Native English-speaking people are either really lucky or really lazy, and I can never make up my mind which it is. Because every time I attend some kind of international gathering... a meeting, a trade show, an exhibit, or an event of some kind... it never ceases to amaze me how many non-English speaking people are fluent in several languages. And, of course, everybody knows English, which makes it the "lowest common denominator" for the internationally-minded traveler. I guess that puts "American-English" just one level above grunting and making obscene gestures, but at least you can watch the latest Julia Roberts movie once you've mastered it.
Since I am already fluent in English (which is debatable, I grant you) the incentive to learn a foreign language for practical purposes is quite low. Sure I can make basic conversation in Japanese, and know a smattering of helpful phrases in Spanish, French, Italian, and German, but that's a long way from fluency. In fact, unless the conversation is about finding a toilet, saying "thank you", or ordering a cheese sandwich, then I am pretty much useless.
And I hate that about myself.
Seriously... the kid clearing my lunch table here today knows German, French, Italian, English, and some Dutch. And I don't mean that he has memorized a few phrases so that he can ask "may I take your plate" - this guy can actually discuss the finer points of nuclear fission and the perils of using low grade uranium and light metals for the process, all in your choice of tongues.
And there you have one of the cultural differences that set us apart. In the USA, any native who is fluent in a foreign language is considered a genius and should be working as a translator at the United Nations to bring about world peace. In other countries, if you know five foreign languages, you are considered average and are qualified to handle dirty dishes in a restaurant.
I guess that makes native English-speaking people both lucky that we don't have to learn another language and lazy in that we so rarely bother. I feel really stupid today.
Oh, and before I forget, I received five emails about Hotel im Wasserturm, so I'll try and address the questions y'all have about it here in an extended entry (though, you should really try leaving comments so everybody can get involved... it's painless, and you don't have to even provide any personal information if you don't want to!).
Here's a photo from my living room as it continues into the bedroom (note the curving wall!). If you look at my entry from yesterday, you can see I am on the top floor in the photo there (though there is a restaurant on top of that, which is not visible in the photo).
Probably my favorite thing about the hotel is my bathroom. It is divided into a shower with vanity that can be closed off from the toilet room. Everything is beautifully tiled in green, and the toilet even has its own sink, remarkably inset into the wall (yes, that's me in the mirror there). On top of all that, the floors and towel racks are heated.
All the robes and towels are monogrammed with the hotel's name and a little drawing of the exterior. The robes are really comfortable, and probably for sale, but it's sure to be a price that I can't afford.
Needless to say, if you are ever in Cologne (and can afford the cost) I give Hotel im Wasserturm my highest possible recommendation. Stunning architecture, wonderfully kind and helpful staff, and a fairly good location. One of the best hotels I've been in. Two thumbs up. Five stars. Dave Approved!
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You shouldn’t be so hard on yourself, Dave. I’m learning Japanese at the minute and it isn’t the easiest language. Still, I’m loving every minute of it.
My main problem when I was younger was that I found French and German, the two languages offered at school, extremely boring. I wanted to learn something a little more excotic, so what if you couldn’t use it in later life. I don’t really use my French or German either so where is the loss?
I can see you!
Here in Norway I was once approached by a heroin addict who was begging for money. I told her in English that I could not help her, thinking to escape via the “ignorant tourist” route. She switched effortlessly into perfect posh British English and said that “Today is just not my day”. I gave her money. Even the street people are multi lingual here. It was very sad and very eye opening.
I still think that it’s rather arrogant of us that the US doesn’t require proficiency in a foreign language for graduation. As it is now, you have to take one year (usually either French or Spanish) and can then forget about it. And it’s not as if you can really become fluent in that time, even if you wanted to.