Hello, Goodbye, Thank you, You’re Welcome !
There is something to be said for communicating in the native language of the country you are traveling in. It opens doors to new experiences by showing its people you that you embrace their country and can, at times, actually aid in your survival.
Prior to traveling to another country, I give myself a language refresher by listening to language CDs or reading phrase books. Also, there are games you can play that walk you into virtual restaurants, shops, etc. and have you use the language you are learning. Take a look on Shop.com and type in “foreign language” or “Rosetta Stone”. A large selection of language tools come up and most offer cash back after purchase !
While in Italy, I was driving from Rome to the Amalfi coast. Not only did I need to read the traffic signs, I had to stop and ask for directions once. In most large cities abroad, you can easily find people that speak English. Outside the city, this is not usually the case. Fortunately, my crash course in Italian was enough to ask, and more importantly, understand the directions being given to continue our journey when lost. Back in the cities, where we found almost everyone in Rome and Florence spoke English, my husband changed his name from Mark to Marco (spoken with an Italian accent) and was embraced by the locals as if he was one of their own. This got him free drinks in restaurants and many warm greetings. However, I wouldn’t try this technique unless you have the gregarious personality to go along with it !
Then there is Paris, France. Of course they speak English ! Unless you are in a hotel catering to Internationals, I have found that it doesn’t matter that Parisians speak English. My French is horrible, but I know to struggle to speak it rather than dare utter an English word. Speaking French in Paris is like a rite of passage. More than once, only after using almost every French word I knew, a shopkeeper or waitress would finally break out in perfect English to finish our conversation. I’ve also stood and watched tourists that only spoke to them in English and the Parisians only spoke to them in French as if not a word of English was understood. We Americans are rather rude that way. I wouldn’t expect someone to walk up to me and start speaking French and acting as if I should understand them while I am at home in the United States !
So, now about the title of this blog: Greece. What a beautiful place and what a difficult language to learn ! We had stayed up all night due to a flight being cancelled combined with jet lag. Fortunately, we discovered that Athens is a city that doesn’t sleep. We arrived in the middle of the night hungry and tired and needing to eat before we could sleep. To our surprise, we found a restaurant bustling as if it were noon at 3 a.m. As we approached the door, a gentleman opened it for us and with a huge smile said “Hello, good bye, thank you, you’re welcome !” We all smiled and picked various words from his sentence to repeat back to him. Our family remembers this kindness – funny as it is – but how good it felt for the man to want to connect with us by using the only English words he knew. My attempts to speak Greek were met with laughter. At first I thought I had mispronounced a word and turned it into an offensive word, but no. I was told that tourists never even try to speak Greek and it was amazing to them that I was making the effort. This tiny bit of effort on my part started warm conversations offering a glimpse into the world and culture we had traveled so far to experience in a way that we would not have known without a handful of Greek words.
Don’t let me give the impression that I am a language whiz, this is far from the truth ! According to my husband, I completely confused a waiter in Ecuador when I confidently started speaking in Spanish and finished in French, with a Hebrew word thrown in for good measure. Try not to be too jet lagged when you are trying out your new language skills ! Bon Voyage!