Afrikaans Test Outrage.

Sorry for the clickbaity title, but it’s that kind of story; BBC News reports:

South Africans have condemned Irish airline Ryanair for making them take a test in the Afrikaans language on UK flights, calling it discriminatory. The country has 11 official languages, and many say they cannot understand Afrikaans – a language which was imposed during white-minority rule. The quiz contains questions on South African general knowledge. Ryanair defended the test, saying it weeds out those travelling on fraudulent South African passports. […]

A South African man who was flying from Lanzarote to London in May said he was “shocked” when Ryanair took away his passport and boarding pass before presenting him with the Afrikaans test. When Dinesh Joseph protested, Ryanair staff told him: “This is your language,” he said. […]

Only around 13% of South Africans speak Afrikaans as a first language, according to a 2011 census – making it the country’s third-most spoken mother tongue, after Zulu and IsiXhosa. The BBC asked Ryanair why they required the test to be taken in Afrikaans rather than any other South African language, but the company did not answer.

Apparently the quiz “is riddled with grammatical and spelling errors”; you can see it at this Metro story (here’s an archived version if, like me, you’re using an ad blocker). This does seem like a truly idiotic thing for an airline to do. Thanks, Craig!


  1. J.W. Brewer says

    1. The statement “The test is not required by UK border authorities” is almost certainly true, but it is also likely true that if someone is denied entry to the UK at Heathrow because the authorities there conclude or suspect they are traveling on a fake South African passport, that is then a problem and a headache for the airline that brought them, which needs to take them away again at its own expense. So there’s a reason airlines try to make sure everyone boarding an international flight will succeed in clearing immigration/customs at their destination.

    2. This is obviously a stupid way to do that, yet the story is missing anything about “and here’s the sensible alternative way that the UK border authorities recommend that airlines detect people trying to travel on fake South African passports.”

    3. OTOH, the internet tells me that South African citizens can’t enter the U.K. without getting a visa, so you’d think anyone with what looks like a legitimate visa issued by the U.K. authorities should be low-risk, i.e. the airline ought to be able to say “if their South African passport was fake, why didn’t you figure that out before you gave them a visa?” Unless U.K. visas are easy to fake in a way that’s hard for airline personnel to detect?

    4. The 13% figure for South Africans with Afrikaans as their L1 (mostly non-white, as the story kind of grudgingly concedes) is not really the relevant figure. More relevant figures would be a) what percentage of South Africans don’t know enough Afrikaans to pass the test; and b) what additional percentage of South Africans do know enough Afrikaans to pass the test but will quite reasonably be offended because their knowledge of Afrikaans was obtained involuntarily under historical circumstances they wish had not occurred. I’m sure both of those percentages are high enough to confirm that the test is stupid, but e.g. there may be countries elsewhere in Africa where relatively few people are L1 Swahili-speakers but such a high percentage are L2 Swahili-speakers that inabililty to demonstrate rudimentary knowledge of Swahili might perhaps cast some doubt on a claim to be from there.

  2. David Eddyshaw says

    Ryanair despises all its customers equally. South Africans have no call to feel personally aggrieved.

  3. Since it’s Ryanair, I presume the test can be waived for a fee.

  4. “and here’s the sensible alternative way that the UK border authorities recommend that airlines detect people trying to travel on fake South African passports.”
    Just ask them “Beef or cow?”.
    But seriously, after the Windrush nastiness and the last proposals on asylum seekers, I don’t think that the British Border authorities are bothered by non-sensible approaches like that test.

  5. David Eddyshaw says

    Doing the research* needed to find out the shocking truth as to who actually speaks Afrikaans in South Africa would mark you as a liberal lefty whose attitudes just wouldn’t be a good fit for the company.

    * Looking it up on Wikipedia, for example. Classic Guardian reader behaviour. Can’t be doing with that. They’d be wanting trade unions next.

  6. J.W. Brewer says

    @Hans, but from a who-do-we-want-to-let-in standpoint, shouldn’t hypothetical nasty UK border authorities be worried that the test would screen out white Anglophone South Africans (you know, the most desirable subgenre from a certain point of view) who could never be arsed to learn any Afrikaans?

  7. David Eddyshaw says


    Sadly, not.

  8. J.W. Brewer says

    @David E., I should think that the phenomenon of nasty border authorities would be quite common cross-culturally (in terms of who in any given society ends up pursuing which career path via whatever complex sorting processes), with a possible exception for tropical-island-type countries entirely dependent on foreign tourism to sustain their economy where the border authorities may thus understand their primary role as being to say “welcome! we are happy to see you and hope you will spend a lot of money!” Unless of course you look like the sort of person who isn’t there to spend money …

  9. Stu Clayton says

    I think I’ve already reported on my last visit to the States in 2004 – and it will be the last one. The airport border authorities treated me with the suspicion usually, I imagine, accorded to NIGGERS and WETBACKS. The type you just know don’t have any money and are up to no good.

    “What is the purpose of your visit?”
    “When was the last time you entered the country?”
    “At what address will you be staying?”
    “Do you have proof of that?”
    “How much money do you have?”
    “We require proof that you have a return ticket”.

    I took this as a very small example of what other people have to submit to all their lives. It didn’t piss me off because I am a homegrown WASP, but because of the phenomenon itself – suspicion and hassle initially due to skin color and speech, then generalized to the point that neither skin color, speech nor citizenship makes a difference.

    The one time I crossed over into the DDR in 1976 was exactly like that.

    Maybe their suspicion was aggravated by the fact that I live in Germany.

  10. where the border authorities may thus understand their primary role as being to say “welcome! we are happy to see you and hope you will spend a lot of money!”

    They do check your documents if that is supposed to be their primary role. I do not think that “not insulting people as they are doing it” is unprofessional.

  11. I mean, look, in 1980s you asked a seller if they have cheese and the seller answered (very) angrily: “man! are you blind!!?”. And there was no cheese.

    And now you just come and take your camembert and pay for it and go home. If it is 2 a.m. you exchange a couple of jokes with the bored cachier.

    I understand that it is market economy that makes people want to attract rather than scare away customers – and also presence of cheese. But it looks like an improvement…

  12. the phenomenon of nasty border authorities would be quite common cross-culturally

    The U.S.-Canada border is the only place where you can find rude Canadians. Quite worse than their U.S. counterparts.

  13. I think I’ve already reported on my last visit to the States in 2004 – and it will be the last one. The airport border authorities treated me with the suspicion usually, I imagine, accorded to …

    Yes I had a similar experience in 1990, and have carefully avoided the US ever since.

    Even more annoyingly, I was in transit from UK to New Zealand, with no intention of entering the US. At a stopover in LA (of a few hours in the middle of the night), I was planning to sleep in the lounge. But the Airline wanted to clear me out, so forced me into the ‘land’ side of the terminal.

    I got a whole line of questioning from immigration: why do you want to enter the US? (I don’t); why didn’t you apply for a visa? My overwhelming lack of enthusiasm (sleep deprivation) and unpreparedness for entering the country seemed to make them even more suspicious.

  14. J.W. Brewer says

    @Y: Dude, the first Famous Celebrity Canadians I was aware of as a child all played hockey for the Philadelphia Flyers during their mid-Seventies glory years (the “Broad Street Bullies”).* In that long-ago pseudo-Homeric age they played without helmets, and generally had missing teeth. So I have never bought into the stereotype of Canadians as polite pacifist wimps.* 47 seasons later, Dave “The Hammer” Schulz (a Saskatchewan boy) still holds the all-time single-season NHL record for most-time-in-penalty-box. God bless them all.

    *Cold War highlight: the early 1976 exhibition game when Our Canadians were so brutally efficient at knocking Communist players down on their backs on the ice without a whistle even being blown (because these were clean hits, by the North American standards of the day), that the Soviets sulkily withdrew from the ice until they were told they would not get their promised hard-currency payday unless they played the game out to its conclusion.

  15. But outside the hockey rink? Hmmm?

    I’ll just say that I’ve been to Canada quite a few times, and the border guards were jerks without exception. The American ones are variable.

  16. I just noticed Ryanair flies to Toronto. Perhaps I should warn my Canadian friends that they’d have to learn French to an intermediate level before being allowed on a Ryanair flight.

  17. David Eddyshaw says

    I wonder if they fly to Cardiff?

  18. Goes without saying, if you’re using a British passport for any Ryanair flight, you need to take the Ryanair Welsh exam.

  19. Yes I had a similar experience in 1990, and have carefully avoided the US ever since.

    Maybe depends on port of entry? JFK tends to be mean, Dulles isn’t good and the US guards on the Canadian border can be real dicks. But my experiences in Boston have been better overall than my experiences entering the UK on a US passport over the years.

    Post Brexit however I have gotten the impression the UK is bending over backwards to accomodate US visitors.

  20. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    As Ryanair is an Irish company I wonder if they require their passengers travelling with Irish passports to show proficiency in Irish.

    In the 1950s my father worked for a company in Manchester that did a lot of business with Irish partners to buy carrageen moss. On one occasion they had a letter from Dublin for which the header etc. were in Irish, but the text itself was in English. It so happened that there was a fluent Irish speaker in the office, so they got him to draft a reply in Irish. After a couple of weeks they got a sheepish letter from Dublin asking for the text in English.

