William Hartston seeks a single European phrasebook
Friday 30 August 1996
The French, for example, are a taciturn bunch. Their salutations are restricted to bonjour, bonsoir, bonne nuit and salut, followed by a quick au revoir or a tout a l'heure when they take their leave. The Italians are no better, but the Germans and Spanish stop to ask Wie geht's? and reply Muy bien gracias, Y Usted? The Germans even go on to ask to be remembered to your wife.
The French terseness is perhaps only to be expected in people who put their word lists in alphabetical order of the English words. Italian, German and Spanish justifiably see themselves as languages to be translated out of, rather than into, so their lists are arranged with the foreign words in alphabetical order so that their English equivalent may be quickly found.
Differing standards of fastidiousness are revealed in the sections on pets. Neither the French nor Italians permit dogs to foul the grass, yet in either country gli escrementi del cane may still be scooped up with a ramasse-crottes. Germany and Spain have nothing to say about what dogs do on the grass, but while Spain has dog-dirt (la caca de perro) but no poop scoops, Germany has poop scoops but no dog dirt.
Important economic differences become apparent in the respective sections on questions. The Italians ask: "Which is your car?" The affluent Spanish ask: "How many cars do they have?" The French say "C'est une Renault." But the Germans, rather surprisingly, answer: "I don't have a car."
They have clearly spent all their money on the house, with their parquet floors and triple-glazing and underfloor heating, none of which are available in French, Italian or Spanish. Oddly enough, though, the Germans, like the Italians and French (but not the Spanish) do have a double garage, which suggests that they may have been lying about not having a car.
The slow and painful progress towards a single European phrase book clearly has a long way still to go.
Teach Yourself French Vocabulary (and the similar German, Spanish and Italian titles), Hodder & Stoughton, pounds 5.99 each.
Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head
Bin bag full of cats' heads discovered near Manchester's Curry Mile
Disgusting, frustrating, but intriguing: how the country really feels about its politicians
- 1 Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC
- 2 Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
- 3 London restaurant 34 creates champagne glass modelled on Kate Moss’ left breast
- 4 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns, aged 27
- 5 James Foley beheading: Fox news presenter Megyn Kelly annoyed by Ferguson update during broadcast about murdered journalist