The King’s English

Paris, Île-de-France, France
November 19, 2014




I was early for my train from Arlon back to Paris this morning so I took a short walk and came upon a statue in front of Eglise Saint Martin, a gothic cathedral in the center of town.

Do you know this man?

King Albert I

I didn’t.

I consider myself an educated man, obviously not well travelled, but reasonably well read. Until tonight I knew nothing of King Albert I of Belgium. I should have.

If Wikipedia can be relied upon . . . I know . . . I know . . .not exactly a reliable source . . . but if half of what it says here is true, we all should know of King Albert I of Belgium. He was a remarkable man:

  • In his youth, anticipating he would become king, he traveled about the poor of his country incognito so as to better understand the plight of the working class;
  • Before becoming king, he advocated for reforms in the Belgian Congo where his uncle, then King Leopold had literally “owned” the country and cruelly exploited and terrorized the native population to make himself personally wealthy;
  • At the outset of World War I he refused to permit the German Army to violate Belgium’s neutrality and invade France through his country. Germany invaded Belgium nonetheless, virtually pushing it into the sea. King Albert personally fought along side his troops, was himself actively engaged in combat, while his wife, the Queen, worked as a nurse in a field hospital. He allowed his 14 year old son to enlist.
  • Appalled by the ghastly nature of the war and the horrendous casualties, he worked back channels on both sides imploring them to adopt a “no victors, no vanquished” resolution. Germany, France, and England all ignored him;
  • He abolished a voting system that gave privileged, educated and older men multiple votes, and instituted one man, one vote universal suffrage in Belgium.
  • He was one of few to counsel that reparations assessed against Germany after World War I not be too harsh as doing so would, in his judgment, lead to yet another war (he was right)
  • He was a strong conservationist and created the first national park in Africa;
  • He was a passionate mountain climber and died in a mountain climbing fall at the age of 57.

I didn’t have a clue.

One of the things that I have learned from this trip . . . and I can only speak for myself, but suspect the same may be true of many Americans . . . is that I know so little of other countries, their history, their culture, their language.

I should. We all should.

Everywhere I go, with very few exceptions, people quickly recognize how poor my French is, then apologize for their poor English, and then speak English so well. I couldn’t do that if a Frenchman, or a Belgian, or a . . .uhhh. . . Luxembourgian? . . . were to come to Santa Rosa.

Yeah, I know English has become the language of the world, but it feels presumptuous to assume folks from other countries , perhaps smaller, perhaps less wealthy, but with great men of their own, men from whom we have much to learn, that they should be so kind and so well educated as to offer to speak the “King’s English” and do so, so well, when we know so little of their kings.

I have much to learn before I qualify to be a citizen of the world.

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