In her article “Sorry, kein Deutsch” in yesterday’s Tagesspiegel, Nana Heymann writes about the annoyance of getting English-only service in restaurants and shops in “Szene” areas of Berlin. “Are you guys ready to order?” “One minute please.” And so on.
The crime in question took place in Hüftengold on Oderberger Straße, but such linguistic horrors can also be heard in White Trash Fast Food, The Bird, Madame Claude, etc. etc. The hundreds of comments suggest that native Germans aren’t very happy with this development – and the endless, earnest discourse about “tolerance”, “nation” and “ignorance” in the comment thread is painfully entertaining.
Ten years ago a non-German-speaking waiter or waitress would have been unthinkable in Berlin. Then came the World Cup 2006, the easyJet invasion. Today, for tens of thousands of people living in Berlin, foreign and German, English is the primary language of communication at home and work, thanks to mixed families, multi-culti offices and the huge tourist presence (which sometimes feels like an occupying army).
And if a friendly American can get a job as a waitress at a cafe, so what? It’s a sign of what Berlin has become and is becoming. It’s a sign of Berlin’s openness to the world. I can’t think of another place in continental Europe where you could get away with English-only service. Paris? Rome? Madrid? Forget about it… Amsterdam, maybe?
The Tagesspiegel writer posits that “in trendy neighbourhoods, the exhibition of foreign language speakers is part of maintaining one’s image.” Hmm… she’s wrong there. It’s not image, it’s about being able to communicate with foreign customers, of which there are ever-more. And believe it or not, in a city with 13 percent unemployment, it’s hard to find good German wait staff who are friendly, flexible and English-speaking. So why not hire a foreigner?
That said, all you non-German speakers out there: get your arse to the nearest language school, you flipping losers. You have no excuse.