Friday 19 July 2019

Food and English in Zürich, Switzerland

On this trip I was hosted by Switzerland Tourism, and travelled via the excellent Swiss Travel Pass.

Something interesting I noticed on my recent visit to Switzerland was the prevalence of English language signage. Because the country famously has four official languages (German, French, Italian and Romansh), I expected that signs would often be in multiple translations.

In reality though, as I travelled through the mainly German-speaking area of Switzerland, I rarely saw signage in any but two languages: German and English. In fact I was told by a local that English is so well-established as a lingua franca that a Zürich businessperson who phoned a counterpart in Geneva would probably speak in English.

I guess if you're a country that already has four languages, it's not much of a hassle to throw a fifth into the mix.

This was brought home strongly to me at the annual Street Food Festival held under a big top in the ex-industrial-now-hip neighbourhood of Zürich West. The name of the festival itself provides a strong hint at how widely English is used in Switzerland, but as I walked around the stalls I saw English signage all over the place.

Have a look:

Things have certainly changed since I first travelled to Europe in 1990, when you'd have to make an effort to learn some of the local lingo of non-English-speaking countries you'd visit. No wonder we Anglo-Saxon types are so lazy about language learning nowadays.

The Street Food Festival has closed for 2019, but keep an eye on its website for 2020 dates.

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