“Guten Tag to you, Fraülein. Mein Gott, where are my manners? Have a seat.”
Alternative titles for this post were: “Hello there, monsieur. Would you like a croissant with your coffee? Non? I see, d’accord.“ or “Ohayo! My name is Misaki. I’m very pleased to meet you, minna-san!”
Discussing writing in a foreign language and reading your comments brought about thoughts of the use of other languages within fiction in English.
Some types of fan fiction often use snippets of foreign languages. Certain Japanese suffixes such as “-san” are used in a lot of anime/manga fan fiction. Is it to seem more authentic and give a sense of the environment? Or is it because there is no corresponding term in English? Or is it because the writers want to show off that their knowledge of an other language? Sometimes it seems to be almost a trend to cram in as many foreign words as possible. The characters could say “hello” when they pick up the phone, but instead they say “moshi moshi”.
If we look at (British or American) films, we often see scenes set in foreign countries where the inhabitants apparently speak English amongst themselves, but with a very thick accent and random words from their first language thrown in. This has always seemed odd to me. French people do not talk to each other in English with a French accent. Either they should speak their native language (possibly with subtitles), or else the whole thing should be in English and the audience could then imagine that the scenes are “in reality” in the characters’ native language, but have been translated for their benefit.
My immediate motivation for this post is a story I’m writing that is partly set in Germany. My main character (who is British) stays there for a period of time and I am, obviously, not going to write several chapters in German (yes, the French bits in Rules of Attraction worked for Bret Easton Ellis, but alas, I am not mr Ellis). The questions is how to go about it then. Should I use “Herr” instead of “mr”, or should I go with English titles?
Personally (unless someone can convince me of something else), I am leaning towards keeping everything in English in the German section of my story. I can think of one author who managed to weave a foreign language into the English narrative extremely well, namely Christopher Isherwood. But his Berlin stories were semi-autobiographical, and the German had a certain comedic effect that fit the mood of the stories. (And he was Christopher Isherwood.) I think it would come out forced or sound like a bad parody if I tried. I hope that I can describe a German atmosphere or mindset in other ways.
Have you written a story set in an non-English speaking country? How do you feel when more languages are included in a book? Do you feel it adds something to the mood? Or is it just annoying and pretentious? Does it fit some genres or authors and not others? I’d really like to hear your opinions.