So far, I have been pleasantly surprised at how many people are willing to speak English with me. They are far from obliged to speak a foreign language with a new resident; indeed, I feel like it is my responsibility to learn German. But my German is still limited, so I appreciate every interaction that takes place in English.
Between my feeble German, their knowledge of English, and our mutual use of gestures, I have dealt with everyone from doctors and their assistants, store clerks and cashiers, our Hausmeister, rental brokers, and lawyers. My husband and I are both foreigners here, so neither of us can rely on our spouse to act as our interpreter in these situations. Only twice have we needed one of his colleagues to help us: when we had to navigate a complex phone system to get customer service and when we desperately needed to communicate with the plumber at our apartment.
Well, I have finally come across a somewhat hilarious situation needing an interpreter. I have decided that one of my best options for learning German more quickly is to take an integration course. If I am eligible for it, the integration course is subsidized by the government, making it very affordable. I need to find out if I qualify (and get proof to give the language school offering the course), so I have to visit the foreigner’s office. During my previous visits there, I spoke with two people who kindly used English throughout the process.
Not so this time. I was referred to the woman who specifically deals with integration courses … and she doesn’t want to speak English. Now, I understand that she is not required to use a foreign language, but isn’t it odd that the one person who explicitly deals with people who don’t know German is the one who refuses to use a language other than German? Maybe not. Maybe she strongly believes in the need for integration, and this is one way she shows it. But it is a little off-putting … I don’t have a spouse I can drag along to interpret for me, so now I have to either hire an interpreter for what I expect will be a very basic interaction or persuade an acquaintance to take the time to visit the foreigner’s office with me. What a drag.