All of us who choose to live in Germany find one of the most daunting aspects is what to do when medical problems occur. Indeed, one of the most common questions I am asked is how to go about finding an English-speaking doctor, dentist or optician. Whilst I plan on doing a full article on this subject in the near future, I just want to share my experiences gained over the couple of years or so that I have spent here.
For me, one of the biggest myths about Germany is that everyone speaks English and that all professionals such as those in the medical industry speak it fluently. Sure, that may be true to a certain extent in cosmopolitan cities such as Hamburg, Berlin, Cologne, etc. where there are many companies dealing internationally, but I found it not to be the case in other ‘lesser’ towns and cities.
My first experience of this was when I originally moved to Essen, a sprawling industrial city in the Ruhr region. This city grew on the back of mining and heavy industry and as such the local populace did not need to speak English. I searched high and low for an English-speaking doctor and of the ones I did track down, their English was little better than my German. Even worse, their reception staff spoke virtually no English so making appointments was a real challenge and in the end, I found it easier to make the appointments in person and hope there would be other patients in the waiting room who could help in English rather than struggle making the appointment over the telephone.
And then there was the ophthalmologist. The clinic claimed on its website that they accept English-speaking patients. Sure, one of the receptionists could speak it, but unfortunately for me the only ophthalmologist available at the time couldn’t. Thankfully, the staff were very helpful and an assistant who spoke basic English was wheeled in to act as translator for the ophthalmologist, although she was not very necessary as the ophthalmologist was very patient in how she explained things in a German, taking note of my German-speaking ability and tailoring her conversation accordingly. As a result, I actually left the clinic feeling a job had been well done, reassured that my eyes were healthy and all managed achieved with basic German skills.
That scenario repeated itself in Zell a couple of years later. The optician did not speak much English at all but we managed perfectly well with my still very limited German. For the more complicated stuff such as ordering glasses, there were a couple of young counter staff who spoke English beautifully, so again I left happy and reassured.
Of course English is spoken reasonably widely in the Mosel region, but one has to remember that it is spoken mostly for the tourists and as such it is more likely to be people in restaurants and tourist attractions that speak it the best. My advice when it comes to finding appropriate medical services is to ask other English speakers for recommendations and if possible ask a German speaker to make the appointments for you, or at a push make the appointment in person so that if there are any problems, other patients or the doctor can step in to help if necessary. Above all though, I urge you to learn some basic German such as times, days of the week, directions, numbers, the words for appointment and cancel, etc. as even a little knowledge really does make all the difference for basic day-to-day appointments.