July 2011


Englisch, Englisch über alles

With living in an international city I’ve become accustomed to the fact that there are multilingual signs everywhere you would expect to find them: the train station (German, English, and French), the airport (German and English), and the Turkish Supermarket (Turkish and German).

However, I’m not offended when something is solely in German – say, for example, the instructions on a package of food – although, quite frankly, instructions for baking frozen pizza often come in 15-20 languages.

One thing that is exclusively in German, I like to imagine, are Berlin newspapers, like, for example, the Berliner Zeitung. Not actually have (knowingly) picked up a copy, I imagine it is somewhat like the LA Times: full of news, editorials, and of interest to people living in the area.

One of my colleagues has a subscription, and with this subscription he received the get2card – a card that gets him 2 for 1 offers at a number of Berlin shops, including Einstein Kaffee, a Berlin-centric Starbucks-esque coffee shop with three locations within three blocks of our office.

Every morning he stops by Einstein where he gets two medium Café Lattes for the price of one, and he shows up at the office appearing like a double fisted drinker. If it weren’t for the fact that both cups were labeled Einstein Kaffee, one might mistake him for a heavy drinker.

Friday he took me out to lunch – where I gave up on Groupon a long time ago, he is an addict – and, consequently, had purchased 5 wraps or salads (maximum price, 8€) for 15€. As with all details of this ilk, he hadn’t read the fine print until after buying the Groupon – it seems that his lunches will either be eaten before 11:30, or after 2 pm.

On our way back from an über early lunch, he offered me a Café Latte – using his 2 for 1 card. Given that he had “purchased” lunch, I purchased coffee.

Examining his Berliner Zeitung get2card, I turned it over and was confronted with a perplexing amount of English:

my friend's get2card

I bet it's pronounced "get two" and not "get zwei"

Given that this card is marketed to customers of the Berliner Zeitung and has its logo on the front of the card, the back is virtually only in English!

This isn’t the only time I’ve been puzzled by English hegemony in non-English speaking areas. For example, every time I’ve been issued a Lufthansa boarding card, vital information is often only rendered in English—like the warnings not to bring guns, fireworks, or other explosives onto the plane. I realize that a large percentage of Lufthansa customers are not German speaking and so I understand the need to put warnings like this in English, but given that a decent percent of Germans don’t necessarily speak or read English but do fly, I would think it would make sense to have warnings about what not to bring on the plane in German.

Regardless, I enjoyed my decaf lactose-free Café Latte.

2 comments to Englisch, Englisch über alles

  • J

    Even out here in the very provincial part of the country, I’ve noticed more and more English being used. Actually, since there is so few things in English here, I probably notice it more than in an international city. Posters. radio commercials, billboards, signs, etc.

    I frequently ask my students if Germans who don’t speak English would understand whatever example I have just come across, and the answer is usually, “No.” However, using English in things now is very modern and it supposedly makes the company using it look better.

    • I think the classic “Come in and find out” applies here 🙂

      I should stop repeating my own themes and find new things to talk about…