D’accord. Muckle.

What with Shetland language problems and my recent travels to Geneva, now might be a good time to muse on how hard it is not to understand. And how I never really expected this to happen to me. I could happily stay where I know the language. Why go anywhere else?

But language can hit you everywhere. You don’t need ditches in Shetland, muckle or otherwise. You could move from Brighton to Manchester, say. That way you might not grasp what the man who just rang your doorbell is trying to say. Perhaps he’s wanting to clear your drains. Perhaps not.

An interpreter is always good to have.

I’ve always felt comfortable flying between Britain and the Nordic countries, because no matter what language they’d speak on the plane, I’d understand. Now that I fly to Geneva instead, I only understand half of the announcements. None at the airport, because of the heavily accented English spoken. This is not a criticism, just an observation. (At the gate last week they were busy rebuilding the shop area, asking passengers for their comprehension…)

It’s the complete opposite of using Copenhagen airport where they seem to have made a point of employing bilingual Swedish/Danish speakers even for menial jobs like the cafeteria pay desk. And it goes without saying that they speak English.

As for being out and about in Geneva it’s very hit and miss. Strangely, university admin staff seem to speak very little English, while taxi drivers and staff at the cinema, where it can be a struggle to find an un-dubbed film, do. I found I was able to order lunch at the Indian restaurant just fine, but needing to speak to the other person queueing by the toilets required skills I don’t have. (I went into the one for garçons, anyway. Much to her horror.)

At some point I could even be forced to use an interpreter here, at ‘home.’ One of Son’s first paid language tasks was to go and ask an elderly Swedish woman what she needed. She had lost her ability to speak English, and communicated exclusively through her daughter, and social services needed someone neutral to check that what they were being told was correct.

It’s a scary thought.


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