In May this year EU Institutions opened their doors to the public. Assuming that this would be the day when we could meet users of our websites, we went there in high spirits with a questionnaire in hand.

The aim was to get to know more about what citizens think of the EU’s online activity in general, and of the languages we provide, in particular.

It turned out to be a good day to talk to people. There were indeed plenty of tourists and people from other countries and from all walks of life, and almost everyone we approached was happy to share their experiences of the EU on web. Some even thanked us for listening!

We learned three main things:

People search the web in their mother tongue

It seemed self-evident to people not engaged in EU affairs to search the internet in their own language. Some even seemed taken aback by the very question of what language they used.

On the institutional websites it is difficult to do what you came to do

People visiting institutional web pages for both professional and personal  reasons voiced frustration at not always finding what they had looked for, or not understanding it when they had found it. We also learned that in some government offices, the translations of documents into languages other than French and German come too late to be useful. Local translations have then already been provided and there is confusion about which version is authentic.

"Private individuals", too, check the web for facts about the EU

A group of women from Sweden, whose work is with elderly people, had looked for the Directive on working hours, since it is something that affects them directly in their everyday life. They had succeeded in finding it but if more EU-related content were accessible in the language and languages of ordinary people, we could arguably also get closer to the EU citizen.

The two short hours we spent with people, were of course not enough to draw any firm conclusions, but it was useful and eye-opening experience. If nothing else, it seems like just being there helped to spread a positive image of a more accessible EU, which we are working to facilitate through this new web presence.

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