  21. The nasty questions Stu Clayton relayed to us are absolutely normal for a person travelling on a tourist visa. I don’t understand why anyone would object answering. Really. There are more entertaining questions like “Have you personally pulled up your pants this morning?” and “Have you hidden any bombs in them?”, but I would not advise giving cheeky answers if the goal is to minimize the interaction time.

  22. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    Even more annoyingly, I was in transit from UK to New Zealand, with no intention of entering the US. At a stopover in LA (of a few hours in the middle of the night), I was planning to sleep in the lounge. But the Airline wanted to clear me out, so forced me into the ‘land’ side of the terminal.

    I heard almost the same story from Frank Hird, a very distinguished Australian scientist (now deceased) that I used to know when I was at Berkeley. He was on his way from Australia to London and the unplanned stopover was in Miami, but otherwise the details were the same. This was in the 1950s and he had been a communist, but in the days before computers I don’t know if the authorities would have known that.

  23. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    The one time I crossed over into the DDR in 1976 was exactly like that.

    I went to the DDR twice in two days in 1979. My sister lived in West Berlin, but I wanted to talk with Jens Reich (later famous as a civil rights campaigner) in East Berlin. The first visit was so positive that we decided to meet again the next day. So, four crossings at Checkpoint Charlie in two days. On each crossing I was checked by the same immigration officer, and each time she spent about ten minutes comparing my face with my passport photograph. No pleasantries were exchanged.

  24. @Hans, but from a who-do-we-want-to-let-in standpoint, shouldn’t hypothetical nasty UK border authorities be worried that the test would screen out white Anglophone South Africans (you know, the most desirable subgenre from a certain point of view) who could never be arsed to learn any Afrikaans?
    I don’t have any special insight on what British immigration authorities or their masters in government want, but I doubt that race is top of the list of concerns. I mean, everyone, including the EU and Germany, wants to keep out poor Africans and poor dark-skinned people from everywhere, but the UK did Brexit expressly to exclude poor white (Eastern) Europeans and, from what I read, is now quite ready to replace them with dark-skinned people from the commonwealth as long as they have the right qualifications.

  25. After the Wall had come down, I decided to take a week off of classes and go to Berlin for the formal reunification ceremonies in 1990.

    The day of reunification I rode around East Berlin on an S-Bahn. The car I was riding in was otherwise empty except for two presumably East German men.

    Over the course of our ride, they pointed at me several times and spoke of “der N— da”. I’m a white US male, but I guess in college my messy wavy black hair was enough to signal “other” to them.

  26. After a couple of weeks they got a sheepish letter from Dublin asking for the text in English.

    That’s a great story, thanks! (“He’s English, Buck Mulligan said, and he thinks we ought to speak Irish in Ireland.”)

  27. David Eddyshaw says

    each time she spent about ten minutes comparing my face with my passport photograph

    This happened constantly to me during my one visit to Moscow. Mind you, I was seventeen at the time, and to be fair, I really didn’t look much like my passport photograph.

    I still don’t, really. It was never a problem in Africa, as all white men with beards look pretty much the same anyway.

    I don’t recall ever having encountered rudeness from border officials in West Africa. Other things, yes, but not rudeness …

  28. @D.O. actually all tourists who haven’t planned their exact trajectory beforehand are disturbed by such questions. Usually the problem is solved by fake (or rather real but made without any intent to ever appear) reservations. Yet, it is seen as a problem.

    As for how many of the tourists are so… I’d say quite many. My friends, who usually simply want to see the country (or several of them) and their local friends usually are so.
    People who want to see the beach are more numerous and different, but they go to beach countries and these countries usually do not ask questions.

  29. J.W. Brewer says

    Going back to the linked article, it’s not that “a language which was imposed during white-minority rule” is an unfair (if incomplete, because unclear as to imposed on whom) description of Afrikaans, but it makes one wonder how the BBC would describe the historical/political circumstances under which the *English* language came to be “imposed” on people in South Africa. Or maybe that’s different because the global spread of English is just some inevitable natural phenomenon that has nothing to do with any historical violence or nastiness or inegalitarianism?

  30. JWB, but they do not require people to pass the English proficiency test.

    drasvi, people who fake hotel reservations are well-prepared to talk to the border police.

  31. J.W. Brewer says

    @D.O., well, that’s because it is precisely the global spread of English that makes English proficiency a useless proxy for South African citizenship. By contrast, the vast majority of people proficient in Afrikaans are South African citizens (if not, probably Namibians, although there is also now something of a global diaspora).

    The difficulty is that there are also many South African citizens who are not proficient in Afrikaans (without even getting into those who do have some proficiency but resent having it), so testing Afrikaans proficiency as a proxy for South African citizenship will yield plenty of false negatives even if it will be reasonably good at avoiding false positives.

  32. @D.O. you said “I don’t understand why anyone would object”.

    Yes, some people travel elsewhere (because they do not want to fake hotel reservations) and others fake them when they apply for tourist visa.

  33. D.O. I agree though, that the problem here is the tourist visa as such. It is unsuitable for tourism unless you understand a “tourist” as “a person who has bought a tour”.

  34. David Eddyshaw says

    Let us not lose sight of the fact that, rebarbative as the attitudes of border officials across the globe may be, the arseholes in this story are the loathsome (and epically ignorant) management of putrescent Ryanair, along with its perfectly lovely CEO.

  35. This incident ocuurred in Lanzarote. Is that significant? Is that an infamous point of entry for faux South Africans?

    Do they also test people flying on SA passports from England to the Canaries? Presumably Spain doesn’t want these beady-eyed scofflaws any more than the UK does.

  36. Doing the research* needed to find out the shocking truth as to who actually speaks Afrikaans in South Africa would mark you as a liberal lefty whose attitudes just wouldn’t be a good fit for the company.

    I like Afrikaans.
    It makes me both likely to know who speaks it and unlikely to be recognizes as liberal.

  37. David Eddyshaw says

    Indeed, it is not necessary to be liberal in order to know who speaks Afrikaans; however, researching things that you don’t know is not in accordance with the true right-wing spirit: it opens the door to discovering that you might be wrong. Which is Absurd. QED.

  38. @DE, I think I am liberal:)

    It is just the consensus regarding what “right” and “left” must love and hate…

    This incident ocuurred in Lanzarote. Is that significant?
    There are no direct flights from Moscow to SA, it is always Moscow-Dubai, Cairo, Abu Dhabi, Doha.
    Could Lanzarote be a mere stop?

  39. The main take in Ireland is that South Africans will conflate hatred of Ryanair, which is the common heritage of all humanity, with hatred of Ireland, hurting our self-image as the Fun Cousin of all humanity.

    I think the (only) reason Ryanair will soon stop administering the test is that fake-passport providers will be including a cheatsheet with the test answers.

    Africa→Canaries→UK/mainland Europe is indeed a standard migrant route; Africa→UK→Canaries→Spain not so much. However, the test seems to apply to all flights ending in the UK.

    Ryanair does not fly from Europe to Toronto, but it has some sort of cross-booking arrangement with Air Europa, which does.

    I recommend Shannon Airport in Ireland for access to the U.S. It has an extraterritorial U.S. border clearance station and the agents there are very pleasant.

    The only surprising word in ACB’s carrageen story is “sheepish”.

  40. Athel Cornish-Bowden says


    Better not use that formula in Spain. The Spanish people I know will tell you that the Canaries are in Spain. Tourists who ask “how far away are we from Spain?” in Tenerife (the only Canary I know well) tend to get a shirty answer.

    You need to say “the Peninsula”.

  41. They might call it hexagonal Spain.

    I was going to say “rectangular”, then realized it might start an international incident, or at least a heated protest from the Portuguese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

  42. Oops. I originally had “mainland Spain” but –don’t tell the Spanish– I also had “mainland Africa”.

  43. @Y, I suppose you are familiar with Hexagone? (not obvious from the comment, but I suspect you do).

  44. That was the reference, yes.

    Not too many hexagonal countries out there.

  45. David Eddyshaw says

    mainland Africa

    None mainlander.

    (Eurasia was a peninsula, but has now been cut off from the mainland by the Suez Canal.)

  46. “Not too many hexagonal countries out there.”

    Being adjacent to one increaces ones chance of hexagonality…

  47. You’d think Andorra would be even hexagonaler, but it isn’t, even to a very imaginative eye.

  48. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    I’d count peninsular Spain as heptagonal. If Biarritz – Perpignan – Nice counts as two edges, surely so does Tarifa – Almería – Cadaqués. In any case, I’m pretty sure the Spanish equivalent of l’hexagone is la piel de toro.

  49. A friend of mine found it amusing that the Earth is neither a ball nor ellipsoid but a geoid (that is, after a chain of approximations we come to a recursive description).

  50. Unrelated: Hugo and Nebula ceased to be girls-only, among their 9 nominees (best novel) 3 are male. I am still very curious what is this girl-only period…

  51. David Eddyshaw says

    Better stories?

  52. John Cowan says

    I’ll just say that I’ve been to Canada quite a few times, and the border guards were jerks without exception.

    My experience, as well as my father’s friend (an Irishman) was quite the opposite. But of course things do change.

  53. @DE, they switched from “boys-only” to “girls-only” quite abruptly. Quick change in the distribution of talent between genders would be a very interesting but unlikely explanation.

