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View Full Version : Campfire etiquette / Dos and don'ts / Vol. 38: Language



Paulinho
11-09-2018, 05:41
Hello guys, out there in the wild and unpredictable internet,

new member Paulinho asking something that numerous hours of WB-reading and YT-watching didn't answer.

Wondering what it'd be like if you're sitting at a campfire and chat in your own (foreign) language. Talking straight: Personally, I don't like it. Whenever I'm hosting foreign people, mostly due to business relations, be it in a restaurant, a pub or at home, I ask everyone to talk English so that the conversation does not exclude a single person. Even if someone's not 100% savy with English, which still happens over here in Germany (count me in), it's a question of being polite. We all know - for example - the situation when a good joke has hit and the only one who didn't get it was you. You feel uncomfortable - and it grows the more fun 'them' have.

To make a long story short: Am I right to assume that bringing a friend to the AT who doesn't know English at all is somewhat problematic for all parties? For him, being an outsider due to lack of language skills, for us two, obviously needing to talk in our own language quite often and thus come across as non-social, and eventually for you, thinking there are some unaware aliens sitting at the campfire?

rickb
11-09-2018, 07:18
I get why a host at a business or other function might take the lead and ask everyone to try and and speak in a language known by everyone, for exactly the reasons you shared.

I think it is very different around a campfire, or a shared table or most any other setting you would find along the AT. ESPECIALLY if your friendís English skills are limited.

I would not worry about speaking German in front of others even a little.

Might be nice to splice in a few English phrases or funny lines every now and then, though. And teach the English speakers how to swear in German so they could participate in your language too, of course. :)

chknfngrs
11-09-2018, 07:42
The trail speaks all languages!

Ashepabst
11-09-2018, 09:34
is it impolite for someone in the group to not know the language of the rest of the group? --no

it would be impolite to shun them for that reason.

devoidapop
11-09-2018, 09:36
I think you and your friend will find folks very accommodating and friendly. Have a great hike.

KnightErrant
11-09-2018, 09:41
You might find a few "This is 'Murica, speak English, darnit!" types, but I met quite an international crowd on my thru hike this year and never personally overheard any complaints about foreigners chatting in their own language. I loved hearing German and Japanese and Hebrew and French drifting around camp occasionally, because it reminded me of my very first long-distance hiking experience, the Camino de Santiago. I'm an ESL teacher and a huge language nerd, so some of my favorite conversations were with foreign hikers about the American accents and idioms they were learning to understand. But even among people who weren't as much of a xenophile as me, the prevailing attitude seemed to be that the international atmosphere just made the A.T. feel like more of a grand endeavor.

Of course, there are ways to be more or less polite about it. If you are sharing a picnic table with an English speaker who is trying to be friendly, but you continue to only speak another language, then that might be seen as problematic. But if you are courteous and you explain that your friend doesn't speak much English, then I think /most/ English-speaking hikers would have no problem with foreign language around camp. For your friend, it could feel a little isolating, but if you're there to provide some translation when necessary, I don't see why it would have to be a negative experience. Plus, if he's interested, it would be a great opportunity for him to learn a bit of English.

Leo L.
11-09-2018, 10:22
I always understood English being the common language of all travellers.

When having guests around the private campfire back home, or anywhere else, we always resort to speaking English.
It helps that a couple of friends here around are native Brits, and it really starts to get funny when, on such occassions, we native Austrians speak English amongst ourself.

LittleTim
11-09-2018, 10:46
My 2 cents: Body language can make or break those situations. If the conversation is predominantly English, in good spirits and your friend does the shifty eye scan and whispers to you, it can give the wrong impression. In the same way, someone makes a wisecrack and everyone else laughs, its good to repeat the joke in their native language so to be including them in the laugh, and make sure that the friend doesn't get the impression that the joke was at their expense.

