How To Get Locals to Love You!

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When traveling, those that speak English are lucky, since English is so widely spoken around the world.  In hotels, restaurants, and at attractions in most major cities, you will find someone that speaks English.  In rural areas it may be harder, but even then, increasingly you will find people who speak at least some English.

Do we, as Americans and English speakers, take this for granted?  Do we expect others in destinations where we travel to speak English?  And do we also expect those that speak other languages to speak English when they visit the US?  Hmmm.

The adage “a little goes a long way” often applies to language when traveling.  Outside a train station in Lyon, I made the mistake of approaching a taxi driver and saying “Do you speak English?”  The response I got was a scowl as he turned away.

My first mistake was that I did not first greet him.  (Travel advisors commit cultural gaffes too. Being in a hurry is no excuse.)  Better would have been to say “Bonjour” followed by “Parlez vous Anglaise?”  More than likely he would have responded in English and offered to help me.  Addressing him first in his language would have shown I was trying.

I have found in my travels that speaking even simple phrases in the local language results in friendlier interactions and better service.  I also have found that locals will forgive my mistakes and will often respond in English (probably because they feel sorry for me).  Some will even try to help me improve my language skills.

A few basics that will help you win over those that assist you in everyday transactions include:

  • Hello and goodbye
  • Please, thank you and you’re welcome
  • Numbers 1-5, if possible and 1-3 at least
  • Do you speak English?
  • Excuse me
  • Where is the bathroom?
  • I would like…
  • Where is…
  • How much is…

For any language you can Google the name of the language and the words “travel phrases”.  There are travel phrase apps available, but I suggest using them to hear how to say the words/phrases, so you speak rather than letting the app speak for you.

Take 5-10 min every day for a week before you depart and then a couple of times on the plane and you’ll be set.  Just watch the locals smile and respond positively as you interact with them.

NOTE:  For those with food allergies, I recommend having a card with the foods to which you are allergic and the word allergy in the local language to show waiters in the event that you have a waiter whose English is limited.

Pat Ogle-CollinsHow To Get Locals to Love You!

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