    I’m quite enthusiastic about women’s authors, I am aware of their increased presence in the genre, both among the authors and readers, and it never occured to me to think that either gender is just more talented.

  54. @DE, if what is happening is someone’s decision to promote certain minority groups, there are too many different ways this factor could affect voting and even though it is a less interesting explanation, I am still very curious. Morally, I think that promoting underepresented groups can be a good idea, but it is better to do it openly and “women in science fiction” are not such a group and they don’t need it (it would be even disrespectful). But Hugo is just some award (and a commercial project). I would not feel angry. I am exactly curious.

    But there are other possible factors, and there are other interestng things going on under our noses. Possibly the explanation is different. E.g. 20 years ago many women here began writing and publishing novels in the internet. It is possible that self-publishing in the Internet (as opposed to commercial market) allowed them to write what they want and how they want – and then they affected the market too (the market used to be boyish before).

  55. There’s some history you apparently aren’t aware of.

  56. In other words, it’s a combination of finally starting to counteract the sexism that caused most awards to be given to men for decades, plus outrage at the campaign of the Sad Puppies to make sure only conservative white males won Hugos. Plus women have written a lot of good sf.

  57. @LH, then tell me.

    P.S. thanks, I worte this before you added the link.

    P.P.S. “Plus women have written a lot of good sf.
    I know this.

  58. the Earth is neither a ball nor ellipsoid but a geoid

    Pedantry alert: the geoid is not the shape of the physical earth but the hypothetical surface on which the local strength of gravity is exactly one g.

    Bonus fun fact: Atomic clocks are now so precise that the general relativistic slowing of time in a gravitational field is measurable. This means that the duration of a second measured by an atomic clock has to be adjusted to take into account local gravity at the place of measurement.

    Bonus fun fact #2: Climate change is affecting the volume and height profile of the oceans, and therefore influencing the shape of the geoid. In the not-so-distant future, therefore, international comparisons of a standard second will have to be slightly adjusted in light of global warming.

    I find this level of precision quite astonishing.

  59. Stu Clayton says

    I see a rosy job future for atomic clock adjustment engineers.

  60. @David L: Actually, both meanings of geoid are in use, presumably in different communities.

  61. @LH, awards are important for Russian readers of science fiction, maybe not as much as before, but still. Hugo influences decisions of our translators and publishers. You can’t expect a Russian reader to know the situation – and you can’t expect her to be uninterested. So maybe explaining is not a bad idea.

  62. So maybe explaining is not a bad idea.

    That’s why I linked to the Wikipedia article.

  63. @D.O.
    I have never been in the US on a “tourist visa,” only with a “visa waiver.”

    And I can’t help but notice that none of my American friends or family was ever asked any such questions in for example Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic or Greece — only in the UK.

    So perhaps it’s normal in America, but I sure hope it won’t ever actually be normal.

  64. @LH, yes, thank you. Actually your comment (combined was what I observed on some forums) was more informative. I just mean, of course for a Russian reader the situation needs an explanation. This reader may totally love these novels.

  65. David Marjanović says

    none of my American friends or family was ever asked any such questions […]

    US border authorities operate on the assumption that everyone wants to stay in the US and steal a job.

    EU border authorities operate on the assumption that everyone from poorer countries wants to stay in the EU and steal a job. That gets estadounidenses, among others, off the hook.

    I’m surprised by the UK.

  66. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    @David Marjanović:

    It’s easy to forget that the only European countries that are not poorer than the US are Monaco, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Ireland and Norway. Of course people from as poor a country as Austria would want to steal a US job.

  67. Only two days ago it occurred to me for the first time to look up Liechtenstein in WP. Quite a lot of language diversity and multilingualism in such a small country (even if they are all Germanic).

  68. David Marjanović says

    the only European countries that are not poorer than the US

    Ah, that’s average per-person income or something without keeping track of income inequality. 🙂 Figures, though, that US border authorities wouldn’t do that either.

    Austria has a self-image as an unusually rich country, BTW – below only tax havens like Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg. (Of course this doesn’t prevent anyone from whining about the budget deficit, but that’s just good old cognitive dissonance.)

    I haven’t had bad experiences with entering the US, BTW. “I’m a scientist, I’m here for a conference” works very well. I was held back and questioned (to the point of missing my next flight and being put on the one after that) when I entered the first time with my new passport in 2018 (after the old one had expired), but the questioning was done in a very friendly way. The waiting period until then sucked, though, because nobody told me anything…

  69. PlasticPaddy says

    I suppose your pre-2018 passport was already biometric. I know an Italian who had a valid passport in (I think) 2008 and was not allowed to fly to US, because Italy (but not Sergio) had biometric passports then.

  70. David Marjanović says

    for the first time to look up Liechtenstein in WP

    Ha, there’s one actual mountain in the country, and of course there are actual Walser people on it, speaking a dialect that is descended from MHG only in the very widest sense possible! The rest of the country is “upland” and “lowland”, and as it happens the lengthening of vowels in stressed open syllables, which started in Middle Low German and then spread south, has reached the lowland dialect, but is incomplete in the upland dialect to this day! (Wholly absent from Walser of course.) And the outcome of MHG ei gets more innovative the lower you get, with an extra intermediate zone between up- & lowland.

    (Article in German, but with a table of examples near the bottom.)

    Also, 34% foreigners.

  71. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    Austria has a self-image as an unusually rich country, BTW – below only tax havens like Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg.

    Almost accurate self-image, because the income per capita ranking in Europe goes:

    1. Tax havens (Monaco, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Ireland);
    2. Scandinavia (Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Finland);
    3. Lower-latitude Germanic countries (Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, Germany, UK);
    4. The unwashed non-Germanic masses.

    To be fair, everyone agrees Finland is poorer than the Netherlands (though richer than Austria), but then there’s only so far you can go without speaking a Germanic language.

  72. The United States of America is a country that is hard to compare to others by bare numerical metrics, because it has a number of extremely unusual features. One of them is that the position of the dollar as the global reserve currency makes comparison of Americans’ purchasing power in dollars versus residents’ of other countries in their local currencies not quite apples to apples. (China, for example, has been notorious for decades for manipulating the currency markets to make themselves look more prosperous than they actually are, relative to America.)

    Another is that there is a big difference between prosperity levels for native-born Americans and immigrants. Unlike most countries, the United States has a population that grows at around one percent per year on average,* and that growth is entirely due to immigration. We have a constant influx of immigrants, who are—not surprisingly—far less affluent that people who were born here. When people make qualitative comparisons between the affluence levels of Americans and people from other countries, they are often implicitly comparing people who are natives of those countries. That means, on the American side, comparison to an American population that is substantially more affluent than the actual national average.

    * Obviously, the growth over the last few pandemic years has been way down from normal levels.

  73. there’s only so far you can go without speaking a Germanic language

    Vem är det som säger att vi inte talar ett germanskt språk?

    (Tbh it would be curious to see how the Finland Swedish split off here. And, perennial nitpick, you mean “Nordic countries” anyway: “Scandinavia” is exclusively Denmark, Sweden & Norway.)

    But also, what metric are we using here exactly? Looking up some variants via Wikipedia (median income, median household income, median disposable income, average wage), they generally tend to put Austria ahead of most of the Nordics with the exception of Norway.

  74. PlasticPaddy says

    I think there is a “larger truth” here. Mean or even median income can hide a large income disparity. Do you know about other statistics, e.g., standard deviation, regional/age/race/marital status variation (esp. single v married parent), etc., and would these favour Scandinavia over Austria? I would think they would favour Scandinavia over US.

  75. J.W. Brewer says

    @Brett: although large-scale immigration from much poorer countries has in recent decades become a thing in parts of Europe as well. E.g. as of 2010 the foreign-born percentage of the Austrian population was 15.2% and of the Swedish population 14.3%, compared to approximately 13% in the U.S. And none of those figures include the locally-born children of immigrants who are not starting off from birth as well-integrated into the country’s economy as the children of the “native” population. You’re talking about the difficulty of making synchronic comparisons between countries, which is true up to a point but I think the greater difficulty is in making diachronic comparisons in a given country over time. It is easy but misleading to compare the income distribution in the U.S. in 2020 to what it was in 1970 when you would for certain purposes want to compare it to a composite of the 1970 U.S. income distribution adjusted by appropriately weighted factors for the household incomes of the parents/grandparents/etc of current U.S. residents whose families were not yet in the U.S. as of 1970.

  76. I petition that “Scandinavia” should mean just Sweden and Norway; if you want to throw in Denmark it should it should be “Juteo-Scandinavian”. Alternatively, rename the Scandinavian peninsula “Great Jutland”.

  77. I always find it strange that journalists and similar people do not adopt median income as the default measure. Here officials of course report average incomes (it is clear why) then everyone grumbles. And yet no one is using the median.

    It is hard to say what people usually imagine when they discuss income of “Fingalians” (a hypothetical population), but the average Fingalian they have in mind must be closer to the median in many cases.

    As for Scandinavia, I always associated the word with the peninsula.

  78. …and the peninsula with a tiger. Finland hind legs, Kola peninsula tail.

