Europe Is Inefficient

Europe Is Inefficient
Greetings all, Steve here again. So, I'm learning Italian. It's hard, ya know? I mean, it's a really tough language. I bought an Italian dictionary and, I mean, wow! You just wouldn't believe how many words the Italian language has. And several years ago I attempted to learn German and that was a very difficult language, with many words. And several years before that I learned French and that was also an extremely hard language to master. I was thinking about this problem the other day when it occurred to me: All European languages are tough! And then something else occurred to me: If all European languages are really tough, then probably nobody in Europe knows what anybody else is saying. And, ya know, that must be really inefficient!

I should state at the outset that Doug Johnston, big man hereabouts, was concerned when I told him that I was planning to write an article basically saying that Europe is terribly inefficient. "That shouldn't offend more than half our readers", he said. And then he groaned, by way of explanation. Well, he may have a point. So let me state at the outset that I do not speak any European languages other than English even close to fluently, nor have I asked any actual Europeans or done any research whatsoever, because there's a fair chance that I might be wrong and I'm lazy. What can I say, this is the level of concern for the truth that people have come to expect from my work.

Still, I think I may be on to something. First, some historical background on Europe. Europe has been populated since the Paleolithic era, when primitive people from Africa traveled Northward, looking for a place where they'd be allowed to smoke. For many centuries, Europeans kept on smoking and evolving until the Roman Empire came along and then it fell apart because of too many kinds of gelato and then King Arthur found the sword and invented hubris, and then nothing happened for about 1000 years and then they stole the number zero and Leonardo di Vinci painted some woman and grew a huge beard and they had a number of wars and several revolutions, mostly for longer vacations, and finally developed espresso, which is Italian for small coffee that re-energizes you like a kick in the face, on the basis of which they decided to sit down and form a common government with some very happy-looking money. That pretty much brings us up to today.

Now, the problem is that Europeans, in the course of these many historical developments, developed many different languages. Whole different languages! In fact, in some disputed border areas they took the precaution of learning two or three languages, 'cause you never know who will be in charge next week. Now, this, I suspect, must cause problems. Consider, for example, the Italian language.

Italian, from what I can tell, is not a modern language like we usually think of them. It's missing several important bits. In the 5th century, barbarian tribes invaded Rome and made off with many of the prepositions, killed off a number of the consonants and mortally wounded nearly all the pronouns and the Italian people have never recovered. This means that today, the modern Italian language has a terrifying vowel imbalance. There are too many vowels and nowhere to put them all. They deal with this by speaking incredibly fast and waving their arms wildly about, which gives an Italian the look and sound of a person drowning above water. They make up for this by saying, "eh!" and drinking a lot of espesso.

This must cause problems for people trying to conduct business. I mean, you can buy one of those phrase books, but it's pretty hard to make one of those things actually work for you. A misplaced vowel could change the entire meaning and blow the whole deal. For example, you could mean to say, "I'll have my people call your people," and end up saying, "I believe I may be pregnant. Please take me to a hospital and alter my pants."

Likewise, "I think we should cement the deal in writing. Does this sound reasonable to you?", could very easily come out, "I would like to consummate our relationship by throwing mayonnaise at you in the moonlight. Does this conform to your personal or ethnic belief system?"

Even getting around can be difficult. "Does this train stop at Milan?", could easily come out as "You're camel smells like cherries. Would you like some espresso?"

So what's to be done? We have, according to my research, a whole continent full of people who can't understand one another and therefore can't conduct business. I'd suggest that everybody learn English, but that's the most impossible language of all! Anyone have any suggestions (besides throwing me to the lions in the Colosseum)?

Until next time, keep your pen on the page and your camel smelling wonderful.

Steve Sharam

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No, our Romance languages

No, our Romance languages (Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, French... all that came from Latin) don't have to many vowels; the languages that came from Old German (German, English...) have too many consonants! he, he, he ;)

Anyway, it's true that the variety and the difference in our languages is a problem in the EU that doesn't exist in USA.

The problem with English....

is that you have two countries divided by a common language. ;-) And even in America anymore, it seems you can't communicate across state lines... I grew up in Western PA. We drink pop, swim in the "crick" and when it ices over, it's slippy. Go down south, and some child has no idea what you are talking about, but then he asks you if you want some coke, and when you say "yes", he asks, do you want a Pepsi, or Mountain Dew. That's all the coke I have. And then, when in Boston, you can't find the coffee, because they keep telling you the coffee's next to the tonic. TONIC??? Isn't that what you put in your hair?! Common tongue.... yeah, right.


