I recently spent 2 weeks in Algarve in southern Portugal. It was my first time visiting the country and as in most countries, I didn’t speak the language. I came to Faro on a sunny Monday afternoon and after walking around the town for a few hours, I decided to find a restaurant and try some traditional Portugese food. The small restaurant Taska intrigued me and I went in for seafood and Algarvian wine. As I have spent 2 months in Spain, working as an Au Pair, I was pretty sure that I would also be able to read a menu in Portugese, since the two languages are quite similar. I ordered something that appeared to be seafood and fries and sipped the cold white wine, while waiting for my meal.
I wasn’t sure whether I should laugh or cry when I saw the waiter walking towards me with what appeared to be potato chips and a weird-looking purple sea animal. I decided to take it as an experience and though it wasn’t my favorite meal on the trip, it taught me that batatas fritas can be both fries and potato chips and that I should probably ask for an English menu in Portugal.
I always try to learn a bit of the local language when visiting a new place, even if it’s just a few phrases. In my experience, people are more open to foreigners who try to speak the local language, but it has also gotten me in to some funny situations. When I was living in a small town on the Costa Blanca, a lot of the locals didn’t speak English, so I had to communicate in broken Valencian. I once ended up with the wrong medicine after I tried to mime what kind of nose spray I needed, to the pharmacist’s great amusement. I’ve mixed up Czech and Polish greetings a number of times, when I did an international camp in Poland and I’ve had a Turkish shop-owner talk to me for several minutes, before he realized the the only word I could say was merhaba.
Even though it sometimes leads to confusion, I’m still going to use as many local phrases as I can, when travelling to foreign countries. I’m planning a trip to Oslo in 2017, so for now I’m practicing my Norwegian with the show “SKAM” and hopefully I’ll also improve my Spanish during the next year, so that I won’t make the pharmacy staff laugh at me again.
Have you experienced funny or weird language difficulties while travelling or living abroad?