In Eastern Europe all of the way to the Bosphorus, everyone speaks English–except for the tourists. Whether it’s a French girl talking to her Romanian uncle, an Austrian passenger ordering coffee from a Turkish conductor, or an Italian with a defective passport remonstrating with a Bulgarian border guard, the foreign language–if not of choice, then of necessity–is English.
Virtually all of the natives speak a kind of Resort English. The waiter knows the words for cabbage, polenta, and dried fish. The spice seller knows every strange-scented grain and powder and the pleas it takes to talk you into buying more than you need. Everyone knows the way to the next major sight you plan on seeing. Even the ticket-window clerk knows how to say, “Stupid! You miss train! Come back tomorrow!” But virtually never will you hear a complete English sentence or phrasebook term without a heavy overlay of accent. It’s probably the season–deep winter–but the English and American travelers seem to have ventured elsewhere.
Not that we mind, but sometimes it feels like a million former high school students are just waiting for us to come along to practice their skills. The good news, of course, is that we have run into nothing but endless patience with our own klutzy and even hilarious attempts to bridge the gap with French, German, Italian, and even our own brand of Latin. As far as we can tell anyway, although we’re still wondering about a few of the meats that appeared on our plates in upper Transylvania.