Besides, Westerners, with their stable countries and solid borders, tend to forget that for much of the world (and indeed for much of Western history) being polyglot has been a necessity for survival. On the Ukrainian-Slovakian border, a region across which the borders of empires have swept back and forth like windscreen wipers, I met office assistants who were fluent in Ukrainian, Slovakian, Hungarian and Russian as well as German or English; nobody found this remarkable. Israel, where I live now, is still home to post-war immigrants from Europe who speak seven or eight languages. Amos Oz, the prominent Israeli novelist, writes in his autobiography of growing up in a house that had books in 16 languages on its shelves.