Last night there was a party in the international guest house where I am staying. It was a potluck, with everyone bringing a dish to sample, plus a great deal of wine. My new neighbors are a fascinating set. There is a doctor here for two months from Vietnam, to "learn new techniques" at a German hospital. A Spanish businessman who lives in France but spends three months of every year in Germany for his company. A young Russian doctoral candidate in physics who is spending a term at the Liebnitz Institute. An Israeli who teaches Jewish culture and history. A visiting Italian physicist at the Max Planck Institute. And, most startling of all, a Japanese linguist who is a world-class expert on a minor native Alaskan language.
I talked to all of these people, and more. The reason I could do this is that the entire party was conducted in English -- even though I was the only native English speaker present. Before this, I hadn't realized the extent to which English is now the accepted international language. The Vietnamese doctor, for instance, has no German and his colleagues no Vietnamese, but they managed with, he said, gestures and rudimentary English.
It was a fascinating party. And the food, from Italian zuppe through Vietnamese spring rolls to stewed cherries, was great -- and a welcome contrast to the simple meals I've been preparing for myself until I can convert my American recipes to European measurements.