One of the most wonderful experiences of my life happened many years ago when I was doing a big rock climb in Switzerland. My climbing partner and I met and chatted with two Swiss climbers on the route. They spoke no English and I spoke only high school French and German. When I didn’t know how to say something in one language I would switch to the other language. I never knew how they decided which language to reply in. It was a magical experience.
I’m now in Spain and don’t know enough Spanish to say more than a few basic things. Cuánto cuesta? Un café con leche, por favor. Para llevar. But it’s a different world now. English is everywhere – except with restaurant staff and shopkeepers.
We were at a restaurant in Órgiva. Every occupied table was occupied by English speaking people – mostly Brits. But the waitress spoke no English. Nor did the people at the local supermarket. Nor did the woman behind the counter at the pharmacy.
But why should they speak English? This is Spain. People coming to the country should learn the language of the country. Except that many parts of Spain rely heavily on tourism. We talked to one of the waiters in Órgiva about all this. He spoke very good English, but he was from Czechoslovakia. I asked if he spoke German and French and he said no, but that pretty much all the tourists who visited the restaurant spoke some English. We met some Norwegians at the restaurant who spoke better English than many of my friends.
We noticed this too in Valldemossa. At the table next to us was an East European woman – maybe Russian. She tried talking to the waitress in her own language, which didn’t work, so then she tried English. That didn’t work either as the waitress spoke no English, and they ended up communicating in hand gestures.
From my very limited and very anecdotal experience it really does appear that English is becoming the common language among travelers, even if it’s being resisted by people who rely on tourism for their income. But maybe the resistance is slowly waning. Our Czech waiter told us that his fellow waitress has started taking English classes.
What have your travel experiences been? Do you think people in tourist destinations should learn English?