Not All Switzerland Speaks German, Dammit! [en]

Here we go, yet another misguided attempt at localisation: my MySpace page is now in German.

MySpace now joins PayPal, eBay, Amazon, Google in defaulting to German for Swiss people.

Switzerland is a multilingual country. The linguistic majority speaks Swiss-German (reasonably close to German but quite un-understandable for native German-speakers who have not been exposed to it). Second language in the country is French. Third is Italian, and fourth is… (no, not English) …Romansh.

You know how linguistic minorities are. Touchy. Oh yeah.

As a French speaker with rather less-than-functional German, I do find it quite irritating that these big “multinational” web services assume that I speak German because I’m Swiss. I’d rather have English, and so would many of my non-bilingual fellow-cititzens (particularly amongst web-going people, we tend to be better at English than German).

Yes, I’ve said that English-only is a barrier to adoption. But getting the language wrong is just as bad, if not worse (most people have come to accept the fact that English is the “default” language on the internet, even if they don’t understand it). If I want my Amazon books to be shipped here free of charge, I have to use, which is in German, and doesn’t have a very wide choice of French books. My wishlist is therefore on too, which maybe explains why I never get anything from it.

Paypal is almost worse. I can’t really suggest it to clients as a solution for “selling stuff over the internet”, because all it offers in its Swiss version is a choice between German (default) and English. You can’t sell a book in French with a payment interface in German or English.

So please, remember that country != language, and that there is a little place called Switzerland scrunched up in the middle of Europe, caught between France, Italy, Germany and Austria (Liechtenstein is even worse off than us I suppose), and that not everyone in that little country speaks German.

Thank you.

26 thoughts on “Not All Switzerland Speaks German, Dammit! [en]

  1. I feel your pain. I live in France but my first language is English, and having people make assumptions about what language I speak based on my IP address is SO annoying.

  2. I strongly agree with you. Usually, my opinion is that we all have to learn English and make it the only intra-national language in Switzerland. Working as researcher, I know very good how difficult is to speak/write English instead of my language, but I prefer English to German. I prefer to spend my energy learning English, not German.
    Anyway, we can’t ignore that lot of people do not understand English.

  3. Yes, improvement is needed with language, but also with the content itself. I can remember when yahoo, msn, etc. decide to enter the Swiss market and just brought content from Germany, France and Italy. The majority of news, sport, etc. was not fitted for the Swiss people and these attempts from the big players failed (have a look on .ch websites and now look at the .fr, .de, .it … and you will appreciate). At the end it gave space for the local players to survive and now to be leader here. That’s good!

  4. I’ve filed this bug report with pay-pal twice, and even phoned it it. The first time they sent me a detailed explaination of how to set my country to Switzerland.

    Now myspace is doing it too. Great.


  5. Thank you for telling exactly what I’ve been feeling for a while. eBay and Paypal are certainly the worse example. I’ve been sending them several emails (constantly ignored) and what makes me even more angry is the fact that they have proper and functionnal french language interface for other countries.

  6. As someone born & raised in Germany, I can only confirm that Swiss-German is hard to understand. While living in England, I had a Swiss friend. Whenever I visited him, and heard his family talk Schweizerdütsch, I had the weird feeling, that I really ought to understand them, but I plainly didn’t. (The same sort of thing happened to me in Holland.)

  7. Tu peux ajouter Skype à ta liste 😉 Mieux… quand on a sélectionner le français, le titre de la page reste en allemand. ABE

  8. Modifoo, That’s really funny. The thing is that as an anglophone I get the same feeling in Holland. I always think that in a couple of minutes it’ll kick in and I’ll just start understanding them. Of course it never happens.

    Meanwhile, it appears that Jyte users agree unanimously. I suppose I should have linked to your blog post on the subject rather than mine. But of course that one does lead back here. -mark

  9. I sooo agree with you. It drives me nuts. I can’t use Paypal or eBay because I don’t understand German well enough. It’s so frustrating. I live near Lausanne and speak French and English, but I hate German. What can we do to force these big companies to listen to us ?

  10. It’s even hard to explain the Asians and Aussis that nobody on the world speaks “Swiss”. But after some time I get used with it, it may be hard to understand for them that a country with 7 mio. people (in a lot bigger Asian citys live more people than that) speaks 4 language.

  11. You are probably right. As I live in Zurich (attended at blogcamp, too) I’ve never had this sort of problems but I must admit that it would look quite strange if all those Interfaces “étaient en français”. (Altough I speak and understand French quite well and I think it’s a beautiful language)

  12. eBay for me is also a pain… Not only it defaults to German, as it simply doesn’t have the French interface. Or at least I haven’t been able to find it, as the instructions would be in German. And whoever writes the descriptions, does so in German as well. Once I bought an ADSL modem hoping it would not be broken, as I couldn’t tell as much from reading the description.

  13. And what about from today ?

    … I get the website in french instead of english which irritates me much.

    Perhaps and unfortunately you may have it in german 🙁

  14. My previous comment was inaccurate, I’m sorry for having posted without diagnosis enough.

    In fact, I was not speaking of a new behaviour, I was just mentionning cookie problems which unset my language preference.

    Anyway, getting french for a guy from France is probably more appropriate than getting german for an internaut from Switzerland.

    Sorry for my previous complaint 🙂

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