If you visit this blog regularly, you know that I like to travel. So far, I’ve never been outside of North America and Europe and I hope to expand my horizons (once I find a job and can afford it.)
I’ve found something to love in every country I’ve visited but there’s one detail that always makes travel a million times more enjoyable: knowing the local language.
Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be the same old tired rant about how native English speakers need to learn more languages. (I also don’t believe that foreign countries need to have all their signs, menus, etc. translated into English.) I’m more interested in why a vacation is more fun when you know the language. A few thoughts:
1- Stress-free use of public transportation. Western Europe may be pretty easy but Cyrillic-based writing systems are something else. And Polish is pretty awful too when you’re trying to recognize the name of the station you’re supposed to exit the bus at. In comparison, even Czech can seem simple to deal with.
2- Non-touristy restaurants and grocery stores, etc. When a restaurant is located in a tourist area, that restaurant wants its food to taste good to foreigners. When a restaurant is located in a neighborhood setting, the food will taste good to locals. Those two aren’t often the same thing; if you want something authentic, you often need to leave the beaten path. That’s also why you’ll find different Chinese food in the US, China, and other countries. (If you don’t like vegetables, try Chinese food in Germany. It’s an experience.)
3- Ability to communicate with people at the hotel/hostel. With the exception of France and the U.S., most countries encourage tourists who try to speak the local language, even at the most basic and error-prone level. And they treat you more kindly than they do the people who start up with English and nothing else. So you get better service. (I also appreciate the irony that Americans who use “French” as a pejorative are also more likely to treat non-native speakers like the French do.)
4- Ability to understand a menu. When you can look at a menu in English and in the original language, you realize how bad so many translations are. If you want to know for sure what you’re eating, know the language. Euphemisms (among other things) happen in translated menus.
5- Ability to communicate with the police, medical staff, or others in case of emergency. Or if you get lost…
So get lost!