Europe is famous for being a small place with an awful lot of languages. Going through three or more language regions in one day is perfectly possible: and in the past few weeks, by hopping around on the trains, I've done just that. It was pretty intense in Switzerland, what with its German dominance, its smaller pockets of French and Italian, and its general nation-wide efforts at English. It was a little less full-on in Germany, where German is spoken by everyone around the country, and where almost everyone can also speak reasonable English. But upon arriving here in Belgium, it dawned on me just what a ridiculously over-linguified continent this is. And I'd say that as Europe goes, Belgium is about the most extreme example of language craziness to be found: the nation split virtually in half with the Flemish (i.e. Dutch) and French divide; smaller pockets of German in the east; and the whole place also being highly fluent in English. What with the plethora of languages to be learned, it's amazing they have time to do anything else at all around here.
On the Thalys train to Brussels today, all announcements were made in no less than four languages: Dutch, French, German, and English. The train was (in the space of 4 hours) actually travelling through areas speaking three of these four tongues. I can certainly see why Esperanto was invented in Europe, and why many people think it would be a good universal language to replace all others: it would certainly bring an end to the circus of languages that is carried on here. I'm also finding it convenient, but a bit unfair (to others, not to myself), that English is so widespread here in Europe. Why does the rest of the continent have to speak English, when English people themselves make no effort whatsoever to learn the languages of their neighbours across the channel? It seems rather bizarre and discriminatory that English has taken over Europe to such a great extent. But then again, since English is the most widely-spoken and important language in the world today, I guess it's inevitable in the face of globalisation and of ever-increasing international trade and travel.