This coming from someone who has been in the shoes of your friend, being the 'outsider' tagging along with a group whom virtually none knew any English. Being the odd man out takes a greater amount of self confidence to keep the old ego in check, one important factor to consider before taking any responsibility as a guide for the friend.

evyck da fleet
11-09-2018, 10:53
It would only be a problem for your friend if he feels excluded. When I’m on a trail we’re all hikers. I’ve ventured off trail in Europe with some French speaking hikers and gone back to visit them. I don’t have a problem if they speak French most of the time. They’ll catch me up on what’s important and I don’t feel left out. Similar on the AT, if you’re friend feels like using you as a translator to help fit in so be it.

Leo L.
11-09-2018, 11:00
...
When having guests ...of mixed nationality...

Odd Man Out
11-09-2018, 11:18
Agree, it would be rude to expect non-English speakers to speak English and it would be rude to exclude your friend by not speaking German. Also a campfire is not like an organized social event. If I was invited to a dinner party and when I got there, everyone spoke a language I didn't understand, that would be rude of the hosts. At a campfire, I have no expectation that people are required to be social or interact if they don't want to. On the other hand, I suggest it would be nice for the bilingual people to act as translators so that the non-English speaker can be included in the conversation if he/she wants to be.

However it would only be rude if you were saying things in German because you didn't want other people to hear. ("That Odd Man Out is such an a$$..."). Not a good plan, especially since you never know when you might run into someone who does speak German and doesn't let on that he knows what you are saying.

In all my travels, the only place I really had problems was in Scotland. I have no idea what language they speak there.

Alligator
11-09-2018, 11:44
Expecting foreign travelers to have fluency in the host country language is a high demand. The world is a big place with far too many languages for any one person to master. While some people are gifted linguistically, others may not have the aptitude, or may not have the available time to learn. I would not expect a guest in my country to simply be quiet because they don't know the language.

Please clarify your question for me. In Germany where the group has mixed language skills you want everyone to speak English and in the US, when the group has mixed language skills you also think the group should speak English. You actually defined the second situation more strictly by saying two people shouldn't chat in their native tongue. The logic is a bit contradictory, expecting a non-host language in Germany but the host language in the US.

Uriah
11-09-2018, 13:23
You might find a few "This is 'Murica, speak English, darnit!" types...

Those types may not even know we speak English here in the US: "This is 'Murica, speak 'Murican, darnit!"

tiptoe
11-09-2018, 14:36
You and your friend will be welcome, whatever you languages you speak. There's generally a pretty random group at shelters, hostels and other gathering points: you are likely to encounter hikers of various ages, abilities, educational levels, occupations, hometowns, languages, genders, races, etc., etc. Most people will rise to the occasion and make everyone feel comfortable.

RangerZ
11-09-2018, 15:51
In all my travels, the only place I really had problems was in Scotland. I have no idea what language they speak there.

+1. Also had problem in London figuring out where the trash got put out. Had to resort to picking up the trash can before we got to dust bin.

I liked the the different languages on the trail. Had to show a Swede what we meant by meeting at the “caboose” in Damascus.

Paulinho
11-09-2018, 17:16
The logic is a bit contradictory

Actually, it is the essence of a former discussion among a couple of friends without a final result. :)

That said: Dig your answers, WB-folks. They reflect the impression I've got since finding this location. Using poor man's pathos: "The trail is what you make it."

Paleolith54
11-09-2018, 19:40
I would not see it as being a problem. At all.

Dogwood
11-09-2018, 23:20
What Knight Errant said.

Keine sorgen. Das macht nichts. Ich komme aus Frankfurt und Hamburg.

There are plenty of International backpackers that thru hike and section hike the AT every yr, with Germans one of the top Nationalities presented. In all my U.S. hiking travels I meet more Germans than any other nationality.

There is some advantage that at least one in a party speaks the language to where they are traveling.

Alligator
11-09-2018, 23:37
Actually, it is the essence of a former discussion among a couple of friends without a final result. :)

That said: Dig your answers, WB-folks. They reflect the impression I've got since finding this location. Using poor man's pathos: "The trail is what you make it."Don't just pull out half a sentence when you quote. What I said at the end of my post was "The logic is a bit contradictory, expecting a non-host language in Germany but the host language in the US." Is that the essence of your personal position in the discussion amongst your friends? Your opening post stated both positions in relation you as far as what you like and what you right about. Talking straight right?

ldsailor
11-10-2018, 11:01
To make a long story short: Am I right to assume that bringing a friend to the AT who doesn't know English at all is somewhat problematic for all parties? For him, being an outsider due to lack of language skills, for us two, obviously needing to talk in our own language quite often and thus come across as non-social, and eventually for you, thinking there are some unaware aliens sitting at the campfire?