  79. J.W. Brewer says

    @drasvi: I suspect that getting good median income* data that is methodologically comparable from country to country and time to time is much more challenging. GDP is a crappy metric in all sorts of ways but is available for a lot of countries going back quite a number of years thus enabling plenty of comparisons subject to the crappiness of the metric. And getting a mean (GDP per capita) is just simple math whereas I’m not sure that median GDP is even a coherent concept.

    *One problem among many is that countries tend to have good data for “income” in the sense of “reported-to-the-government taxable income per the local legal definition of what’s taxable.” That’s generally not the same as the income measure you are interested in for assessing comparative wealth or poverty – to say nothing that to assess comparative wealth or poverty you not only want to know about current-year income (median or otherwise) but accumulated net wealth (median or otherwise), including some sort of measure that goes beyond a given household’s privately owned assets to their allocable share of publicly-owned assets that they have use of (parks, schools, highways, and other such amenities and infrastructure that vary quite dramatically country to country (and often within a country as well) in quality and thus imputed value to residents who get to use them for free (or for “free” in the sense that the cost of access is bundled into your tax bill rather than charged separately).

  80. Lars Mathiesen says

    Denmark is part of Scandinavia. More precisely that top kilometer or so that was ground to gravel and deposited south of the ice. HOWever, if discussing geology, den Skandinaviske halvø is the peninsula, i.e., Sweden and Norway. (I wouldn’t include that coastal strip of Norway that lies north of Finland and borders Russia, but I don’t know how geologists think). But culturally, Denmark belongs because of language and various historical unions between the kingdoms, probably going back to the 6th or so. If you want to include Iceland and FInland, that’s Norden (“the North”).

  81. “accumulated net wealth”.

    A complaint (posted online) by a Brazilian student at her poor childhood (saving money for months to buy textbooks to prepare for university, having no toys) made me once think:

    I do not know to what extent the complaint is exaggerated. The fact is that the book prices in third world countries can be shocking for me (I was able to buy dozens a month even in 80s-early 90s) but I do not know if it was actually that bad. Textbook prices can be unreasonably high. “No toys” sounded like exaggeration and I began to remember my toys. Which quite often were not exactly “toys”, but interesting objects.

    It is not a problem to make a toy of course, even in the Stone Age.

    But I realized that I grew up in a house full of things, including a large library. Poor or rich, I would always have something to read or do. I did not feel poor in other words.
    Growing up in an empty house would be an entirely different experience.

    Yet it happens in middle-class families here: we live in flats, and usually not too large, and some people value space more and try to keep their rooms as close to “a mattress and PC” ideal as possible.

    Understandable for a guest (we can dance there). Scary for a former child.

  82. @Lars, there is a good geographical reason to include Denmark.

    But culturally Icelanders are a closely related population.

  83. The drawback of “Norden” is that many languages do not have a word for it. Possibly Tetum has a word for “north” but do they understand it to mean “Iceland, Finland, Norway etc.”?”

  84. @JWB, yes.
    It is possible, of course, to combine GDP and some measure of inequality, but this derived parameter is hardly very intutive (as GDP itself).

    Here “averages” usually appear in the context of wages. The government boasts that the awerage salary in a town X or university Y is 20% above what it was a year ago, and others complain that the only thing that changed is the salary of it ruler. One would expect a collective decision by journalists to discuss the median instead (because median is close to what you ask about before moving to X or Y) so that agencies that publish such statistics would have a reason to do the same.

  85. “Median”, a simple and intuitive notion is a “learned word that some people who are good at math understand but not me” and “average” known to be counter-intuitive is familiar to everyone.
    This is what I am complaining at.

    Yes, I agree that obtaining the distribution and median can be difficult sometimes.

  86. David Eddyshaw says

    The Gini coefficient has interpretation difficulties of its own.

    Still, it does not seem to be the case that the “tax haven” countries are particularly unequal (my lazy first thought.)

  87. “white Anglophone South Africans .. who could never be arsed to learn any Afrikaans?”

    From the 50s up until the 90s it was not possible to graduate high school in South Africa without passing in Afrikaans. I got A’s in all my subjects except Afrikaans for which I received a resounding D of which I was quite proud, nicely calculated to hit the lowest possible pass mark. I’d have worked much harder at Zulu or Xhosa which in our case we had not got, though honesty compels me to admit I dropped French because I was simply not very good at it.

    Now the requirement is for English and a second South African language, which could be Afrikaans but is usually Zulu or Xhosa. So if Ryanair wished to be fair they need to have the test in three languages. My father taught ESL and could also speak German, Xhosa and Afrikaans.

    I can confirm with my mighty D passmark expertise, the Ryanair questionnaire is full of Anglisismes, infelicities and outright clangers.

    When we arrived in London en route to the USA my wife had a Greek passport and sashayed on through. It took the authorities half an hour to be sure I wasn’t there to steal English jobs. On arrival in New York we both got the treatment.

  88. Lars Mathiesen says

    Luckily the second is a unit of proper time so you don’t have to adjust your frequency standard because the oceans rise. It took me a second to see this. But as the BIPM says, you have to specify which output connector on your doodad that has the correct time, 2 cm away it will be measurably wrong.

    I guess you’ll have to treat The Nordic Countries as a proper name — of course there are many collections of countries that name would fit, but not so many that use that description for themselves. If the United States can do it, so can we.

  89. PlasticPaddy says

    From D.E’s bargraph:
    Lowest…Norway,(1),Denmark,(1), Austria,Sweden, (loads), USA…Highest

  90. “as a proper name”

    As Kitay for 中国. But then the problem with translating it remains.

  91. The most equal-by-that-metric nations on D.E.’s bargraph are Slovenia and the two major fragments of the former Czechoslovakia. So clearly the combination of a Slavic language and former Hapsburg rule (Russia was less equal on that metric) is superior to Nordicness if this is your desideratum. Although to link this back to a prior post those 3 formerly-Hapsburg places have (or rather had as of the 2010 stats I was looking at) significantly smaller percentages of immigrants than most of the Nordic lands and indeed than the median EU country. (Please note that this is not to suggest that immigrants are bad, on economic grounds or otherwise, just that you can’t simultaneously believe that immigrants are Good and Income Equality is Good or you will keep getting disappointed.)

  92. J.W. Brewer says

    @Doug K.: Well, I don’t know exactly when in the ’90’s the Afrikaans-proficiency requirement for high school graduattion you advert to was dropped, but given that the median South African is approximately 28 years old (I understand the Anglophone white median might be rather higher …) the portion of the population that was not subjected to this requirement must now be quite large.

  93. J.W. Brewer says

    @David E.: I think one reason the GDP-per-capita figures for “tax haven” countries, in particular, can be misleading is that e.g. Ireland’s GDP stats include theoretically-Ireland-situs business revenue of companies that are ultimately beneficially owned primarily-or-exclusively by human beings who do not themselves reside in Ireland. Put another way, for that and many other reasons, if you sum up the individual income-for-Gini-calculation-purposes of everyone who actually lives in Ireland, there is no reason to expect that number to equal the GDP figure for Ireland, even roughly.

  94. David Eddyshaw says

    Indeed. The money does not belong even to obscenely rich locals, but merely to obscenely rich foreigners.

    These things are better arranged in the UK, where local lawyers, property-mongers and suitably open-minded political parties get a hefty slice of the juicy offshore pie.

  95. Actually, the two parts of the curve mean very different things for us.

    The left tail means: “you meet hungry people on the street”, the right part possibly says more about how power is structured (because money too is power [to make others do what you want them to do], just less structured than adminstration).

  96. I mean, a billionaire does not eat one million dishes a day.

    Instead it is a person who can order others to build a palace or shoe factory (and these orders can be beneficial for others or not, efficient or less so).

    A king without kingdom. Or with a kingdom if she inherited an old corporation, and feels like governing it rather than selling it.

  97. GDP has a lot of artifacts baked into it. It’s not bad for relative comparisons of similar economies, but it is certainly not always the most useful statistic. This is a common feature of economic and financial statistics; there are frequently situations in which they become very misleading.

    For example, during discussions of what stimulus measures the government should take in response to the recession that began in 2008, there were some pundits arguing for lots of extra military spending. They argued that military procurement made the best dollar-for-dollar contribution to the GDP. That is generally true, but it is entirely an artifact of how GDP is officially calculated. In terms of broader prosperity measures, buying military equipment is among the worst options for government expenditure. Fortunately, the actual policy makers generally seemed to understand this.

    A similar example arose in a discussion of Mitt Romney’s finances in 2012. Romney said that he had paid his legal share of taxes, about 15%, which was the right amount for someone whose income was mostly capital gains. A friend of mine (a lower-middle-class African American, who was unlikely to vote for Romney under any circumstances) found this talking point very powerful, but I pointed out that it was actually nonsense. A very wealthy person reduces their tax liability not by lowering their tax rate, but by making it appear that they have relatively little income to be taxed.

  98. J.W. Brewer says

    Throughout the world of economic and social policy (and also throughout the world of private-sector accounting and financial reporting) there are frequent tensions between a) measures that are comparatively easy to calculate without leaving too much room for easy-to-manipulate subjective judgment; and b) measures that actually closely and reliably approximate the real underlying phenomenon you are interested in. So you end up with a) and your data is clean, is just isn’t the same thing as data about the real underlying phenomenon. It’s comparatively easy for example to measure median years of formal schooling in a given adult population; harder to measure what knowledge and skills they possess as a result of their formal schooling; harder still to assess whether policies that would increase the first measure would be likely have much material impact on the latter thing.

