11 must-know phrases for foreign travel

This entry kicks off a week-long series of travel-related musings and advice on The Canterbury Tales. I’m in a travel-y mood; I leave for England three weeks from Tuesday!

While most locals appreciate you taking a stab at speaking the language, no matter how awful you sound (here’s looking at you, France), no one really expects you to speak fluent Spanish/German/French/Norwegian/Japanese/whatever.

However, there are a few words and phrases that you should always know beforehand when visiting countries that speak something other than your native tongue. Many rural areas (and some urban ones, too, like eastern Berlin, in my experience) will be short on English-speakers.

11. “Hello.” An obvious mainstay. You’re trying to make friends!

10. “Please” and “Thank you.” There’s really no excuse for not practicing common courtesy while traveling.

9. “What time is it?” If you’re like me you have a watch on you at all times, but this doesn’t hurt, especially if you’re antsy about catching your ride on time.

8. “How much does this cost?” This can help you avoid embarrassing situations at the cash register; you didn’t really want to spend 40 euros on that AC Milan jersey.

7. Words for basic food. Trust me, when you look at a menu in a foreign language, you want to know what you’re ordering. I once mistook fish (poisson) for chicken (poulet) at a Chinese restaurant in Paris. In hindsight, I’m lucky fish was all I got.

6. “Where am I?” Everyone gets lost. Knowing how to ask a local where you are ensures that you won’t stay lost.

5. “How do I get to the bus station/train station/airport?” It goes without saying that you should always carry a map of the city you’re in, but sometimes getting to a station or airport can be confusing, especially if the city doesn’t have any or many cabs.

4.  Days of the week. Knowing these can help you in a variety of situations, from reserving theater tickets to asking about museum openings to booking airfare or trainfare.

3. Numbers one through 10. Because when you order certain things (like, say, bottles of wine, steak or slices of cake … mmm, cake), it’s important to get one, and not one hundred.

2. “Where is the toilet?” This one doesn’t really need an explanation. Everyone pees.

1. “Do you speak English?” Well, at least you tried.


3 thoughts on “11 must-know phrases for foreign travel

  1. Good advice.

    I love England btw. I’m sure you’ll enjoy. I lived in Oxfordshire for a spell years ago. I really liked it there.

    I take off for Paris later this week. I need to practice more on ordering food myself. And you’re right, fish instead of chicken was not so bad!

  2. Pingback: How to not come off like a tourist « The Canterbury Tales

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