Well, I'm Canadian

Too many consonants, eh? Yeah, probably. English is my first language, so it sounds natural to me, but Germanic languages generally sound like somebody trying to strangle a cat:P

Yeah, when I was in Europe I actually didn't find the language barrier that bad, to be honest, except that everyone, everywhere, in any language, in every country, wanted to correct my pronunciation. Now, try living in Vancouver, with 58% of the population being Chinese, with lots of Indians, Japaneses, Koreans, Europeans and South American Spanish and then you've got a language barrier problem:P

Steve Sharam

A simplistic view ...

I think there is many ways to rebut this article, so just a quick list:

  • All continents and sub-continents in the world are using more than one language: Europe, China, India, Africa, and even the US (from what I got there is some area in California where you better start learning spanish if you want to get understood)
  • There is and always was an official business language: it was french in the past, it's now english. Most of the elite and the people conducting business speak it.
  • Language are tough, but it can be done. I speak german, french and english w/o too many problems. Some friends of me are way better: they can also speak spanish, portugese and italian.
  • European language are not that different from each other, when you know a few of them picking up extra ones or at least understanding the meaning is not that difficult. Knowing german and english, after a couple of month you can understand dutch w/ some effort. Moving from french to spanish and then italian is doable. The structure of the language is similar, the root of most the word is also similar.
  • Even with many different language, we, Europeans, managed to get a common body of laws, and still using different language are working toward unifying the continent.
  • ...

There could be many other thing to rant about, like the completely wrong thing about the origin of languages, but to sum it: we could all eat the same food each and every day, but why do we enjoy pastas one day, a burger the next one, and then some nice seafood? or why some people prefer a white laptop, and other a black one?

Being inefficient for a couple of things is a good thing. IT would be a pretty dull world, if we were all 100% of our time efficient ...

You're right

You're right, my mistake. My incredibly silly article was actually inaccurate. How surprising:P

You're absolutely right, though, that every continent and many countries speak multiple languages. In Canada, we've solved the English/French language and culture barrier by having the English and the French get along always in perfect, yeah...

Steve Sharam

Having been to a few

Having been to a few countries in Europe, I've never had much trouble with language barriers. Most people have some experience speaking English. I wonder if the same can be said of people coming to the UK and speaking their native language.

Organize IT

There's always Esperamto :)

Mia svebsipo estas plena da angiloj.

"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

too much English

Hi Steve,

You seriously made me laugh this time. And true, we have many languages here. I am in one of the smallest countries (the Netherlands) and you have to learn other languages to make yourself understandable. I study Classical Languages, and I knowEnglish, German, French and Italian. Not always handy, but I think that when you go to another country and try to speak their language people are always friendly and do their best to understand you no matter what mistakes you make.
And good for you that you are actually trying to learn Italian. Many English-speaking people who visit here or even live here don't take the trouble to try to speak Dutch, and they expect anyone to speak English to them. I hate that, there is already too much English in the world. (yes I know, I should start a website called

Glad to help

Glad it tickled your funny bone:) Holland is well-known for it's people being very good with languages. I can understand why Dutch people need to be so multi-lingual: You have to be able to say "The water is rising, everyone grab onto something that floats" so that everybody understands.

Yes, English people are very lazy when it comes to languages, since our language happens to be the international language of business, academia, culture and science. Just lucky I guess. To be fair though, I imagine that French people were pretty bad a few hundred years ago when everybody automatically spoke French, so maybe we're not quite that bad. My problem is that I'm dyslexic, so I get the languages I can speak very confused. Pretty soon I'll be speaking Franglermiano and I'll be able to come to Europe and lay that on the locals. Won't they be impressed:)

Steve Sharam

Official languages of India

Official Languages of India

...and we are talking only one nation, not a continent made up of different nations :)

On a serious note, we do have one national language "Hindi", mandatory for all the government related communication. In modern day India, people talk to each other in Hindi and/or English.


