I was reading about Brexit on the Guardian the other day (as I often am). And who should I stumble across but my dear friend Guy Verhofstadt? You may remember he sent me a very kind email to say that he was doing everything to protect my future.
Anyway, in the Guardian he was suggesting that Theresa May would make an intervention around 21st September which could delay the Brexit negotiations. What is she going to announce? Has she discovered she has an Irish granny? Guy Verhofstadt said:
Apparently there will be an important intervention by the British prime minister in the coming days, it is foreseen on the 21 September.
Brexit aside, one aspect of his statement couldn’t escape my notice. You may have heard of ‘Eurospeak’ – that strange mix of English, French and jargon in which employees of the EU institutions become fluent. Other former trainees have also written quite savagely on the topic of ‘Eurospeak’. ‘Foreseen’ is a common example of Eurospeak.
At every meeting I’ve attended, somebody has used the word ‘foreseen’ in a way that an English native speaker would not. ‘Our next meeting is foreseen for next Tuesday,’ for example. My guess is that this is a direct translation from the French ‘prévu’, meaning ‘planned’. Or, indeed, a direct translation from the Dutch ‘voorzien’ (Guy Verhofstadt is Flemish). In which case, whenever an EU politician or bureaucrat says ‘foreseen’, he or she probably means ‘planned’.
However, in the first few weeks I thought that nobody knew for sure when the next meeting would be, but that someone had ‘foreseen’ Tuesday as the most likely date whilst gazing into their crystal ball. The first weeks of my traineeship were spent in confusion.
The Joy of Being an English Speaker
Harmless infractions against the English language are just one of the joys of being an English native speaker abroad. Whether you work at the European Commission, or at any company where the majority are not native English speakers, your command of English instantly assigns you the role of ‘chief proofreader’. Colleagues are generally willing to accept your opinion on what is and what isn’t correct English.
It is not all plain sailing though. Sometimes your advice is received, and then discarded.
In times gone by I used to work for an online fashion retailer in Germany, where my job was to write descriptions of shoes in English (in retrospect, one of the best jobs I ever had). One day, the company was preparing to launch a new fashion range, and the managers decided to come up with a creative English-sounding name to market it. They asked the small group of UK employees whether they should call the new range ‘Glash’.
The German managers had clearly never seen an episode The Inbetweeners. As such, they were oblivious to the hilarity that this label would cause to their British customers. They didn’t see the problem.
However, to the members of the UK shoe-description team, the horrible repercussions of releasing ‘Glash’ upon the UK market were very much ‘foreseen’.
But who knows? Maybe after Brexit, European companies won’t bother trying to market things to us at all.