German cabbies lost for words

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The Independent Online
SPRECHEN Sie Deutsch? If you don't, you would be wise not to apply for a job as a taxi driver in the German city of Essen. It is not that non-Germans are not welcome. But if you do not speak the language almost perfectly, you may find you do not get as many 'fares' as your more Teutonic colleagues.

In an effort to cater for every conceivable need, Essen's main taxi firm has recently extended its range of customer services. In addition to small or estate-sized cabs, smoking or non-smoking, potential clients can now demand 'German-speaking' drivers only.

According to Albert Mertes, head of the city's main taxi firm, the new arrangement is designed for those who want to avoid the 'misunderstandings' that can arise when a foreigner is at the wheel and in no way represents a racist undercurrent. He points out that the service can also be extended to people requiring English, French or Arabic- speaking drivers.

Representatives of the city's non-German community, however, have condemned the German-speakers-only system as blatantly discriminatory.

'It is an absolute disgrace and further confirmation that racism is rife in Germany,' said Professor Faruk Sen, head of the Essen-based Centre for Turkish studies. 'Some of the foreign drivers may only have basic German, but it is quite enough to drive people from A to B. They are not there to chat about world politics.'

Of a total taxi force of 621 in Essen, 500 come under the control of Mr Mertes' Taxi- Autoruf-Zentrale. Of these, some 20 to 25 per cent are currently driven by non-Germans - mainly Turks and refugees from the former Yugoslavia and Africa and Asia.

'Some of them simply do not understand what is being said over the radio and frequently end up driving to the wrong locations,' Mr Mertes said.

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