Much like in Vancouver:p

Steve Sharam

few comments

Well, thanks God the article was under the "humour" category, otherwise it would have been very offending, at least to any italian reader, including me.
English works well for a business language, it's easy to understand and, in business, is quite precise, while in personal relationships can easily lead to misunderstandings.
I am italian, with many friends worldwide, most of them from US. What i noticed lacking in the USA is the absolute absence of worldwide awareness. Most people doesn't seems to care there are other countries and other cultures besides the US one. And, there, media and common knowledge seems to "feel" foreign people thru a series of common pre-made thoughts.
Italians, like other european people, may have lot of defects, but what you will see here is the openness to other cultures and to other people. When you come here you can expect to travel everywhere without knowing any italian word, you find instructions and signs in italian, english, french, german for everything. Most important instructions are also in all european languages and few outside like japanese, chinese. You can stop by anyone and you'll have everyone trying to understand what you say and answering in english, or drawing, or taking care to find someone who speaks your language. I found that to be true in any european country i visited, except uk. In Uk and in USA you have to study their way of doing things and behave or you'll not be accepted or helped, much like muslim countries.
Promoting a culture where you don't expect others to think like you do, talk like you do, complay to what you do, would help a lot not only US people, but all the worlds, since the US media has lot of influence worldwide.
As for having many words...seems english language has more. But then most people uses just few of them, sometimes hard for us to understand the difference between: get down, get up, get away, get more/get most of , get lost, get into, get to, get rid, get full get on and such. You use get like we use sugar on coffee ;)
I hope this will not offend the other half of your readers, and I apologize for being maybe too long in my comment, but you know... I am italian ;)


LOL! You are so correct about that word "get"! It and "nice" and a few others are so overused (oops! the word "so" too!) I try explaing the word "get" to my Polish friends, and it just confuses the daylights out of them! But then, Polish has a couple words of its own that seem to morph meaning, confusing this poor foreigner. ;-)

Maybe all languages have their own--but I can imagine that English has the most/worst of the bunch!

And add in your "regional dialects..." ..for example, "Pittsburgh-ese" "wadja git" would interpret as "what did you get?" You might hear, for an answer (Pittsburghians are rude, too) "Az (some "ax") me dat agin, and you 'gitit!'" ;-) (Now, lest you think Im being mean to Pittsburghians--I love my home town. Pittsburgh is a great place to be from--far away from! ;-) )

And, on a tangent. I like what you say about "get" and sugar in coffee! BTW, Italian coffee is the best in the world, IMO. My personal fav is Lavazza in a stove-top express--but maybe I'm odd...


Ax me again...

That irritates me so when I hear that. I want to respond with something like, "Just hatchet the question and I will answer".

Mind's eye picture of whipping out a Viking war axe and cleaving their empty skull in twain >:D
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)


Here in italy there are several most unknow brands of coffee...and several people ready to swear they're the best... But i do too prefere lavazza, the "sweet taste" kind (in italian is called "gusto dolce"). The difference anyway is just in how much "arabica" kind of coffee it's inside. The more the better the taste is. Based on this you can find a good coffee almost everywhere (after all coffee is not an italian crop ;) )

I sense I have offended:(

Doug told me this would happen. He warned me, but I wouldn't listen. He said, "You're going to offend Italian people," he said, but I didn't listen. To be fair, if you look back at my previous posts the most common person I say offensive things about is myself:P

Still, I can understand your complaint. So let me deal with it point by point. Yes, it was a humour article. Anyone taking my columns seriously is definately barking up the wrong tree. Yes, English works for business and stinks for relationships. My girlfriend's constantly asking me what I mean. I tell her that I just told her what I meant. She says she doesn't understand. Stupid English language. I guess this is why the Italian are always, "the lovers." They have the right words for that sort of thing.

Yes, U.S. mass media are focused on the U.S. to the point of outright silliness. Believe me, I understand. I'm Canadian:P

Yes, Europe is very open to other cultures and very accomidating with languages. I live in Vancouver, with immigrants from every corner of the Earth and, basically, nobody knows what the hell anybody's talking about. Our city council conducts meetings with arm gestures and shadow puppets.

Agreed, English is insane. I taught English to Spanish students for a while and I realized then just how rediculous it actually is. Most English expressions only make sense if you already know what they mean and appear in no dictionary. I think one of the problems is that English comes from German, but has a lot of French layered over it as well, so it seems a lot like others languages, but then is different, not really romance, not really Germanic. That's gotta be irritating.

To be fair, my problem with languages is my own, not anybody else's fault. I'm just dyslexic enough that I get languages really confused. Someone can ask me a question in French, my brain will hear French, I will try to respond in French and it'll come out German. I'm loads of fun to travel with:)

Having said that, you can go overboard. Last Summer I worked with a guy from Strasborg, located on the French-German border. Being from this oft-disputed border area, he spoke fluent French, German and decent English - all at the same time! And he mumbled!!

"Guten Morgan! Comment ca va? Want some coffee? Mumble, mumble."

Now that's silly:P

Steve Sharam

No Offence

Not a serious offence, and no need to blame so much the english language. every language has it's own pro and cons. I think we (world) are just getting better year after year, and the Internet is helping a lot in meeting other people and other cultures. I feel it's just a matter of time.

