European Vacation Musings

Following a very enjoyable river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest, and three days in Prague, Ito and I are now relaxing in Munich for three weeks before traveling on the Bob Mundell’s annual gathering of economists at his home near Siena, Italy.

This afternoon, while reading my first book on an iPad (my friend Michael Lind’s new history “Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States”) in our hotel lobby, I was intrigued by overhearing the hotel manager discussing some repair work with two tradesmen in English. Obviously the workers were not German. After the manager left, I was further intrigued by the fact that the workers continued to convers with each other in English even though English was obviously not their first language. However, as is common in Europe, it was the common second language shared by them.

Several hours later a third worker joined the first two and all three conversed in English. I overcame my natural reserve and called out to one of them. “Excuse me. You are all speaking English to each but English is obviously not your first language. Where are you each from.” “I am Iranian,” the obvious leader of the group replied. “The electrician over there is from Spain, and our IT guy there is also from Iran.”

I love such things. It makes the world more interesting. But it has also made Germany, two Iranians and a Spaniard better off as well.

It reminds me of a conversation I had a few years ago in Dubai with an Arab citizen. Less than twenty percent of the residents of the United Arab Emerates (UAE) are Emeratis. Over 50% are Pakistanis, Indians, Filipinos, and Bangladeshis, whose second language is English. “Why is it,” I asked, “that you Arabs all speak such good English.” “We have to,” he replied in his pristine white thawb. “English is the language of international business and we are businessmen. In addition, it is the only way we can talk to the help.”

About wcoats

I specialize in advising central banks on monetary policy and the development of the capacity to formulate and implement monetary policy.  I joined the International Monetary Fund in 1975 from which I retired in 2003 as Assistant Director of the Monetary and Financial Systems Department. While at the IMF I led or participated in missions to the central banks of over twenty countries (including Afghanistan, Bosnia, Croatia, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kosovo, Kyrgystan, Moldova, Serbia, Turkey, West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Zimbabwe) and was seconded as a visiting economist to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (1979-80), and to the World Bank's World Development Report team in 1989.  After retirement from the IMF I was a member of the Board of the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority from 2003-10 and of the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review from 2010-2017.  Prior to joining the IMF I was Assistant Prof of Economics at UVa from 1970-75.  I am currently a fellow of Johns Hopkins Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise.  In March 2019 Central Banking Journal awarded me for my “Outstanding Contribution for Capacity Building.”  My most recent book is One Currency for Bosnia: Creating the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I have a BA in Economics from the UC Berkeley and a PhD in Economics from the University of Chicago. My dissertation committee was chaired by Milton Friedman and included Robert J. Gordon.
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