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?