But it's so fun to blame

But it's so fun to blame everything on the English language!

"It's better to be a pirate than to join the Navy." -- Steve Jobs

LOL. I do agree that things

LOL. I do agree that things would be much simpler if everybody learned English, especially if they learned the English that we use here in England (hello, do you see the connection!?) The fact that we spell words completely differently to the way they actually sound is half the fun.

Here's to another millenium of shouting loudly and waving my arms about (proven aids to understanding).

Toodle pip.


When I was in England

When I was in England I actually had considerable trouble understanding and being understood. You do speak English in the U.K., but then you make up words that nobody else in the English-speaking world uses. I had a terrible time until I learned that everything is "brilliant." Then I was fine:P

Steve Sharam


I adored the two weeks I spent in England back in grade school... The only problem I had was accepting a charge for ketchup :P

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Now that's funny:)

Steve Sharam

LOL no it was scary... I

LOL no it was scary... I asked for ketchup and ended up being charged 5 pence per packet... vinegar was always free. I just couldn't adjust to that though. I did learn to order a shake with my fries so I could dip em in cold yummy goodness without an extra charge :D

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Fries... in a SHAKE?



[ web site ]

A friend of mine liked...

mayonaise on fries. I tried it and found it to be rather tasty, but I prefer ketchup.
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

True European Cooperation

mayonaise on fries.

Yup that's how this Englishman eats his. It's a delicacy I discovered on numerous business trips to Belgium. Hence in my house, at least, the style is known as "Belgian chips". (For the un-educated fries are more properly referred to as chips here. And what you call chips are crisps here. ;-)

I also got the taste for aqua vit, sörströmming, and elg on my many (and long) business trips to Sweden. Yum. Plus Swiss wines but only the ones they don't ship abroad; the good stuff stays in the country.

That's true european cooperation.

Lutefisk ?

If you have ever tried lutefisk, you must read this: The Power of Lutefisk
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

mmm fries... you all are now

mmm fries...
you all are now making me hungry.

i've been known to mix 2 packets of ketchup, one packet of mayo and a packet of mustard together for my fries. :)


ahhh i miss fish n chips served on newspaper!!!

I adore ketchup and mayo mixed for fries...

Lately I enjoy creamy french salad dressing on almost everything. Marinate some chicken and slap em on the grill... mmmmm.

Honestly, try the chip n shake! The salty chips (french fries for us yanks) plus the shake is deeeelicious!

my artwork | my blog

Ah yes, fish and chips.

Fish and chips is still served in newspaper here. Unfortunately it no longer is used news-print. The ink off of yesterday's paper used to add an extra taste to the meal as it coated one's fingers. Nowadays the paper hasn't been printed on. We usually have variety of fish to chose from: cod, skate, rock salmon (a type of shark), haddock, gurnet, coley, plaice, etc etc. And in different portion sizes too.

A few years ago I was on a business trip to King of Prussia, PA. In my hotel I had multiple choises for everything: e.g. scrambles eggs, fried eggs, eggs over easy, etc etc etc. So many choices in fact that on my first morning in the hotel I had to ask the waitress to come back later because the effect of jet lag was such I could assimulate all the breakfast menu choices quickly enough for her to serve me and other guests in her section. Out in the evenings the local restrauents had plenty of choices too. Down the road at the mall the food court there had a fish and chip shop. It had one variety of fish on the menu --- uh, "fish". The manager wasn't even sure what sspecies it was; it was cod. It also only came in one size. Rather ironic that after all the choices to be had at the hotel, or Starbucks, or McDonalds, the fish and chip shop didn't provide any choice what-so=ever. ;-) And they served it in effete little polysterene boxes no paper anywhere to be seen.

Similarly the choice of Scotch at my host's favourite local restaurent was somewhat limited. When I enquired what it was called the barman replied Mac-something-or-other. So no distinction there with blended or single malt. :-(

Of course, mayo

That's what the French, the Belgian and a slew of Swiss put on their fries. An ever increasing protion of Quebeckers too. When you have good fries (not the kind made with extruded mash like at McDonald's, but those made with actual cut fries), you have mayo with them. The other kind, you put ketchup on.

"It's better to be a pirate than to join the Navy." -- Steve Jobs

Spelling English

Here in the US, spelling bees seemed to have enjoyed some pop culture attention lately. But think about it - just the inherent concept of a contest to see who can spell words correctly - meant to be played by native speakers of the language - surely must strike fear into the hearts of those trying to learn English as a second language. Surely it's hard to find another European language which has such fun. (Japanese on the other hand, has many rare kanji characters which are challenging enough to expert native speakers that they have to be annotated in newspapers and the like with phonetic furigama characters - so other languages do play similar games.)