  99. And, naturally, once a “semi-detached” figure (Darrell Huff’s terminology) is established as a proxy for a more meaningful quantity, it becomes possible to game that figure—doing things that increase the artificial metric without making (comparable) contributions to the truly meaningful quantity. (For the record, I don’t think most of the pundits advocating for big hikes in defense spending in 2008–2009 were actually doing this. I think they were just parroting numbers they had heard from a smaller group of policy wonks, most of whom actually should have known better.)

  100. David Marjanović says

    E.g. as of 2010 the foreign-born percentage of the Austrian population was 15.2%

    …and in my lifetime so far the Austrian population has ballooned from under 7 million to 8.9 million for that reason. Vienna has increased by a third.

    the two major fragments of the former Czechoslovakia

    There aren’t any other fragments, if that’s what you mean.

  101. J.W. Brewer says

    @David M.: There’s also the easternmost fragment of post-WW1 Czechoslovakia that Stalin stole at the end of WW2 (taking it most immediately from the Hungarians, who had snatched it at the dissolution of that first Czechoslovakia) and appended to the Ukrainian SSR, which the current non-Stalinist Ukrainian government has not offered to disgorge.

  102. There aren’t any other fragments, if that’s what you mean.

    Maybe J.W. is a Carpathian Ruthenia revanchist? I’ve never met one, but there must be a few.

    As far as I know there are no Czech Silesians actively looking to reclaim Těšín/Cieszyn/Teschen, but again – strange times.

  103. David Marjanović says

    that first Czechoslovakia

    Ah. I was only thinking of the second. (I remember watching it fall apart in slow motion in 1991–1993. Cartoon of Václav Havel carrying a Czechoslovakia on his back that is held together with duct tape.)

  104. As far as I know there are no Czech Silesians actively looking to reclaim Těšín/Cieszyn/Teschen, but again – strange times.
    Well, if we talk strictly about 1938 Czechoslovakia, there’s no need for revanchism, as the part given by Hitler to Poland was returned after the war.

  105. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    My original comment on Austria’s poverty was meant as a joke. However, changing the income measure doesn’t make as much of a difference as one might expect.

    As everyone here has figured out already, I was citing nominal GDP per capita, which is easy to measure from aggregates. Anything else requires sophisticated survey data, which all rich countries have but not all rich countries harmonize.

    Eurostat provides detailed harmonized data on percentiles of the distribution of “equivalised” disposable household income in European countries, not limited to the EU (series ILC_DI01, Distribution of income by quantiles).

    You can look at median income, the 20th percentile, the 10th, the 5th. The picture is always the same.

    Norway and Switzerland are far richer than any EU country. Clearly behind these two, the richest EU countries are Luxembourg and Denmark: in this order, though it becomes less clear at the lowest percentiles.

    The rest of Northwestern Europe is a big peloton: Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden, the UK. The precise ranking within this group is variable from one year to the next, though it’s fair to say Austria tends to be around the top while France and the UK tend to be around the bottom.

    Iceland is also very northwestern and accordingly rich; but it’s hard to place exactly because its income has been growing so quickly 2012-20 as it came out of the Great Recession.

    Every country south or east of these is very obviously not as rich.

    Where does that leave the U.S.? It’s hard to say precisely because the data are not standardized the same way. With this important caveat, however, the 20th percentile of the U.S. family income distribution was $38,050 in 2020. The “equivalised” figure would be approximately half that, to account for family size: approximately €18,250. That’s behind the four exceptionally wealthy European countries, but ahead of all the others.

    I share the suspicion that the US would finally start being ranked behind Northwestern Europe (though still ahead of Southern and Eastern Europe) if we looked at the 10th percentile of the income distribution. However, I don’t know where to find official US estimates of that percentile.

    In any case, I doubt the bottom decile of the income distribution is highly represented among people traveling across the ocean on visa waivers or non-immigrant visas.

    If you want to argue that income statistics are misleading border officers, I suspect the better bet is invoking parity of purchasing power. Italy and Spain have so much lower GDP per capita than the US that Italians and Spaniards most likely keep having a lower nominal income even at remarkably low percentiles. However, the cost of living around here is much lower too.

  106. Cost of living is nothing easy.

    Is it cheap when chickens and cars are cheaper, but doctors are more expensive than flying to Russia?

  107. And the poor country of Montenegro where my freinds now have formed a tiny colony (around the author of the geoid joke who is a musician and came to there just because he likes local culture) is : cheap houses, expensive food.

  108. Of course people interested in prices for chickens and people interested in prices for … what is the plural from Lexus? Lexi? Lexus? Lexera? are two different groups.
    P.S. I like “Lexera”.

  109. I hope the border officers don’t know anything about income distributions and all such matters.

    Obviously, all cross-country comparisons must be PPP.

    US cannot be reasonably compared to any single European country, it is just too large and the law of large numbers has not been repealed yet (but also there are the economies of scale, which would tend to act in the opposite direction).

    It all doesn’t matter if the only thing you care about is yodeling

  110. J.W. Brewer says

    Within recent memory (i.e. the Eighties and Nineties) one significant component of the illegal-alien population in the U.S. was made up of Irish nationals who entered the U.S. as “tourists” free to stay for 90 days w/o a visa, overstayed and settled down in the paid-in-cash-off-the-books segments of the U.S. economy. The eventual boom in the Irish economy (some sort of combo of EU subsidies, tax-shelter incentives for multinationals, and speculative bubbles?) largely dried up that flow, and the earlier entrants in many instances either went back to Ireland or got their U.S. immigration status regularized. One bonus was that due to the political clout of certain Irish-American politicians, the U.S. immigration authorities were comparatively unlikely to detain and deport illegally-working Irish nationals as compared to nationals of many other source countries.

    There was a lengthy political back and forth in the U.S. about whether to add Poland (our faithful NATO ally etc etc) to the list of countries whose citizens can enter as “tourists” w/o a visa, with the argument against being that this would predictably lead to a large flow of visa overstayers working illegally, given that the vast average-income differentials raised certain risks that not all “tourists” would be bona fide. In late 2019 for whatever reasons given the politics of the moment, Poland was added by the Trump Administration to the no-visa-required list, but then the pandemic occurred so I take it we don’t really know yet how much incremental illegal participation in the U.S. economy has ensued.

  111. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    Only two days ago it occurred to me for the first time to look up Liechtenstein in WP. Quite a lot of language diversity and multilingualism in such a small country (even if they are all Germanic).

    For such a small country it has the most bizarrely complicated map of commune boundaries you can imagine:

    Vaduz, the only one most of us have heard of, is in six bits.

  112. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    they switched from “boys-only” to “girls-only” quite abruptly

    Today I had occasion to consult a paper in the Egyptian Journal of Chemistry, something I don’t do very often. It doesn’t matter what the paper was about (though if you really want to know it was about “Amelioratic Effect of Vitamin C against Hazards of Treating Male Albino Rats with Mixture of Food Additives (Sodium Nitrate+ Glycine”); what struck me was the list of addresses:

    1 Al Azhar Univ, Fac Sci Girls, Dept Zool, Cairo 11651, Egypt
    3 Al Azhar Univ, Fac Med Boys, Dept Physiol, Cairo 11651, Egypt

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen “Girls” and “Boys” in this sort of context before. If they need to distinguish at all I’d expect “Women” and “Men”.

    In the early 1970s the departmental library of the Department of Biochemistry at Birmingham, where I then was, had a subscription to the Egyptian Journal of Chemistry. I’ve no idea why, as there are more significant journals in chemistry and biochemistry than that. I had a look at the Instructions to Authors (not that I was intending to submit anything) and found that it had the least restrictive policy about acceptable languages that Ive ever seen: papers may be submitted in any language written in the Roman or Arabic scripts. In practice all the papers I saw were in English or French.

  113. It suits Al Azhar:-)

  114. I do not know anything about their chemistry (perhaps Sci Girls is very progressive) but it strives for the status of the center of religious scholarship and the news from their thinkers are, accordingly, boring.

    This light-hearted English pleasantly contrasts with it.

  115. Getting back to the original question, this test is badly constructed and ambiguous. And the premise that only true South Africans speak Afrikaans is totally false. Not all South Africans speak Afrikaans, or even want to. Who was paying the idiot(s) who composed it and why?

  116. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    perhaps Sci Girls is very progressive

    The Faculty of Medicine for Girls Cairo and Faculty of Pharmacy for Girls Cairo are apparently the only two in the entire university with an English-language webpage. Take that, boys!

  117. I remembered Russian-as-a-foreign-lnaguage tests (for the certificate).

    Not only those include (I think what I was looking at was C1 CEFR) assignements like “date a text” (LH would have done it with ease, some wouldn’t…), they include role-playing assignments like where you need to threaten the examiner, using the appropriate register, tone and vocabulary.

    And that is where many native speakers (those who never threatened anyone) would fail.

  118. …and Jackie Chan would not.

