One of the most daunting aspects when coming to live in Germany is what to do when medical problems occur.
I am often asked how to go about finding an English-speaking doctor, dentist or optician. I plan on doing a full article on this subject in the future, but for now I want to share my experiences since being here. One of the biggest myths about Germany is that everyone speaks English. A bigger myth is that all professionals speak it fluently. Whilst these myths may be true in large cosmopolitan cities, it isn’t the case in other ‘lesser’ areas.
My first experience of this was when I first came to Germany. I was living in Essen, a sprawling industrial city. Essen grew out of the coal industry, and the local populace had little need to speak English. Despite intensive searching, it was hard to find doctors with good English. Those I did find knew only the basics, whilst the reception staff usually spoke none, so booking an appointment was a challenge. I found it easier to make appointments in person, the ethos being that there might be other patients in the waiting room who could help in English if necessary. Besides, bodily gestures speak a thousand words irrespective of language.
My first experience of this was when I first came to Germany. I moved to Essen, a sprawling industrial city where the local populace had little need to speak English. Despite intensive searching, it was extremely difficult to find doctors with good command of English. The ones I did find only knew the basics. Worse still, the reception staff usually spoke no English so making appointments was a real challenge. I found it easier to make those in person, the idea being that there would (hopefully) be other patients in the waiting room who could help in English if necessary, plus bodily gestures speak a thousand words in any language.
My first trip to the ophthalmologist proved interesting. I chose one which according to their website accepted English-speaking patients. It turned out that a receptionist was able to speak a little, but the ophthalmologist couldn’t. During the consultation, the receptionist acted as translator, although it was not necessary given the ophthalmologist used pigeon German, gestures and diagrams to help explain everything. I finally left the clinic satisfied that a job had been well done, reassured that my eyes were healthy. Best of all, I achieved it with nothing more than basic German skills and a smile.
A similar scenario occurred in Zell a couple of years later. I visited an optician but she spoke little English. Fortunately, we managed pretty well using our limited combined English / German skills. For more complicated stuff such as ordering glasses, there was a young guy at the counter who spoke great English, so again I left happy and reassured.
In the Mosel region, one must remember that it English is mostly spoken for the tourists. Accordingly, only people working in restaurants and tourist attractions speak it well. My advice for finding medical services is to ask other English speakers for advice and recommendations. If possible, get a German speaker to make the appointments for you. Failing that, make them in person so that should problems arise, perhaps someone else will be on hand to help if required. Above all, try learning some basic German words and phrases – times, days of the week, directions, numbers, the words for “appointment”, “cancel”, etc. Even the most basic language skills can make a massive difference in daily life here.