Cunning linguists

I want to understand you,
I study your obscure language.
Pushkin

It is always gratifying to read something that chimes sympathetically with your own experience. Living in Brussels and speaking bits of sundry other European languages, I rather dread the ‘It’s ok we can speak English’ interjection, so ubiquitous among Euroland’s hyper-educated non-native speakers. Germans do it a lot (believing themselves superior); Poles do it a lot (fearing themselves inferior). Is it a patronising, passive-aggressive cut-down, a staking of a claim to intellectual and professional superiority? Or is it an innocent and benign offer to help facilitate conversation. Often quite hesitant anyway in my own language (What’s that word again? Is it worth saying anything in this situation?), I am nervous that people mistake my circumspection for linguistic limitations.

On the other hand you encounter plenty of people here who blithely mouth off in several languages other than their native one(s), their sentences peppered with grammatical errors, showing scant regard for pronunciation and zero attempt to disguise their accents. Thus you get (in particular) Spaniards, Italians and indeed Brits who, unless you are concentrating, sound almost exactly the same whatever language they happen to be speaking. Those in positions of authority tend to be the worst culprits.

Like much in life, it all comes down to the brassiness of your balls, irrespective of the first language chiselled thereupon.