After walking 8 miles under a blistering sun in the French countryside, I hitchhiked to a small village where an antique dealer kindly helped me. I hadn’t had any food or water in 12 hours and as my mind struggled to remember the French I had studied in school, all that came out was “soif” (thirst). That was enough. She came back with a tall glass of water and although we couldn’t understand each other beyond smiles and nods, she could see my desperation and gratitude.
There’s a point to this story. As Benjamin Franklin put it, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” You never expect to end up in scenarios like that, I definitely didn’t, but when you do, you need the tools to get out. I’m not suggesting that you learn the language before visiting every new country, that would take way too long. But let’s say you only have a couple minutes before you leave, what words should you learn?
Yes, No, Thanks, Water, Food, Bathroom, Me, You, Where, and English
These are all from personal experience and from now on everywhere I go I absolutely learn these beforehand. (Even if I’m getting on a Russian flight from the US to Italy, I’ll learn them in Russian.)
Compared to what a lot of other guidebooks say, the list probably seems pretty short, but when you arrive in a new country, you’ll quickly see just how much you can convey through hand gestures. For example, there aren’t any numbers in the list because you can either write it down or count on your fingers and it always works.
Before your next vacation, take 5 minutes and save yourself from a headache later.
Have a good one.