This past July I stayed in the Garfield Ridge Shelter. There was a French guy there who spoke no English at all. It was great. I got a chance to practice my French. It was a great opportunity since I was going to Paris for a week when I finished on the trail.

BTW. I always marvel at how many Europeans speak English. I doubt as many Americans speak, French, German or Italian.

Leo L.
11-10-2018, 12:39
...
BTW. I always marvel at how many Europeans speak English. I doubt as many Americans speak, French, German or Italian.

We have so many different languages here in Europe, some endemic for just one single country (Finnland for example) so English is kind of (a travellers) Esperanto here in Europe, every kid learns English at school.
Similar to Russia in the eastern continent, and High Arabic in the Middle East.
Anybody who joins a higher education has a second language, which most likely was French in former times, but many schools switched to Spanisch as second nowadays.
Makes so much sense.

SawnieRobertson
11-11-2018, 13:11
In the pre-WW2 world, French was the "universal language." American English was, I think, regarded as vulgar. Latin was taught as the 2nd language in most schools to which one would go in prep for better universities. Remember, I
am speaking of almost 100 years ago. During that war actors representing Germans soldiers and Japanese military officers spoke a broken version of English with a decided, kind of amusing accent. That is the crazy world view through spoken languages that I was raised in. Add to that my being from the Lower Rio Grande Valley (a misnomer because that flat country is a delta). Spanish speaking classmates were punished if they were heard to speak in the Mexican language. I ramble, but the point I wish to make is that language representing nationality can be a sensitive force with lots of destructive power. Recognizing that, I appreciate the welcoming attitudes represented throughout this thread. Thanks.

dreamweaver21
11-21-2018, 17:09
Been on multiple sides of this one. I have only hiked the southern half of the trail so far but from what I have seen and met, Germans are the largest group of international hikers. I camped out with a group of them one night and they spoke mostly German but some English. Wasn't an issue at all.

I've also been around groups of Americans where there was one German speaker and it wasn't much of an issue.

Currently, I am living in Germany and ich spreche kein deutsch so I am on the other side now. I hope to hike the black forest and I hope that the locals don't hold it against me that I suck at German.

MuddyWaters
11-21-2018, 17:50
Been on multiple sides of this one. I have only hiked the southern half of the trail so far but from what I have seen and met, Germans are the largest group of international hikers. I camped out with a group of them one night and they spoke mostly German but some English. Wasn't an issue at all.

I've also been around groups of Americans where there was one German speaker and it wasn't much of an issue.

Currently, I am living in Germany and ich spreche kein deutsch so I am on the other side now. I hope to hike the black forest and I hope that the locals don't hold it against me that I suck at German.

I have a friend that went to germany to visit some friends. While her friends were at work, etc , she went out running in day. Now, shes a ultrarunner back then, so i dont mean a lap around the block, more like 20 miles. She got lost one day, spoke no german, had no phone, and had an adventure getting back to friends place. She didnt know address, street, etc.

Her friends then made a shirt for her to wear. Basically said in german: "my name is xxx. " ."if found, return to....with address. Just like a dog tag. And she wore it.

I recall it said to give her beer as well...

TNhiker
11-21-2018, 18:04
She got lost one day, spoke no german, had no phone, and had an adventure getting back to friends place. She didnt know address, street, etc.




that's a funny story...

and similar to one i had as a 12 year old-------we went to visit my mom's relatives in East Germany and we spent like 2 weeks over there.....Me and my brother would take the bicycles and go around the village.......and sure enough, got lost, spoke no german, had no idea where we were..........luckily, as american kids---we stuck out and the locals helped us get back to my grandmother's place....