  119. David Marjanović says

    Now I’m imagining Schwarzenegger with black sunglasses on slowly saying “я врал” and immediately passing…

  120. My original comment on Austria’s poverty was meant as a joke.

    Giacomo, as an American living in Austria, I would say you are more on target than you know. Salaries in Austria are far lower than for comparable jobs than in the US – in particular for entrance level jobs for college graduates. To some extent this is equalized by the superior level of social benefits and lower cost of living overall but young people tend to put less value on health care and retirement. The relative lack of disposable income for 20 somethings is one reason retail shopping, bars and restaurants in Vienna lack the innovation and flair you find in Boston, New York or London. Vienna is good at catering to old money and rich foreigners but there is not much of a bobo scene (which is fine with me).

  121. In 90s there was a large (very large) computer shop in my neighbourhood (that is a shop where you can buy memory or a mouse or a computer) that was open 24 hours a day and a dozen or so of other kinds of shops.
    I guess it has changed, partly because of various regulations meant to “europeanize” us.

    Europe looked as a nightmare: everything closed in evenings and in weekends. Vienna was particularly terrible: I haven’t been to there, but my freind complained that she spent a lot of time trying to find something edible in Sunday. She found a market.

  122. Lars Mathiesen says

    Yes, you did have to plan ahead a little. 40 years ago when I was learning to adult, I took the bike ride to the Central Station a few times, because they had a convenience store that was open until 10pm to allow for late arriving tourists… There was also one (1) pharmacy with 24/7 hours, and maybe one gas station. But there were sausage stands open into the small hours, if you knew where to find them. Now you go to 7-11 and the sausage people close up shop at 8pm or so.

    Nobody ever died from drinking their coffee black because they forgot to buy milk.

  123. I’ve never seen a city truly friendly to night owls, except New York.

  124. David Marjanović says

    Salaries in Austria are far lower than for comparable jobs than in the US – in particular for entrance level jobs for college graduates.

    I haven’t followed recent developments, but it certainly used to be the case that entrance-level salaries were noticeably low and 40-years-on-the-job salaries were very high. There’s a sector of the economy that caters to wealthy retirees.

    Vienna was particularly terrible:

    By law, supermarkets in Austria are simply not allowed to open on Sundays (with very restricted exceptions e.g. in train stations). The conservatives stick with it for religious reasons or simply to conserve the tradition, the Social Democrats stick with it because it’s great if the whole family has the same day off.

    Supermarkets also close very early in the evenings, like 7. Or even 5 on Saturdays.

  125. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    Supermarkets in Vienna close early and often, but I had no trouble having dinner there at 22:30, and inexpensive restaurants provided me with nice Austrian (indeed, often Viennese) wine at entirely reasonable mark-ups.

    Boston and other US cities I’m familiar with are pretty much the converse. I suppose NYC provides everything at all hours, but if it also has restaurants with reasonable wine mark-ups their address is a secret I’m not privy to.

  126. Germany is similar to Austria in this regard, although the rules seem to be a bit looser than in Austria nowadays. When I was young, shops had to close at 6:30 PM on weekdays and at 2 PM on Saturdays, except for one Saturday per month when they were allowed to be open until 6 PM. On Sundays, shops were and still are closed, except at train stations, airports, and highway rest stops.

  127. Science fiction awards again:

    The Nommo Award is a literary award presented by The African Speculative Fiction Society. The award is named after the Nommo. The awards recognize works of speculative fiction by Africans, defined as “science fiction, fantasy, stories of magic and traditional belief, alternative histories, horror and strange stuff that might not fit in anywhere else.”

    Sadly no information about languages, everything is in English (by clicking authors I was able to determine that one of them writes in Afrikaans and another one also publishes works in Chewa, the local language of Malawi).

  128. David Marjanović says

    On Sundays, shops were and still are closed

    Some Edeka supermarkets in Berlin open on a few Sundays every year. And before the pandemic some opened on Monday at 7 am, closed on Saturday at 11 pm, and were open throughout in between – basically 24/6. I went shopping at like 2 am once.

  129. Lars Mathiesen says

    There is clearly a night owl demand even in Copenhagen. One pizzeria near me (the Turkish one with le migliore pizze de Copenhagen) recently changed name (and owner, I think) and opening hours, now 4pm to 4am. Services stations even in the city can be open 24/7 as can some supermarkets, it depends on their yearly turnover, but most places are 7 or 8am to 9 or 10pm. Probably not worth it for most shops to stay open, so the night owl trade is concentrated on fewer locations.

    NOW WHEN I WAS A LAD shops closed at 5:30pm, 6pm on Fridays, 2pm on Saturdays and even the cinemas were closed on a few high holy days.

  130. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    Much the same when I were a lad (in England).

  131. And much the same in USSR.

    Farley Mowat complained that everything closed unpredictably. That is, you come and it is closed without any reason. In my time they tended to place a sign “lunch” in these situations (and every third bus was heading to the “park”…)

    As for my friend, she came to Vienna to some workshop and woke up on Sunday and was hungry. She just went out and everything was closed. A local directed her to a market (not in the same part of the city) and she obtained something she could cook.

  132. Lars Mathiesen says

    I almost put were in WIWAL, because set phrase, but why is the phrase set like that? Some dialectal thing, because I don’t see how a subjunctive would function there?

  133. Services stations even in the city can be open 24/7
    If you mean petrol stations, that’s also true for Germany. They’re the place to go to for getting a basic selection of drinks and food (mostly snacks and frozen pizzas) at night or on Sundays and Public holidays, typically with a hefty mark-up compared to supermarket prices.
    Some Edeka supermarkets in Berlin open on a few Sundays every year
    I think there are small differences between states in this regard. Anyway, there are also verkaufsoffene Sonntage (Sundays when shops are allowed to open) a couple of times per year on special occasions, like festivals or fairs, mostly limited to specified municipalities or city quarters, for which a special approval from municipal and state authorities is needed.

  134. Lars Mathiesen says

    Petrol stations are very hard to find a neutral universal name for. Gas station, petrol station, service station, filling station, Tankstelle, benzinstation. tank. Like the concept of a carbonated soft drink, it depends on who you are talking to.

  135. Whether a traditional pub, a trendy cocktail bar or a late-night superclub, having somewhere to go for a drink and meet up with friends at the end – or even the middle – of the week is important for many of us.

    But where in the world can claim to have the most places to enjoy a pint per person? Having already revealed the places in the UK with the most options in Pubs to People, our mortgage experts have taken a look at the global cities that have the highest number of bars and clubs listed in Tripadvisor compared to their population.

  136. In my time they tended to place a sign “lunch” in these situations

    I thought the classic was “закрыт на (пере)учет.”

  137. @Lars – just to avoid any misunderstanding, my comment was not meant as criticism of your choice of word, but only for clarification on whether we’re talking about the same thing.

  138. Lars Mathiesen says

    @Hans, no offense taken, I realized that. But it’s still an interesting problem to talk about those establishments without confusing people.

  139. For some reason, I find the Russian “заправочная станция” hard to assimilate — заправка just doesn’t look like it should mean ‘refueling.’

  140. @LH, you are correct. Учёт.

    P.S. and yes, I wanted to add that “behind-righter” (заправка) is not something one can understand from the literal translation. But заправить is what you do with авторучка (fountain pen), printer cartridge (refilling) and salad (adding mayonnaise/oil, dressing).

    It makes sense with заправить рубашку в штаны “shirt in trousers”: here you have both “right” and even “behind” not just in the sense of perfective/resultative prefix.

  141. Ben Tolley says

    @Lars, ‘when I were a lad’ is northern English dialect – I think its use as a set phrase is from Monty Python’s Four Yorkshiremen sketch. A quick google doesn’t seem to turn up any pre-Python uses, at any rate

  142. A quick google doesn’t seem to turn up any pre-Python uses, at any rate

    If you do a Google Books search confined to the 19th century, you get lots of hits: “though my eye was hurtit wi’ a cow when I were a lad”; “There were a Brice in Ullerton when I were a lad”; “They were done up in gold and colours when I were a lad”; “‘I heerd on him,’ said a bystander, ‘when I were a lad; if he’d a’ cured his own staggers, he would not a’ got drunk, and fell in the ditch, when he was dead choked wi’ mud”; etc.

  143. And similarly “When I were a lass, I could dance all night and be up by five to t’ churn”; “When I were a lass I have many a score and hundred girls in Sheffield at the same work time worked all night on Friday”; etc.

  144. But заправить is what you do with авторучка (fountain pen), printer cartridge (refilling) and salad (adding mayonnaise/oil, dressing).

    I know, but it doesn’t feel natural there either! I think ‘salad dressing’ is the most natural to me, doubtless because that’s the first meaning I learned for заправка.

  145. Funny. Gas station was the first meaning I learned for заправка, so I find the usage for “salad dressing” incredibly off-putting. I can smell the fumes.

  146. David Marjanović says

    Like the concept of a carbonated soft drink, it depends on who you are talking to.

    But at least there is a word for it everywhere! I’m not aware of a cover term for “carbonated soft drink” outside US English.

  147. Stu Clayton says

    Here Limonade, Limo, Schorle. Also Brause, especially from older people. In Austria Sprudel according to Duden.

    Look at the categories Limonade and Saft & Schorle at

  148. David Marjanović says

    Sprudel first and foremost refers to soda water itself – carbonated tap water with no further additions. Limonaden/Limos don’t need to be carbonated. Does anyone call Coca Cola a Schorle or Brause? doesn’t even let me decline the cookies if I don’t give them a German zip code first!

