You Know You’re a Tourist When…Part 2: Language

You get off the plane. You’re pumped. It’s vacation time. You’re taking in the sights. Then it hits you. You’re hungry. Um…do you have a menu in english? You don’t understand me? Can I just have a hamburger? No…a hamburger. No…A HAM-BUR-GER!

This does happen. You have this romantic view of traveling and how perfect things are going to be and then you realize that no one understands a word that is coming out of your mouth. The simple becomes arduous. Some of us go into hermit mode, cower in the corner and say nothing. Others try shouting. I’M FROM AMERICA…A-MER-I-CA…YOU KNOW, THE UNITED STATES OF… No matter who you are, first piece of advice, see if they understand your language. If they do, cool. If they don’t, good luck. Your best bet, speak clearly and slowly…not loudly. Spinal Tap’s 11 is just too high. The person is most likely not hard of hearing…they just don’t understand. This is when drawing pictures, pointing to maps and smiles are always good. No, they shouldn’t know how to speak English, it’s their country. Preach all you want about how ‘Americans should speak American,’ but only while in the U.S.. Outside those borders you’re the guest…act like it. Try to learn some of their language. If you love hamburgers find out how to say it. You’d be surprised how far a simple ‘hello’ in a native tongue will get you. Sure, they’ll probably respond with something you don’t understand, but that’s where the smile kicks in.

I deal with this problem every day and it can get to you sometimes, but that’s the nature of the traveling business. I figure it’s best to make the best of it and don’t worry too much, you’re bound to run into someone that understands you eventually.

What’s the biggest misunderstanding you have ever encountered while traveling because of a language difference?

One Comment

  1. I found myself always telling my host family in Mauritania that I was going to school when I meant “the market”, and the market when I meant “school”. Too close to differentiate between the two.

    Second experience I can recall was in Luxembourg — a good story from a friend of mine — she was sitting at dinner with her host family her first night and was stuffed because of all the food they were feeding her. “Je suis plein” she said — this got some laughs. She didn’t understand because translated straight up French to English it means “I am full”. But in French, it translates to “I am pregnant”. “J’ai plein” or “I have fullness” is the correct way to say it at the dinner table.

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