Do you speak the language?

Do you speak the language?

I’ve seen those people who are on their first foray outside the U.S. and they buy some language immersion package thinking they’ll be able to converse with the locals. I don’t think they fully realize the amount of time and effort required to learn a language.  I admire their intent, but the number of people who can absorb a working knowledge of a different language in a year or less are extremely few.  Bring a phrase book or an app that’ll help you along. If you have a life, work, kids, or something similar you can forget learning a language.  Spend your money on the vacation, not an immersion package that’ll gather dust.


I’ve been very few places where there was absolutely no one who could speak at least a bit of English.  Remember, they are catering to tourists.  It’s in their best interest to understand the tourists, not the other way around. Now before you get the wrong idea I definitely think you should make some effort, like a phrase book.  But even if you don’t, keep some general rules in mind:


  • Remember to be polite
  • Use hand signals (not the ones that are offensive to the culture you’re in)
  • Watch what other tourists are doing
  • Smile



I’ve been plenty of places where the locals were unaware I didn’t belong until I opened my mouth.  It’s relatively easy to blend in if you’re in a heterogeneous society.

Real life:  I was shopping in Pristina, Kosovo and was dressed very much like the locals.  I wandered around the store, grabbing items I was in search of and made my way to the checkout.  I conducted myself in a fashion similar to those ahead of me.  The clerk rang me up, said something I couldn’t understand but I was looking at the cash register and could tell what size bills I should hand her.  She thought nothing of it, nor did those around me until I made the mistake of asking a question. I immediately had the attention of the people standing in the immediate vicinity.  My point is no one was the wiser until I spoke. Nothing came of it but I was able to blend in as I resembled more or less the majority population.


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