  149. The thing served by machines on Soviet streets (1 kopeyka without сироп, 3 with сироп, a glass glass is standing threre on the machine, you wash it before using) is gazirovka.

    But there is a mysterious drink sodovaya, consumed by capitalist heroes, usually in bars, usually in combination with whisky. Stripers and prostitutes can be present or not (prostitutes: stripers are more obscene, censorship would not let any in). As I said, “foreigners” is about the same as extra-terrestrials, so the drink sounds simplistic, but still interesting. Clearly it is not just water with baking soda?

  150. Stuart Clayton says

    if I don’t give them a German zip code first!

    50825. The “user experience” on flaschenpost is not of the best. I order only crates of zero-sugar caffeine-free Coke from there, since they deliver for free.

    Does anyone call Coca Cola a Schorle or Brause?

    No. That’s listed under Limonade. It’s all much more complicated than even pharyngeal sibilants.

  151. Clearly it is not just water with baking soda?

    Simply put, club soda, seltzer, and sparkling and tonic waters are types of carbonated water. … Club soda is water that’s carbonated by injecting it with carbon dioxide gas, or CO2, then infused with added minerals.

    That’s your содовая.

  152. @LH, aha, thanks! So baking soda can be added:

    Sodium bicarbonate, potassium sulfate, potassium bicarbonate, potassium citrate, or sodium citrate is artificially added to replicate constituents commonly found in natural mineral waters[1] and offset the acidity of introducing carbon dioxide gas (which creates low 3-4 ph carbonic acid when dissolved in water[2]).

    I wonder
    – if gazirovka has these additions

    – if carbonated mineral water (as you know widely popular in USSR, often from Caucasus) is similar.

  153. David Marjanović says

    then infused with added minerals

    That reminds me – mineral water without gas was theoretically known (stilles Mineralwasser), but not available in Austria until sometime this millennium. Gas is still the default. I speak from bitter experience, because to me getting even the “mild” version (mild, as opposed to prickelnd “sparkling”) into my mouth is like putting a ball of needles there, so I’m fairly easily left with nothing to drink.

  154. @LH, likely you know “кока-кола это лимонад” (ascribed to Aksenov, but known I think from a sketch in 80s).

  155. J.W. Brewer says

    I seem to recall from a trip to Switzerland and Austria in the late Nineties that lots of places served a non-alcoholic carbonated beverage or beverages called something like like Schnitzwasser, but the exact referent and/or breadth/narrowness of semantic scope of the word seemed to vary unpredictably from place to place.

  156. Seltzer and club soda are carbonated water, possibly with a little bit of flavoring, but generally calorie free (or nearly); there is no such thing as diet seltzer. However, tonic water is another thing entirely. In America, it is usually sold as a mixer, like club soda, but tonic water is much closer in composition to a lemon-lime soda like 7up or Sprite (or Sierra Mist, previously known as Slice). They have large amounts of sweetener and plenty of calories (for the non-diet versions). The difference is that instead of a moderately sour citrus flavoring agent, tonic water has a very bitter flavor, quinine (sometimes also plus lme). Like 7up, it can be used as mixer, but it can also be drunk straight, which is what we do in my family, although not a lot of other Americans do. (On airplane flights, each drink cart usually has one can of tonic water. When I asked for it the flight attendants would often offer me the whole can immediately, on the principle no nobody else was going to ask for any.)

  157. LH, likely you know “кока-кола это лимонад”

    I didn’t, so thanks for that!

  158. David Marjanović says


    Impossible. Do you mean something with Spritz-? Gespritzter Apfelsaft, for example, is carbonated apple juice.

  159. Ben Tolley says

    Apparently my googling was too quick – I was rather surprised at the lack of anything earlier, but I’ve no idea what I did to the search – I can’t even reproduce the results I got!

  160. J.W. Brewer says

    I think it was something other than Spritzwasser because that would have been more etymologically transparent, but maybe Schnitzwasser was my eggcornish misanalysis and in any event my memory is fuzzy. Probably not Schwitzwasser? It became a running joke on the trip because we would order it to see if it would be the same or different than the thing we’d been served under that name at a prior restaurant in a prior city (not that far away) and it was generally somewhat different. But always carbonated.

  161. Schwitzwasser

    Like Pocari Sweat?

  162. Peter Erwin says

    Germany is similar to Austria in this regard, although the rules seem to be a bit looser than in Austria nowadays.

    As I understand it, a change in the federal law in 2006 shifted control over store opening hours to the individual states, some of which have liberalized the hours and some of which have not. (E.g., Bavaria, where I live, kept the “all stores must close by 8pm” standard.)

  163. Limo, Sprudel
    The issue here is that there are many diverging usages. In general, Limo(nade) either means a sour-ish citrus based drink or a carbonated, fruit-flavoured drink; in the latter definition, Sprite / 7Up and Fanta / Mirinda are lemonade, while Coke and Pepsi aren’t. I also know people who call all carbonated drinks Sprudel, while for most people the term only means carbonated water without added flavours.
    @Brett: I used to drink unmixed Tonic water a lot, but cut back on that in the last years because I have to reduce my sugar intake.
    I speak from bitter experience, because to me getting even the “mild” version (mild, as opposed to prickelnd “sparkling”) into my mouth is like putting a ball of needles there, so I’m fairly easily left with nothing to drink
    You’d love it in South-East Asia, where bottled water is ubiquitous, but sparkling water is relatively unknown; in many places I couldn’t get it even though I asked for it specifically (contrary to you, I like my water sparkling).

  164. @Hans: I normally only drink diet tonic water. I don’t need the extra sugar, and that’s why I only drink unsweetened iced tea these days as well. However, a long time ago, diet tonic water in America contained saccharine, even when that had been eliminated from essentially all other diet sodas. The reason was that there were FDA limits on how much of other artificial sweeteners could be used in things, and the quinine flavor was so bitter than the amount of sweetener needed was greater than the allowed limits. My father (who hated saccharine both for its potential negative health effects and its aftertaste) was angry about this, since the FDA was limiting things that were merely not known to be absolutely safe in very large doses, and so forcing the drink makers to add something that was known definitely not to be safe in large doses.

  165. J.W. Brewer says

    Surely the appropriate remedy for suboptimal tonic water (if there is no better alternative ready to hand) is to dilute it with so much gin that its suboptimality becomes tolerable? Some trial and error may be necessary in ascertaining the appropriate ratio, of course.

  166. Yes, I exclusively use gin for that purpose.

  167. Lars Mathiesen says

    I was thinking of the category covered by sodavand in Danish which is always sweetened (contrary to the elements of the compound; possibly there is conflation with søde vand which was a term used 50-100 years ago). Sparkling water, flavoured or not, is not sodavand, and I was not aware that it fell under soft drink in English. (Tonic water is marginal, in that it is a very specific category in itself and not necessarily shelved with the “kids’ stuff”. Your mileage would probably vary if you asked people if tonicvand is sodavand).

  168. In Austria Sprudel according to Duden.

    Kracherl seems to be the preferred term of the indigenous Austrian population – at least in Vienna and Lower Austria. Like many Austrian words it is probably no longer all that current with the under 30 set, although you can still get rasberry and lemon flavored Kracherl at better Austrian institutions.

  169. I exclusively use gin for that purpose

    Same deal in the Balearic Islands: mixing cheap brandy into so-so black coffee improves both of them enormously. Café Carajillõ — alleged to be originally from Cuba.

    As the twilight draws in, top-ups need more brandy to achieve the effect.

    (I was following the literary footsteps of New Zealander Janet Frame at Sóller at the time — before I knew I was to become a Kiwi.)

  170. Lars Mathiesen says

    This reminds me of the reputed recipe for en lille sort in old Danish inns: Put a small copper coin (5-øre) in the bottom of a coffee cup, pour in coffee until you cannot see the coin, add brændevin until you can see it again. Depending on the geometry of your cup (and your eyesight, and whether you are the guest or the host), that may need a lot of brandy.

  171. @Brett: I sometimes buy sugar-free Tonic water at my usual supermarket, but I also used to order Tonic water a lot at cafés and restaurants, and they normally only have the sugary variety.

  172. David Marjanović says

    Kracherl seems to be the preferred term of the indigenous Austrian population – at least in Vienna and Lower Austria. Like many Austrian words it is probably no longer all that current with the under 30 set, although you can still get rasberry and lemon flavored Kracherl at better Austrian institutions.

    Yes to all of these; the term is never applied to international stuff like Coke, or to soda water. It seems to correspond to Schorle.

    It’s a strange word. It suggests a lot of noise, as if the bottle burst or something.

    Tonic water

    Schweppes? An uncle of mine likes it.

  173. So I wondered about “Schweppes,” and googled up this:

    Schweppes was born in 1783 under the guidance of Jacob Schweppes when he discovered a way to manufacture carbonated mineral water. Schweppes soon expanded the business from Geneva to England where consumers used the drink to settle upset stomachs and other ailments of the time.

