I’ve traveled internationally a fair bit, and I’ve long thought that, at the very least, there are seven words/phrases you should know how to say in the language of your destination. These will greatly improve the quality of your trip:
- Thank you.
- I’m sorry.
- I don’t speak [your language].
- Where is the bathroom?
I recall one overnight plane trip to Paris where, on the way to the bathroom, I accidentally stepped on a sleeping woman’s foot. She woke up and started speaking in French. I didn’t understand a word, but I knew enough to know she was angry. (Who wouldn’t be? It was the middle of the night.) However, armed with my seven words/phrases, I disarmed the situation. “Je suis désolé!” I proclaimed. She was immediately calmed down and went back to sleep.
My reliance on the seven words/phrases isn’t because I don’t want to learn other
languages. I’m just not very good at it. Bill Clinton was president the last time I studied a foreign language. In preparation for trips to places where languages other than English are spoken, I try my best to learn how to say my seven words/phrases. I’ve confirmed that people around the world are a lot nicer to you just if you can express, even in the most minimal terms, those six basic sentiments and the question everyone has found themselves wondering at some point, with some urgency: “Where is the bathroom?”
Last June, I proposed to my girlfriend. We were in Mexico at the time, and, in addition to enjoying the early days of our engagement before the whirlwind of wedding planning engulfed us, I made a resolution. I vowed I would learn enough of the language of our honeymoon destination so I’d be able to do far more than ask, “Where is the bathroom?”
That was 10 months ago. We bought a house nine months ago. So, I now find myself with three weeks in which to learn Italian. Admittedly, I’m shortchanging the amount of time that should be set aside to study a new language. The best I may be able to hope for isn’t as much learning Italian as it is swallowing a couple of bites of it. I hope Rosetta Stone can help me do more than apologize for stepping on people’s feet and ask for the bathroom.