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.”