype that ''americans can't speak any language other than 'amurcan' '' when we aren't allowed to try? so, my plea to you, dear europeans (not all of you, but many of you!): please think twice before switching to english and consider the possibility that doing so might be crushing someone’s self-esteem. these 5 little stories are just 5 little stories but i could write a novel of my friends’ and my experiences with this. sometimes, you might mistake us for dumb tourists, carrying around pocket language books and trying to pronounce, “where is the bathroom?” and for that reason, you switch to english, thinking you are making your lives easier. i'll offer up the benefit of the doubt; sometimes, yes, sometimes you are just trying to be helpful. but often times you’re not being helpful, you’re just being plain rude. when you roll your eyes at me and switch to english as though you can’t believe i’m hurting your ears with my non-native speaker’s accent, you’re being condescending and arrogant. i can think of more adjectives if you want. it doesn’t make me feel more comfortable or “at home” to be speaking english. it makes me feel defeated and stupid for thinking i could ever speak anything but english, so why even try? why did i go to school for 4 years to get a degree in spanish? and another degree in german? these are the questions i ask myself when i can’t order a bagel without being patronized.
normally, i’m all about austria but this is one reason i love germany and one huge difference i notice between the two countries. this is one reason why i love the germans i work with. they speak german to me. every day. even the colleagues of mine who are english teachers will wait it out if i struggle over a word and correct me when i make a mistake (i LOVE this… it’s super humbling and i learn so much this way…).