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27 May 2006




Sadly, I am not terribly surprised by your experience, though it is rather extreme. I have been travelling in and out of the UK more or less frequently for 35 years and I always used to say that it was second only to the GDR of infamous memory for immigration hassles at the border. Back in the 70s border controls in continental Europe were minimal; merely showing a passport on a train was usually enough and it was not unknown for there to be no control at all between Germany and France. At that time the Nordic countries had abolished passport controls, which is why Iceland is in Schengen now. But the UK always examined every single passport meticulously. Now, with Schengen, I can travel to Lisbon, Athens, Helsinki, or Paris, and anywhere in between, with no more complication than with a domestic flight; but if I want to go beyond Paris, British immigration kicks in – and it is still a thoroughly unpleasant experience. Because the UK insists on passports, Spain theoretically reciprocates by requiring ID from passengers to and from that country, but there is hardly ever any passport check when I leave here and as often as not when I return the check is perfunctory.

With languages again you are right. As an oral examiner for the Cambridge exams I know how many Spanish teenagers are able to pass the First Certificate (http://www.cambridgeesol.org/exams/fce.htm). That is at the Council of Europe’s B2 level, which is:
Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialisation. Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party. Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.

That is what is meant by being able to hold a conversation in a foreign language, and I simply refuse to believe that 30% of British people can do so.


I should have mentioned that the current British paranoia is explained by the Great War on Terrorism. But Spain has had more than 1,000 people killed by terrorists and has suffered the greatest single terrorist attack in Europe. It has dealt with this without changing its constitutional or legal procedures in any way, and has managed to bring ETA low by purely normal constitutional political and police activity.

Tony Hatfield

"Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party."

I know kids who would be unable to pass this test in their native language.Though they could mono syllable-ise for England!

Antipholus Papps

Peter Harvey is right. It is more to do with Britain becoming a fascist state.

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