Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Speak An International Language

With all the traveling we have done around Europe this past year (12 countries in 10 months) I have learned a couple things.

1 - You can almost always find someone who can speak English. And...
2 - Even if you can't find someone who speaks English, there are words you can say that are understood by everyone.

Here is a list of words that have migrated into all languages in Europe.

The word okay has become ubiquitous across Europe. I had no idea that people in Germany used it. Then we went to France. They used it there. Then we went to Italy. Okay was there, too. I've heard it said in conversations from Greece to Belgium. So if you want to answer in the affirmative to someone who speaks a different language, answer okay. It's their language too.

I've mentioned before how surprised I was when we came here and stop signs said, well, Stop. I asked Matt why they didn't say halt. All the other signs that tell you to "Stop here on red," say "Halt heir auf rot." It got me thinking. Maybe there is just one company in the whole world who manufactures stop signs and instead of making the signs in individual languages, they just taught the whole world the word stop, there by reducing their manufacturing costs by millions! We've never had to use the word stop when we've been out and about. But I can imagine that it would come in very handy say in a bar or nightclub. "Hey! Stop!"

Yep. The word for an informal good-bye in Italian is heard everywhere. I really prided myself on learning the sing-song way Germans said tschüss. Imagine my surprise when it's answered with a ciao! instead of a tschüss back. I can't bring myself to use ciao anywhere but in Italy. I remember back home in the States, people who prided themselves on being "international" would always say good-bye by saying "Ciao, baby." It was always met by eye-rolling from everyone else.

The word for excuse me in German is a mouth full. Entschuldigung. Matt and I went to the crowded local Ikea store one day and I kept bumping into people. I kept having to lean over to Matt and whisper, "How do you say excuse me again?"

"Entshuldigung." I had to ask him no less than seven times how to properly say this word. Just last week, after months of feeling like I had mastered it, he pulled me aside and said I was dropping the D sound. Back to work. If I had only known then that most people here know the word pardon, said with a long O sound, like the French say it. And not just in Germany. Pardon is said in Romance languages and Slavic languages. So the next time you are in a crowded Ikea anywhere in Europe, just save yourself the trouble and say, "Oh! Pardon!"

Everyone, no matter what language they speak, knows this one. Say with a firm shake of the head and you'll get your message across.

Do you feel prepared to visit Europe now?

But I have some advice. Even if you travel to somewhere where everyone speaks English (like Sweden) I recommend learning the words thank you and please in the native language of the place you are visiting. You wouldn't believe the smiles we get when we say thank you to someone in their language, even if they speak English fluently. When you travel abroad, most of the people you will deal with work in the service industry. Hotel staff, waiters, cashiers at small stores. Trust me, you will get much better service and maybe even a smile (a rare thing in Europe) when you break out that dekuji (thank you in Czech) or tack så mycket (thank you in Swedish). It also helps you connect to the people and that culture just the tiniest bit more.

Happy travels my friends!


We leave for Stockholm, Sweden, St. Petersburg, Russia, and Tallinn, Estonia in 3 days! Have you been there? What should we see?


  1. This was really cute! Good job using your kids!

  2. So true about pardon, it was the only word that I heard while in Turkey that I actually understood. It also seems hallo was used more frequently for hello or hi than merhaba was. I'm curious if hallo is also a word you frequently hear while traveling in Europe?

    Yes, saying thank you, and good day or have a good day, is guaranteed to bring a smile. Even if a smirk is hidden behind the smile because I never could get teşekkür ederim (thank you) right, they still knew what I meant...I hope!

  3. I don't think I've ever heard anyone here say Pardon instead of Entschuldigung? Mostly I get "Sorry", which I just cannot seem to pronounce the German way!!

    Ciao and Tschüß seem to be used equally among the people I know. Merci is also used a lot here, but I assume that's because France is so close and it's not a general German thing.

    When my sister and I were kids, my dad told us to always learn hello, goodbye, please and thank you in the language of any country we went to. I've always remembered that and it works really well! The locals LOVE you for trying.

    Sooo jealous that you're going to Tallin! I really want to go there. I went to Stockholm last year - here's my post on our trip: Definitely take a boat out to the islands! The city is great, but the islands are SO beautiful! Oh, and you should go to Skansen open air museum if only for the squirrels. Aaand if you like fish, there's a fantastic restauarant called B.A.R where you can pick your fish at the counter then they cook it for you. There are other things on the menu too, but fish is their speciality. They also have reindeer as a starter!

  4. Good to know. I loved the bubble captions!

  5. Yea everyone does say ciao in Germany! :) A lot of young Germans say "sorry" too instead of Entschuldigung!

    Apparently "STOP" signs are used everywhere in the world except for in Quebec, where they write it out in French!

  6. All of these are spot on! When I moved to France I was surprised to hear everyone saying 'ciao' all of the time. Now I say it! Ciao!

  7. i find it very interesting and very well thought out and put togetherCollection of Introduction Phases in English


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