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Scoobyqueen

Germany's foreign minister

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Scoobyqueen

Less than 24 hours after winning the election (coalition with Merkel) two weeks ago, Germany's future foreign minister refused to speak English

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gato

This seems to be internal German politics. I don't think people outside of Germany will care, other than for the opportunity to gawk at an awkward public moment. He tried to make up for it for inviting the reporter to tea and speak English at the end. Hehe. Maybe have some fish and chips, and some Marmite, too.

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tony1343

Doesn't seem like a big deal to me. Does the British Foreign Minister speaker German with the German media?

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tooironic

I think this youtube comment by darnmarquee sums up my feelings on the matter:

"at first i thought westerwelle was stupid to do what he did, but now i see it differently. how the hell dares he to ask someone to speak in english? this an example of british arrogancy and not german. i think the mistake here was made by the reporter at first place. i see westerrwelle's reaction nothing worse than what the reporter did. and in an unexpected situation not everybody is able to react a funny and sophisticated way. usually we know what the good reaction would have been hours later."

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adrianlondon

If two people want to talk, and person 1 speaks languages A and B, and person 2 speaks language B, it doesn't take a genius to work out which language to pick.

I guess the difference between my logic and reality is the "two people WANT to talk" part.

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tooironic

Good point, except for the fact that you have a (I assume monolingual) British reporter at a German press conference (that, I also assume, had nothing to do with Britain at all).

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yonglin

As I Swede, I must say that I wish that some Swedish ministers could just stick to speaking in Swedish, and let the professionals handle the translation. In this way, they can avoid seeming even more stupid than they are.

I find it a lot more embarassing that the BBC (was this guy really from there?) sends a reporter unable to understand German to a German-language press conference in Germany.

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wushijiao

In the US, they tend to never have foreign language officials saying things with subtitles. They either dub it, or, more likely, get quotes from people who know English. I think it is mainly due to the way producers want to make the segment. Maybe the BBC journalist was asking him to speak in English for TV reasons as well. (If so, I agree that it is arrogant, and makes for problematic and distorted reporting).

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Don_Horhe

I agree with tooironic and yonglin. If the guy was holding a press conference in an English speaking country - yes, a reaction like that would have been quite strange. But in his own country at a German-language conference having nothing to do with Britain, I find his reaction quite normal. To me it's a matter of national pride and identity - at official meetings between presidents, prime-ministers and such, each speaks his own language, although in most cases at least one can speak the other's tongue, or both can probably switch to English, which might often be the case at informal meetings anyway.

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Scoobyqueen

Thank you for all the comments. It is refreshing to be able to see this from another perspective.

This was a press conference and the aim of a press conference is spreading the message to the media by whatever means. The access to such a press conference is very strict and the organisers should have known the needs of the media there.

Westerwelle has been heavily crisised in Germany for this "arrogant" attitude mainly due to the reason that he himself has chosen his future role as foreign minister.

From my perspective I work in Germany, organisinig international events and press conferences here for the international press. I insist that English is the language used by presenters since our topic is international with international implications. But my presenters are briefed in advance including what to expect from the audience and the right way to react to critical situations to preserve their image. Maybe Westerwelle has not got an international PR Manager yet :wink:

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mcgau

it reminds me of chairman jiang's devotion to speaking Cantonese and English.........:mrgreen:

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Xiwang

I agree that this guy was either playing to a German audience or being a tad arrogant. The BBC reporter just wanted a clip in English so it could be shown on the news (or played on the radio) without having to get it subtitled/dubbed.

I remember the Czech Prime Minister giving a news conference in Washington, D.C., and being asked a question by a reporter from his country. She prefaced it by saying that she wanted to ask in Czech so she could show his response on TV back home. Strangely, he then answered in English.

This guy made a big deal about the BBC reporter asking the same question as his German colleagues. However, that's how the news game is played. Particularly at non-live news conferences, reporters often ask the same questions over and over again so that, later, the network can show video of their reporter asking the "important" question (and implying to the audience that no other competing reporter was smart enough to have asked this question).

That's how the sausage is made.

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tooironic

Really? Here I was thinking there were professional interpreters who handled this for this very reason... 8)

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Scoobyqueen

Xiwang - thanks for highlighting this point. I think you are right. In fact the journalist probably understands German (you can tell from his nodding when Westerwelle responds) but he probably wanted it for his english audience, as you say. And your point about the exlusive quote is also true. All in all this makes westerwelle's response seem all the more arrogant. here was a chance for PR and he blew it.

However in reality he didnt want to respond in English because he doesnt speak it that well and that is what he wanted to hide hence he labours the point about being in Germany.

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imron

Is that true though? There's another clip on youtube of him speaking English reasonably well.

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Scoobyqueen

I have seen a clip on youtube from 2006 where he speaks very slowly seemingly translating word for word in his head and appears to struggle with the word order. Just sounds very Germany but passable I suppose.

But this is mainly a hangup he has about his own English abilties. He is a lawyer of background after all. Here in Germany those in that profession tend to be very precise to the point of hair-splitting. Some Germans can be very hard on themselves when it comes to perfection especially in the language department.

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gato

Guido seems quite a character.

http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1926811,00.html

Guido Westerwelle

Germany's elections on Sept. 27 had more than one victor. Sure, German Chancellor Angela Merkel retained her grip on the post. But Guido Westerwelle, the head of the Free Democrats, was the real winner, becoming the first openly gay leader of a governing German party.

Fast Facts:

• Was born in Bad Honnef, Germany, near Bonn. Studied law the University of Bonn and went on to practice in the city.

• Has led the Free Democrats since 2001, when he became the youngest leader in the party's history.

• The 47-year-old pushes low taxes and is considered pro-business. Has also advocated for greater civil rights and adoption rights for same-sex couples.

• A trained lawyer, Westerwelle has gained respect for top-notch debating skills.

• Announced his sexual orientation by bringing his partner to Merkel's 50th birthday party in 2004.

• Once appeared on the German version of the reality show Big Brother — the only German politician to have done so.

• In 2002, he traveled the country in a bright yellow bus dubbed the Guidomobile to campaign. That same year, he painted the soles of his shoes in the party's trademark yellow with the number 18 to show what share of the vote he targeted, though he ended up getting just 7.4%.

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chrix

Well, after getting slammed in the press for not speaking English, Westerwelle seems to have redeemed himself, now he's reported to have spoken English well. (those refresher courses provided by the Foreign Office surely paid off).

The press conference incident surely was handled badly, though it should be pointed out that interpreters were available for foreign reporters. I think it's a double-edged sword: even if politicians speak foreign languages, they always have to weigh both domestic and foreign audiences. Angela Merkel addressed Congress using German, and when Vladimir Putin goes to Germany, he rarely speaks German in public.

Though more important than the language issue is what changes diplomatic protocol will undergo when he takes his partner on state visits with him. Though if Sarkozy could take Carla to Egypt without being married to her...

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gougou
now he's reported to have spoken English well.
Apparently what he said was "Wait a minute, otherwise I can't understand you" or something like that - while waiting for the interpreter...

I think there's way too much fuss about this matter. Of course it would be nice if he did speak English, but if he doesn't, there's always good interpreters he can use.

Same goes for business - language is a nice-to-have, not a must-have. In the end, it's more about your ability in what you're actually doing. Language is just a tool which you can borrow from somebody else - just like a manager will have a secretary doing the touch-typing for him, so he can focus on more important issues.

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chrix

I was referring to the EU summit. Is that what he said there? I also read that the praise came from an Italian reporter, and thus not the most credible arbiter of English abilities. :conf

Well at least the new Defence Minister speaks English perfectly...

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