Uncertain whose side financial history was on, Britain declined earlier this year to abandon its venerable currency, the pound sterling, for the euro, the new currency of the European Union.
But while the pound and its keepers at the Bank of England are not represented at the shiny new European Central Bank in Frankfurt, Germany, Britain is a presence nonetheless. When the new bank's board holds its regular meetings, the language its 11 members use is English."If a Finnish banker wants to address his German colleague," said a bank spokeswoman, "instead of using an interpreter, he simply speaks English."
While Europe has at least 15 languages, Europeans are increasingly using one: English.
Of course, Europeans are not about to give up their native tongues. But the trend toward using English runs deep, and not just among globetrotting executives. Europe is uniting rapidly, as the adoption of the euro shows, and Europeans recognize that in a world of collapsing distances and borders, and pervasive American cultural influence, English is the language that the Continent must use to communicate.
English seeps into the lives of Europeans at many levels. To liven up a German class, a teacher in Bonn had her students translate a song by the late rocker Jim Morrison. She assumed, correctly, that they were proficient in English and idolized Morrison, so she sought to hone their German skills by having them put his images into their native tongue.
Thanks to the movies, rural Italians know what the expression "The Full Monty" means. In magazines across the Continent, Bally shoes from Switzerland are advertised with the word "breath-taking."
Pushing the trend toward English is a young generation of Europeans who have traveled widely, studied and often worked abroad, are at home with English and unabashed about using it. In the past, people from small European countries like Finland or Denmark, with languages unfamiliar to most of the rest of the world, often used English, but now the trend is shifting to the large countries with strong language traditions, like France, Germany and Italy.
So strong is the tug of English in Europe that some have suggested it may one day emerge as the Continent's universal language, relegating Europe's other languages to the role of regional dialects.
Indeed, Germans were startled earlier this year when their phone company, Deutsche Telekom, changed its bills to read "City-Calls" and "German-Calls," in place of the cumbersome German expressions for local and long distance calls - Ortsgesprache and Ferngesprache. The Institute for the German Language, which defines the rules for the use of German, protested, to no avail.