One of the most
important things a traveller can do before setting foot in a new and foreign
country is learn the language of this new place.
No, I of course
don't mean to learn to language to fluency, but to learn the basic phrases
necessary to get you around and help you when you must interact with people.
Yeah, chances are if you're going to a tourist-known location or if you're
exploring the European Union, locals will know a degree of English. But you
will find by the expressions on their faces when you begin your English
diatribe that you are being very rude by assuming it. Hey, don't trust me, just
go and try it.
And I understand
those pained and cringing looks when someone comes to another country and just
assumes that English should be the second language of the world--maybe it
should! But you're not in England anymore, you're in Poland or France or
Estonia or wherever and the people that live there speak Polish or French or
Of course, you will
screw this up. You will butcher their language without a doubt. But the effort
will go further than you think. I have made plenty of errors in other countries
while using the native language. My favourite is the story of "deep bop."
We spent two days in
lovely Slovenia in the summer of 2017. We could have gone to Ljubljana, but I
chose Maribor as the mountains promised to be a lovely sight (and I was not
disappointed). I hadn't learned a lot of Slovene, mostly because 1. We would only
be there for 2 days; and 2. My husband is usually in charge of transactions in
Slavic countries. But I did learn the basics:
Hello - Dober dan
(easy to remember, because in Serbian it is "Dobar dan")
you - Hvala (Хвала in Russian
Please - Prosim
(like the Czech "prosím")
Yes - Da (like in
No - Ne (Like in
Goodbye - …?
I was buying
something in a shop and had successfully greeted the cashier. When asked if I
had found everything, I'd answered "da, hvala;" when asked if I had a
loyalty card, I'd answered "ne;" when asked if I needed a bag, I'd
answered "ne." Everything was going great until I realised I couldn't
remember how to say "goodbye."
As the cashier was
putting my money in to the register, I panicked a little and looked around the
store hoping something would somehow remind me which word I needed to use. It
wasn't coming to me at all. Maybe I should just
say it in Serbian or Russian and see how that goes over… I thought. No, just wait until she says it and repeat it back to
her. Yes, of course. I'm a genius.
So I took my change
and my receipt with another "hvala" and waited for her to say
something. Surely it would jog my memory.
were like decades as we stared each other down.
Then she spoke.
And I have no idea
what she said. She had said it so quietly or mumbled it or maybe it was a
different way to say goodbye. I have no idea. But my brain needed to make a
decision over what my mouth should do because I was still staring at her. Russian or Serbian? What are we going to go with?
With way too much
fanfare as though I was speaking fluent Slovene, I proudly exclaimed:
bop." My brain malfunctioned and I went straight to robotics. I had just
enough time before I turned away to see a confusion overtake her face; as
though she was about to ask me to repeat myself.
Once outside, I
pulled up my translator on my phone and learned that going with Russian
probably would have been more efficient. The correct answer was
I don’t know,
though, I kind of like "deep bop."