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Old 27.08.2014, 14:57
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They do not want to speak French even if they can...

Well, I'm a bit pissed off.

I called several times an office of Stadt Bern for some questions.

I speak French but not German.

I called them several times. Each time on the other side of the phone they only speak German and we could not communicate at all. I thought that they really did not speak French.

Today I wanted to try my luck again to see if there is someone speaking French.

Conversation: (A: automatic, M: me, H: him)
A: - Welcome to .... For German, press 1, for French, press 2.
(I pressed 2)
H: - (Some German)
M: - (In French) Excuse me sir, do you speak French?
H: - Non + (some German)
M: - (In French) I'm sorry, I do not understand German. Is there someone who can possibly speak French, or English?
H: - Non + (some German)
M: - (In French) I'm sorry but I do not understand what you said.
H: - (Some German).
(10 seconds silence, I'm about to hang up the phone.)
H: - (In perfect French, very reluctant) I speak French, but here we only speak German!

And then he answered my questions reluctantly in French without much patience... In the meantime he transferred me to one of his colleagues, who also speaks perfect French!

Last edited by happyrobbie; 27.08.2014 at 16:22.
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Old 27.08.2014, 15:05
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Re: They do not want to speak French even if they can...

Yup, typical "don't give a damn" attitude of the bureaucracy here. While you would think that anyone who speaks a language would be happy to communicate using it if it means they are helping someone, especially when it's one of the official languages of Switzerland, sadly many just refuse out of sheer stubborness and the desire to make things as awkward for others as humanly possible.

Of course you should not expect them to speak anything other than German in Bern (correction: you can as it's a bilingual canton), but if the person you are speaking to does speak French and refuses to use it then something isn't right.

Last edited by Chuff; 27.08.2014 at 15:32.
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Old 27.08.2014, 15:06
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Re: They do not want to speak French even if they can...

I've never come across a civil servant in the UK who was able to speak to me in French- even though most have learnt it at school to O'Level or GCSE
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Old 27.08.2014, 15:11
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Re: They do not want to speak French even if they can...

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I've never come across a civil servant in the UK who was able to speak to me in French- even though most have learnt it at school to O'Level or GCSE
Completely irrelevant. The fact is the other person on the end of the line did speak French (as many Bernese do) but refused to use it.

Language is simply about communicating, and if you refuse to do that when you are capable of doing so, just to prove some kind of misguided point, then it's wrong.
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Old 27.08.2014, 15:12
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Re: They do not want to speak French even if they can...

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Yup, typical "don't give a damn" attitude of the bureaucracy here. While you would think that anyone who speaks a language would be happy to communicate using it if it means they are helping someone, especially when it's one of the official languages of Switzerland, sadly many just refuse out of sheer stubborness and the desire to make things as awkward for others as humanly possible.

Of course you should not expect them to speak anything other than German in Bern, but if the person you are speaking to does speak French and refuses to use it then something isn't right.
Especially when it's not only one of the official languages of Switzerland but also one of the official languages of the canton (Bern), and when you call them you first hear: "Welcome to... For German, press 1, for French, press 2...". You press 2 and the guy understands every single French word you say but does not want to answer in a single French word
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Old 27.08.2014, 15:14
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Re: They do not want to speak French even if they can...

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Especially when it's not only one of the official languages of Switzerland but also one of the official languages of the canton (Bern), and when you call them you first hear: "Welcome to... For German, press 1, for French, press 2...". You press 2 and the guy understands every single French word you say but does not want to answer in a single French word
If it's an official language of the canton, and the menu options even state it as an option, then they have no leg to stand on and are clearly just being difficult for the sake of it.
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Old 27.08.2014, 15:17
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Re: They do not want to speak French even if they can...

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If it's an official language of the canton, and the menu options even state it as an option, then they have no leg to stand on and are clearly just being difficult for the sake of it.
Canton Bern is maybe >90% German, but French is still a cantonal official language (because of Jura Bernois), and in reality many people do speak French (like the guy in the phone)/
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Old 27.08.2014, 15:18
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Re: They do not want to speak French even if they can...

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Of course you should not expect them to speak anything other than German in Bern.
Why? Bern is a bilingual canton and French is an official language of the canton so it's not unreasonable to expect to be able to speak French with somebody there.
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Old 27.08.2014, 15:19
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Re: They do not want to speak French even if they can...

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Well, I'm a bit pissed off.

I called several times an office of Stadt Bern for some questions.

I speak French but not German.

I called them several times. Each time on the other side of the phone they only speak German and we could not communicate at all. I thought that they really did not speak French.

Today I wanted to try my luck again to see if there is someone speaking French.

Conversation: (M: me, H: him)
M: - (In French) Excuse me sir, do you speak French?
H: - Non + (some German)
M: - (In French) I'm sorry, I do not understand German. Is there someone who can possibly speak French, or English?
H: - Non + (some German)
M: - (In French) I'm sorry but I do not understand what you said.
H: - (Some German).
(10 seconds silence, I'm about to hang up the phone.)
H: - (In perfect French, very reluctant) I speak French, but here we only speak German!

