Attention tourists: When traveling abroad, make an effort to speak the native language

When I visited Paris, the language barrier was a little overwhelming to say the least. Street signs were in French and waiters gave me the stereotypical Parisian attitude when I replied in English.

Thirty-eight percent of Europeans speak English, according to the Guardian. But for many, it’s their secondary language.

As a student in London, I have grown used to living in a English-speaking society where there isn’t a need for me to learn new phrases or struggle to communicate with locals.

While speaking in English is an easy way out, multiple languages within a community adds a cultural layer. Being on the outside of a native language provides a certain sense of exclusivity that I wanted to be a part of. When traveling to other countries, tourists need to be mindful of respecting local culture by making an effort to communicate with the language of the region.

While in Paris and Madrid, I noticed people were more responsive when I began the conversation with a bit of French or Spanish.

On my first day in Paris, I had lunch at a little street-side restaurant. The conversation with the waitress ended in her teaching me a few French food phrases. In Madrid, I was able to communicate with almost no difficulty. A shop owner was delighted when I responded in Spanish to her question in English.

People didn’t seem to have much of an issue switching to English. But attempting to converse in their language made them feel more comfortable with my tourist status.

Some might argue language doesn’t have much cultural value, that it is simply how people communicate. But communication is, in fact, cultural. The Eskimos have 50 words for snow. There are phrases that are simply untranslatable from one culture to another. Language is about more than just putting words together to formulate sentences.

Travelers should push aside their intolerance and truly immerse themselves in a culture. We cannot expect the people whose country we visit to accommodate us — we should make an effort to communicate with them in their tongue.

By speaking another’s native language, we can take pride in knowing we are doing our best to live the culture of a given place through each conversation.

Saniya More is a sophomore dual major in international relations and broadcast and digital journalism. Her column appears weekly in Pulp. She can be reached at ssmore@syr.edu.


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