Your comment also tickled another memory. I once tried to get a rise out of an English-first person by saying - did you know that a huge percentage of people in the US are speaking a foreign language? Yeah, well, they didn't get it.

I wish...

I wish my schooling growing up had included more emphasis on world cultures and languages... I find it fascinating to learn about other places and people. Luckily I did take several spanish classes in high school and college. I now can speak enough to get by. But I have to say things very slow and ask people to repeat a lot.

It appears either I have an ear for other languages OR spanish really does help with picking up on others. I can make out some Italian, Portuguese, etc. Anything with a Latin base I believe.

Honestly Steve, the best way for us old farts to learn a new language is to immerse yourself in the culture and language. Watch movies and be around people speaking it fluently. You'll pick it up faster than trying to do books on tape or worse - a dictionary.


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In my experience, nothing beats total immersion. However, for comprehension, the best aspect of that is speaking the language--one-on-one conversation. When you speak--carrying on a conversation, I believe that synapses in your brain make connections that you cannot get any other way. Learning a language as an academic study, while fun, and teaching you a lot about a particular language, can only go so far. It's when you speak it that everything finally starts to "click."

Now, as for learning vocabulary, for me, I found the best tool was reading--not textbooks or dictionaries, but normal, everyday stuff--books, magazines and newspapers. When I first started, I would read a paragraph, marking every word I was uncertain of, attempting to comprehend as much as I could, and attempting to deduce the meanings of words from their context. Once finished with the paragraph, I would go back with a dictionary, and look up those words I didn't know. Then I would go back and read the paragraph again--more than once--until I could read it and understand it simply from the reading--btw, I did _not_ write down the English "translations" of the Polish words. I attempted to keep the words as much in a Polish context as possible. Also, if I could, I would ask people what a word meant, and learn its meaning in the native language _only_. In fact, I have a very broad vocabulary of words today for which I do not know equivalent English words. I have words _I_ would use in the contexts, were I saying it in English, but I do not know for certain what the English "equivalent" would be. Try to avoid the crutch of the English-*** dictionary--it won't help in the long run. ;-)

that's my advice. Take it for what it's worth. ;-)


I'm waiting for...

I'm waiting for the thing that you can plug into the back of your head to upload information, like in the Matrix. Geez, I'd speak 97 languages and I'd have finished college in 2 days:P

Steve Sharam

I'd just be...

...flying cool helicopters. ;-)


fun movie quote:

"Blagged? Speak English to me, Tony. I thought this country spawned the *BEEEP* language, and so far nobody seems to speak it."

Can anyone name that movie? It is one of my favorites :D ((I think its related to article - so I doubt Steve will mind <3))

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In most european countries,

In most european countries, they teach english at school, so there is a way to communicate ;-)


Variety HELPS to understand, don't be fooled by what is only apparent...

only english make you stupid

very funny article it very well confirms that if you are english speaking and in particular armerican english speaking you grew up with the impression that you dont need to learn anything about other languages and cultures and everwhere you will be understood. How many body bags have you sent home from Irac? 20000? To late for those guys to make themselfs understood. Is is 10% or 25% of americans that cant locate australia or Irac on a map?

knowledge is the lightest load you can carry. If dont remember wrong it was an amaerican president who said something like this: you dont learn things because its easy you do it because its hard and useful

Hold on a minute

While I appreciate the humor in the original article, and am trying to understand where the writer of the above comment is coming from, I think the comment about soldiers in body bags is out of line.

Just my two cents.

"I'd suggest that everybody

"I'd suggest that everybody learn English, but that's the most impossible language of all!"

As a non-native English speaker, I must agree. My roomates never cease to mock me due to mistakes caused by English inconsistent pronunciation rules. Plough, through, although... Same letter combinations and different pronunciations!

Not that any language does not have its subtleties. Even when communicating with a Spanish speaking friend from a different country, we often hit slang that means different things for each of us.

I seem to be in the minority here...

but , for me, Spanish and French ( and even german) were relatively easy to learn . Perhaps it was just my wonderful instructors. English, on the other hand, has never made any sense. I did quite well in my grammar classes but the technicalities never made sense to me. There are to many exceptions to too many random and utterly illogical rules. I feel terribly sorry for those who try to learn English as a second language!

No kidding

No, English does not make any sense. And, as they say, the character of the people reflects their language:P

Steve Sharam