Published on July 7th, 2018 | by Ann Rickard0
I’ll be coming to you from Europe for the next couple of months. I’m happy about that…I’m going to hope you are too. (Presumptuous, yes, but stay with me.)
Surviving the long flight from Brisbane to Zurich and then on from there to Paris and Avignon in the south of France is the first step to all this European palaver and it takes a good week before my bloke and I acclimatise.
Leaving Australia in early June when darkness descends around 5pm, to arrive in Europe when dusk doesn’t even think about coming on us until around 10pm takes a little adjusting to, along with the jetlag, but we’ll cope.
How fortunate we are now that so many people on the other side of the world to us in Australia not only speak English but are happy to switch to our language to accommodate us?
Imagine us trying to do the same in our country. It’s impossible to visualise. Think about someone approaching us on the streets of Maroochydore or Caloundra and asking in their mother tongue, say French, Italian or German, directions to the nearest bus stop. We would look at them as though they’d gone quite delirious. Some of us might even respond with a ‘who the bloody hell do you think you are babbling at me in your language?’
Yet here on the streets of Europe we do this constantly. Actually, to be frank, I don’t, but my man does.
He will walk up to a stranger and without even a courteous ‘excusez-moi’, spurt out something in rapid, strongly Australian-accented English, along the lines of “I’m lost and can’t find the station and I’m late for my train, where do I go?”
You’d think the stranger would take one look at this rude man with the twangy accent and tell him to pee off, but no, there is almost always a polite response in English. How nice is that?
In Switzerland almost everybody speaks English so perfectly it puts us to shame. They also speak German, French and their own regional tongue. It is fascinating to watch them switch from one language to another without the slightest hesitation, all in a heart-beat.
“How do you do that?” I’ve often said to a guide as I struggle to give a polite greeting in their own language.
“We have to do it,” one of our Swiss guides told us. “We have to learn English at school and we also learn another language, usually German, as well as our own.”
Obviously, it is distance and isolation that gives us Aussies the disadvantage. Our great big country at the bottom of the world is ruled by the English language and we have no need for another. Our collective ear does not easily develop the sounds and nuances of other languages.
Of course, there are hundreds of languages spoken in private homes all over our land, but we are not privy to them. These languages brought to our country by immigrants usually fade and die within a couple of generations, adding to our laziness towards developing other language skills.
When world leaders visit out country and politely move into our language it is something to be admired. During his recent visit, French president Emmanuel Macron spoke English in his sexy accent and it was a joy to watch – even if he called Malcom Turnbull’s wife ‘delicious’ when he obviously meant to say ‘delightful.’ Imagine Malcolm Turnbull in France trying to repay the compliment. Lord knows what he’d end up calling Macron’s wife.
So it is, that we will continue to speak only English during our stay in Europe, and while most of our time will be spent in France, we will at least attempt many a ‘bonjour’ and ‘merci’ and ‘au revoir’. It’s the very least we can do, surely.