    Fast forward 87 years and Schweppes Tonic water became available in the 1870s. Throughout the years, Schweppes was never a stranger to advertising as their promotions consisted of newspaper advertising and even lit up Piccadilly Circus with a moving neon sign. […]

    By 1945, the war had ended, but Schweppes Tonic water was still not available. Nevertheless, under the guidance of the S.T.Garland advertising agency, the tagline, “What you need is Schweppervescence” was created to continue promoting the brand. […]

    “Schweppervescence” made consumers feel optimistic and gave Schweppes instant recognition in the market place. It also gave the brand a talking point, playing on the drink’s bubbly effervescence (Fact: the famous advertising tagline ‘Schhh… Schweppes’ was created to evoke the sound of the gas escaping as a bottle is opened). The word became so important to the brand, that when the account moved to another agency, Garland was paid so Schweppes could continue using Schweppervescence.

    I can’t find anything about the origin of the (presumably Swiss German) name Schweppes, but I did discover the charming Italian slogan “Schweppati una Schweppes”:

    The brand name Schwepp(es) is used as an imperative verb with the clitic personal/reflexive pronoun in dative (-ti ‘for yourself’) as dativus commodi in the meaning ‘drink a Schweppes’ […]

  174. In USSR tonic existed on book pages mixed with gin. In 90s a selection of gins appeared on shelves (other than bookshelves) but the first and only tonic was that by Schweppes. It made me quite confused: is their tonic “prototypical”? If no, then is it really the same as the tonic on book pages (given that they are a commercial manufaturer of drinks, not very different from Coca-Cola and Pepsico and are not specifically interested in reproducing recipes from book pages).

  175. Anyway, I could drink it, but it was sweet and I couldn’t get the point. What’s the point of making a drink with quinine if it is sweet just just like all those colas?

    So I did not drink it.

  176. I’d always thought Schweppes was a name created by some adman to suggest effervescence.

  177. “Schweppati una Schweppes”
    The German equivalent was heute schon geschweppt? “did you already schwepp today”?
    There also was another series of advertisements on German TV driving home the point that the brand name is supposed to be pronounced ending in [-ps], not in [-p@s].
    (I used to think that one of the reasons the people at Schweppes didn’t like that pronunciation because there’s a colloquial word Schwappes meaning “hiding”.)

  178. @drasvi: I would say that Schweppes is indeed the prototypical tonic water. I don’t care much which brand I drink though. (That goes for lemon-lime sodas too. There are differences, but they are not a big deal to me. In contrast, my brother at one time averred that Sprite was great, but Slice was unpalatable. Then again, he also refused to be in the same room as kiwis and citrus fruit.)

  179. Every other reference I can find spells the surname Schweppe (“Schweppe’s Carbonated Lemonade” etc.) I learn that Schweppe is “North German: metonymic occupational name for a maker of whips, from Middle Low German swep(p)e ‘whip’. In some cases the surname may have arisen as a nickname for a harsh master.” J. J. Schweppe was indeed born in Germany.

  180. Thanks very much! I expected the surname to be Schweppe, so I was surprised to see the form in -s.

  181. David Marjanović says

    There also was another series of advertisements on German TV driving home the point that the brand name is supposed to be pronounced ending in [-ps], not in [-p@s].

    Indeed it is in my experience, so I’ll fix the English Wikipedia article which claims the opposite (without citing a source).


    Never heard of it.

  182. It would have made total sense if our government promoted kvas as the official drink of the World Cup in Russia in 2018. It is beer-like alcohol-free summer drink symbolic for Russia and advertisments of alcohol-free beer looked weird.

  183. Russians seem to feel that foreigners will be unable to appreciate the taste of kvas. (I quite liked it myself.)

  184. Here are the citations from the OED article (from 1901):

    a1556 R. Chancellor in R. Hakluyt Princ. Navigations (1598) I. 242 Their drinke is like our peny Ale, and is called Quass.
    1608 T. Heywood Rape Lucrece iv. i, in Wks. (1874) V. 216 The Russe drinkes quasses.
    1609 Pimlyco sig. C4ᵛ The base quasse by peasants drunk.
    1753 J. Hanway Hist. Acct. Brit. Trade Caspian Sea II. ii. 9 Beer, quash, and bad wine.
    1778 Philos. Trans. 1777 (Royal Soc.) 68 672 The drink..was quas or sour small beer.
    1823 Mechanic’s Mag. No. 4. 58 The common drink of the Russians is kuass, which is not so good as our small beer.
    1863 L. Atkinson Recoll. Tartar Steppes 232 They have bread in unlimited quantity, quass,..farinaceous food.
    1894 C. Garnett tr. I. Turgenev House Gentlefolk 121 ‘Fetch the kvas’, repeats the same woman’s voice.

    The spelling “quash” is amusing.

  185. @LH, I don’t really want to promote Russian cuisine other than among people who happen to like it (I do not even know if I like any cuisine myself. I do like kvas, buckwheat kasha and borodinsky bread). If kvas became popular in some unexpected country in Africa or elsewhere, it would be funny, if it became popular everywhere it would not:)

    But it is a “beer-like summer drink” and beer-drinking traditions among football fans in some countries* combined with restrictions made Bud (or whoever owns it) advertize alcohol-free Bud. Now that’s an offence!
    Come to Tula with your samovar if you like… but a kipyatilnik**?!

    *not everywhere I imagine: I don’t know what Spanish fans drink, if its wine with cola – some do drink wine with cola in Spain – I am not surpired. I know even less about Algerian or Malian fans.
    **кипятильник, pic 2.
    Every Soviet traveller and many Russian travellers have one.

    You can also make one out of two razor blades, matches and a thread, like here.

  186. …of coruse Soviet people who stayed in Tula hotels did have kipyatilniks with them:) A small one for glasses, or a large one for pots or both.
    It is just what traveller always puts in her bag, like shirts and everything.

    We drink tea (hot tea), also we did not trust tap water, also some managed to use it for cooking even in pre-Chinese-instant-noodles* times.

    растворимый кофе “instant coffee”, lit. “soluble”.
    быстрорастворимый “fast soluble” was also applied to (and inscribed on) variety of things from dry milk to salt.

    So I am always tempted to call them растворимая or быстрорастворимая лапша (noodles).
    Weirdly, быстрорастворимая каша (kasha) is actually a thing.

  187. I was thinking of the category covered by sodavand in Danish which is always sweetened

    Finns det ingen læsk i hela Danmark?

  188. Wiktionary has come up with ẹlẹrindodo—which looks great—for ‘soda, soft drink, carbonated drink’

    I’ve tried to GT the following text. The result, to put it mildly, is weird:

    Ijọba ipinle Kano ti kede pe, eeyan mẹwaa ti dero ọrun, ti awọn irinwo miran si ti dero ile iwosan, lẹyin ti wọn mu ẹlẹrindodo kan ti wọn ko darukọ rẹ.
    The Kano state government has announced that 10 people have been hospitalized, and another 400 have been hospitalized, after an unnamed suspect was arrested.


    Bi ijọba Kano ṣe n lọgun pe ki awọn eeyan ṣọra fun ẹlẹrindodo naa, awọn ijọba ipinlẹ Eko, Katsina, Cross River, Sokoto ati Osun naa ti n kilọ fun awọn eeyan ipinlẹ awọn lati ṣọra fun mimu oniruru ẹlẹrindodo.
    While the Kano state government is urging people to beware of the narcissist, the Lagos, Katsina, Cross River, Sokoto and Osun state governments have been warning the people of their state to beware of the narcissist.

    DeepL doesn’t support Yoruba. Are there other online translators that do? I’ve tried a few and they return the same (GT-inspired?) ‘tyrant’ for ‘ẹlẹ́rìndòdò’.

  189. Lars Mathiesen says

    @juha, læskedrik is a thing, but not the shortened form. I’m not going to do the Venn diagram, but it’s something like:

    sodavand: Flavoured, carbonated, non-alcoholic, probably sweetened.
    saftevand: Flavoured (notionally fruit juice-based), non-carbonated, non-alcoholic, sweet. (Usually sold concentrated, not ready-to-drink).
    læskedrik: Both of the above.
    danskvand: Non-flavoured, non-alcoholic, carbonated.
    mineralvand: Non-flavoured, more minerals than tap water, non-alcoholic, may be still.

    I think Swedish läsk is Danish sodavand, more or less. But I rarely interacted with people who would consume saftevand, so I don’t know what they called it.

    I think the “no sugar added” trend has reached carbonated fruit drinks now, but only in versions based on apple or grape juice so you still reach 9 or 10 grams per 100 millilitres, as these things are measured. (The old fashioned ones can reach 11 or 12).

    tonicvand has quinine, of course, and some sugar, but you can now get ones that only have between 3 and 4g/100ml of sugar (and no artificial sweeteners). I assume those have less quinine, too.

  190. Schwappes

    Never heard of it.
    I think it’s limited to the Rhine / Ruhr area.

  191. Stu Clayton says

    I’ve never heard it either, or of it. Dresche schon.

  192. I know it from my father’s side of the family, they mostly come from the Essen / Oberhausen area. This source confirms it as Ruhrpöttisch.

  193. David Marjanović says

    A useful resource!

  194. Bathrobe says

    I found kvas in our local corner shop here in Ulaanbaatar. IIRR it was locally made, although kvas is obviously of Russian origin. I will buy a bottle and tell you what I think.

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