And then he answered my questions reluctantly in French without much patience... In the meantime he transferred me to one of his colleagues, who also speaks perfect French!
Really? That sucks! Especially how much French is spoken in Bern. Each time I went there, I always have been served in French. Basel also is very great with other languages. I just came back to coop and I was talking to myself in French at the cashier and the lady served me in French right away.

One thing also is I always ask in German first. I say something like Mein Dutch ist nich gut and ask if they speak such, such or such. Usually people are being super nice about it.
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Old 27.08.2014, 15:24
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Re: They do not want to speak French even if they can...

If French is an official language is seems silly that he can't at least pass you to a fluent French speaker.

In gerneral though, I can understand a person's relucatance to discuss things in a language they aren't comfortable with, even if they seem to have a good grasp, if there are legal implications to the advice they give, which could be the case for a government worker. A slight misuse of a colloquialism could completely reverse the meaning.
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Old 27.08.2014, 15:26
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Re: They do not want to speak French even if they can...

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Really? That sucks! Especially how much French is spoken in Bern. Each time I went there, I always have been served in French. Basel also is very great with other languages. I just came back to coop and I was talking to myself in French at the cashier and the lady served me in French right away.

One thing also is I always ask in German first. I say something like Mein Dutch ist nich gut and ask if they speak such, such or such. Usually people are being super nice about it.
At Bern I usually find quite good service in French (e.g. the commune...), but I do not know why this office (about finance) is much more difficult.
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Old 27.08.2014, 15:27
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Re: They do not want to speak French even if they can...

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Why? Bern is a bilingual canton and French is an official language of the canton so it's not unreasonable to expect to be able to speak French with somebody there.
I simply didn't know it was a bilingual canton, hence my following post responding to robbie correcting it.
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Old 27.08.2014, 15:28
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Re: They do not want to speak French even if they can...

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At Bern I usually find quite good service in French (e.g. the commune...), but I do not know why this office (about finance) is much more difficult.
Grumpy guy with a bad day?
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Old 27.08.2014, 15:28
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Re: They do not want to speak French even if they can...

Press 4 for Eeenglish.

A few years ago i had a problem with my internet connection and spent about two hours with a rather nice young man who spoke better English than me.

They do exist. But the music sucks when they put you on hold. ACDC if i can remember. Who i love, but not whilst waiting for Mr Eenglish to respond.
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Old 27.08.2014, 15:28
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Re: They do not want to speak French even if they can...

My wife always speaks French when she goes shopping in Bern, and invariably is naswered in French, albeit somewhat pidgin at times.
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Old 27.08.2014, 15:30
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Re: They do not want to speak French even if they can...

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I simply didn't know it was a bilingual canton, hence my following post responding to robbie correcting it.
I think I was posting at the same time as Happyrobbie only more slowly ( due to phone call interruption) so his post appeared before mine.

I always speak French when in Bern and have never had a problem being understood and always get a response in French. I used to speak German but whilst my high German is pretty good I understand zero Swiss German and soon discovered that they would rather speak French than high German.
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Old 27.08.2014, 15:38
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Re: They do not want to speak French even if they can...

I have a counterpart at the City of Bern, we talk (email) in French and German, sometimes I get a surprise response in well-written English, anyways

Some people are very subconscious about how they sound in their second language, maybe some of that was in play.
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Old 27.08.2014, 15:40
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Re: They do not want to speak French even if they can...

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...One thing also is I always ask in German first. I say something like Mein Dutch ist nich gut and ask if they speak such, such or such. Usually people are being super nice about it.
I think this is the key bit, and have encountered it numerous times in Bern. If you pose the question in German, and ask if the other person speaks a little bit of English (or French) you get a much better response.
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Old 27.08.2014, 15:41
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Re: They do not want to speak French even if they can...

I recall an interesting experience along these lines some years ago in Brussels. Each of the Cantons within Brussels had its own bureaucracy including the police, and its own official language. I was visiting some friends, one of whom was unfortunate to have his motorbike stolen while I was there, so I gave him a lift to the police station on mine so he could report it.

Now most of the local population of Brussels are Flemish speakers, and my friend was Dutch, but this was in a French-speaking Canton, so they spent the entire time filling in forms, including getting them typed up (on a typewriter - shows how long ago this was), all the time only speaking French. Two native Dutch speakers, not allowed to speak Dutch to each other. Craazy, man.
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Old 27.08.2014, 15:54
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Re: They do not want to speak French even if they can...

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Well, I'm a bit pissed off.

I called several times an office of Stadt Bern for some questions.

I speak French but not German.

I called them several times. Each time on the other side of the phone they only speak German and we could not communicate at all. I thought that they really did not speak French.

--snipped--
Maybe your French accent threw him off

I have a French Canadian friend and she speaks "French" with a very tick accent québécois that most other Francophones (Romands, Frenchpeople, Walloons) have difficulties to understand. IMHO the Berner/Bernois speak French better than the Quebecers
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