I have to say, after traveling around 39 countries, and speaking very little of only a handful of languages, I have discovered that the way you say something is much more important than how you say it! Don’t get me wrong, you should always try to speak the language, it is only polite, (and louder English does not equal a foreign language). All you really need to know is how to say ‘please’, ‘thank you’, and ‘do you speak English?’ People will be happy that you are trying, and most of the time they will do everything they can to help you. When words don’t communicate the point you can always use gestures. I have played charades with many a foreigner, and it almost always gets me what I need.
On the flip side, I have been witness to the stereotypical American in Paris of all places, thinking that louder was better, and that the guy behind the counter of the kebab shop must be a fool to not understand his demand for water. This larger than life cowboy (hat and all), with a thick Texan accent was actually turning red with frustration as he fruitlessly demanded two waters. The guy behind the counter was trying to help, he was pointing at all the different beverages in the case, juice, soda, and on and on, with the Texan screaming, “Water, I want 2 WATERS!” I was embarrassed for him. I also wanted waters, so I pulled out my trusty French book and was practicing “les deux eaux, S’il vous plait.” I muttered it to myself until I reached the front of the line, and I very sheepishly said, “Bonjour monsieur, les deux eaux, s’il vous plait?” (Making it a question with inflection is also a good way to win someone’s favor.) He looked me in the eye, smiled coyly and said, in perfect English, “you in France, you speak French, no?” I just smiled, and walked out laughing with my waters.
Just a reminder that a smile goes along way…
Your Friendly Travel Expert,