There was a second translation-related inquiry that I mentioned in my previous post, and I now finally have a chance to return to that unfinished thread. The question was similar to others I receive from time to time. It read…
I would like to purchase a book from [German bookselling site] but do not speak or read German. From what I can gather they are not a typical book dealer but an intermediary between someone who has a book and someone who wants to purchase a book.
Can you think of a way to make this transaction for me?
Please let me know what I can do.
The idea of buying something from someone who does not speak your language does seem intimidating. In my experience, however, language is an ever diminishing obstacle to buying a book, no matter where you might find it for sale in the world. I personally speak neither Italian nor Spanish, but have purchased several items from both countries without any real linguistic difficulties.
It is all especially easy if English is your native language. English has become the lingua franca of the international book trade, as it has for the internet itself. There are very few booksellers offering books on the internet who do not speak enough English to transact sales online. But even if they do not, it is rarely necessary to put their language skills to test, because the sites through which they sell their books nearly always offer an option for using their site and shopping cart in English (and often other languages as well). Sometimes you have to hunt for the little English flag, but with all the multi-dealer sites that you can search on viaLibri an English language option is always somewhere to be found.
So it is generally possible to buy a book from a German seller without ever needing or seeing an umlaut. If the bookselling site insists that you communicate directly with the bookseller (unusual), or if you have some specific questions that need answering before you are ready to commit, it is likely that the bookseller will be able to answer them in perfectly understandable English (and maybe other languages as well). If he somehow avoided English in school, he will certainly be familiar with Google Translator. And, as a last resort, you can always use Google Translator yourself, both to send your message and read the response.
In fact, if you are an American, your biggest problem might not come from an inability to communicate, but from the fact that some European booksellers will not accept credit cards and will want you to send them an IBAN bank transfer instead. This is, in fact, generally the best and safest way to pay for something within Europe, but American banks don’t participate in this system and their customers often don’t know anything about it. If the seller only accepts IBAN or a national check then you may be out of luck.
Of course, it is always possible that you will end up wanting to purchase a book from one of the particularly anachronistic and idiosyncratic individuals who still seem drawn to our trade. He – for it’s almost always a “he”- may decide it’s not worth the effort to deal with someone who requires both translation and transatlantic shipping. A bottle of schaps, or the regional equivalent, will probably have been consulted in this deliberation. In this case you may not be able to buy the book no matter how hard you try. This will certainly be a frustration, but perhaps also a blessing. Personal experience has taught me that any bookseller who will not go to enormous effort to consummate a sale to a willing customer is likely to have trouble with any number of other activities that also require effort, such as verifying that a book has its full complement of plates, or making note of the fact that an offered item has been rebound in plastic and vigorously decorated with library stamps. These may potentially be encountered in any country where books are sold. A filter for avoiding them is not necessarily a bad thing.
Fortunately, the vast majority of booksellers are eager to make sales and will expend whatever effort is necessary to satisfy any customer who may come their way. This, more than anything else, is why a lack of common language between buyer and seller is rarely an obstacle to buying a good book. Finding the book in the first place is the only real challenge.
There is more to say about this subject (international book buying) and I hope to return to it soon.