Hi all! So starting in a few minutes, this blog will feature daily (or close to daily) photo posts going back to the beginning of our Southeastern Europe trip in June and July. Hopefully you’re still checking back, because these are of the actually-from-DSLR-cameras, nicer-than-iPhone variety, and we’re really excited for you to see them. Also, if there’s anything else I think of to talk about, you may see some text in here too.
Before we left, I bought a Southern European Phrasebook, with lots of travel-related words and phrases in Italian, Croatian, Greek, Albanian, Turkish, and more. And I’ve really found it useful for things like reading signs, reading menus, and following directions. But you know what it hasn’t been useful for, and the use for which I now highly discourage? Actually speaking any full phrases. At all. So here is a letter to our Past Selves, and to other English speaking travellers around the world, studying up on saying “I would like two beers, please” in 6 different languages.
Dear Past Andrea and Past Will:
1) You’re probably saying it wrong. Come on, you know you are.
2) Even if you manage to say it right, so right that your conversation partner understands what you’re saying and respond in the same language, you will then turn stark white, have no idea what they’re saying and be back at square one again.
3) It will soon become more apparent than ever that English is the universal second language. Of course most English monilinguals are the worst for rarely even trying out any other language, let alone getting to conversation level. But just face it: everywhere you go and everyone you see, Germans, Russians, Greeks, Koreans, everyone is speaking to each other, successfully, in English. Don’t fight it, just relax and join the party.
4) Work more on your broken English than your new language. Along with 3), this means that speaking in highly simplified English is way more useful than another language, but also more useful than all the fancy mother tongue politisms you’re used to speaking. So no more “I was just wondering if we could get tickets to Zadar for tomorrow, we were thinking maybe in the morning?” No. Try “2 tickets, one way, Zadar, tomorrow, 11”. This is especially hard because for awhile it feels like you’re being rude, but it’s really just efficient.
5) If you still really want to learn the language (and a small part of you always will, at least for posterity), here are some words to learn, in rough order of importance:
Thank you, hello, yes, no, one, two, please, you’re welcome, this/that. End of list. Just get the first two and you’re probably fine, really.
6) Now I know it’s fun to add the words for things like “beer” or “coffee” or “ticket” to the list, but please resist the temptation. Your server at the cafe knows the word coffee, the lady at the ticket desk knows how to say ticket, and the bartender definitely knows the word beer. Even if they still haven’t learned more English than the little list above, you must assume that they’ve heard your word for beer more than you’ve heard theirs. It’s ok, let it go.
7) Next, work on your universal sign language and pictionary skills. Things like pointing at your wallet to say “how much?”, drawing a picture, writing numbers down, etc. Or mime writing on your hand while making eye contact with a server to get your cheque - I discovered this one early, and it’s been really handy.
8) Finally, if you still want to stretch your language muscles, work on a second language you already know. In a pinch, if you meet someone who’d rather not speak in broken English, you can both try broken French, German, Spanish, etc (this is actually pretty fun) instead of just saying “hello” and ” thank you” back and forth all day. A side effect of this is that Will will want to converse in French all day regardless of conversation partner. This is okay too.
So instead of being embarrassed by our Linguistic shortcomings, we’ve now learned to happily travel with a mix of the above strategies and the occasional laugh and shoulder shrug. The jury’s still out on whether your first language being everyone’s strong second language is good or bad, but it sure is useful on the road.