Stressful Vacations Insult My Intelligence

Polski: Przykład nieporadności stylu urzędnicz...

If this sign were telling you that trespassers would be arrested, would you enjoy your week in prison?  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.


Quick… you have 45 seconds before the subway door closes to figure out if this is the right subway stop and make it out the door.  (Photo credit: Guttorm Flatabø)

Subway in Prague

Okay, this starts with an S unlike the other one but it’s hard to keep track of all those accent marks.  Why are all these words so long?  I hope this is right…  (Photo credit: Across the Globe)

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.

I can understand how the bamboo chicken feels.

I wonder what the food really is…(Photo credit: Wm Jas)

5- Ability to communicate with the police, medical staff, or others in case of emergency.  Or if you get lost…

So get lost!

country name Mongolia in Cyrillic script *scre...

Where am I and why didn’t I get off the train earlier? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

13 thoughts on “Stressful Vacations Insult My Intelligence

  1. It’s weird but being a Kiwi I have travelled all over the world (as we do, honestly we are like ants we are everywhere lol) and I’ve never had a problem with it. Even in France where I was told by English people the French are rude, I couldn’t of been more accepted, they went out of the way for me and Italy was the same (but then I became a legend in Rome for drinking every cocktail and shot in the bar while downing Burbon and Coke lol) Thailand, I think they were a bit frightened of me because I’m 6’1 but still, they couldn’t of been friendlier. I take a translator app which is abit useless but if I’m stuck I can ask in simple terms what I want. They just appreciate you make the effort. In Rome I was followed by people doing the Haka. I can’t wait to get out there again, and when I come to Ya’lls part of the world I will try and fit in there too 🙂

    • It’s not that the French are rude. Their idea of “doing well with the language” is just a lot different than most other cultures.

      And I think you’d fit in here without too much effort. Especially since you know the word y’all…

  2. I’m with you on all but the food – that part is easy. Just point as if you know what you’re doing. Not recommended for fussy eaters…

    • Funny thing is, fussy eaters might be better off doing that in some places. The next time I visit my butcher, I’ll have to take some pics of some special cold cuts. Most people would eat them if they didn’t look so unusual.

  3. If you come to South Africa, just speak English. Everyone understands it, though some would act as if they don’t. (Not everyone speaks it that well, however). Though I could teach you how to greet in Afrikaans and Sesotho.

    Those menu translations are hilarious.

      • Mix Dutch with French, English and Malaysian, and leave to simmer for four hundred years 😉

        But yes, we use more or less the same sounds as Dutch, though spelling of words (and by extension pronunciation) as well as some of the vocabulary differs. But if you speak Dutch slowly and clearly most Afrikaans speakers will understand you. In fact, my parents had to learn Dutch in school. Flemish is closer, though.

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