My First International Trip


My first trip overseas.  My first trip to a country that doesn’t speak English.  My first time abroad.  My first time to see what I’ve been missing all my life.  My first trip out of my home state.  My first time finding adventure in travel and languages and new cultures and ways of seeing my country from other’s perspective.

My first international trip was to France, Switzerland and Italy. In Switzerland everyone spoke English. In Italy my high school Spanish was close enough. And then there was France.

Parisians are renowned for their antipathy for anyone who speaks French imperfectly, and have an even greater disdain for Americans (and possibly the British) who know no language but their own. So I tried Spanish, with apologies for not speaking French.  It worked beautifully – the local would suggest English, we would have a conversation, and no one expressed the usual displeasure at my ignorance of French.

But now, everything is different.  English is the international language and, while it is convenient for the English-speaking world, it also removes much of the mystery and fun from travel.  You should not assume from the above statement that the whole world speaks English. You are likely to find English speakers in major cities, tourist destinations, and among the educated. The further you get from those areas, the less likely you will find English.

If we will be in a country for some weeks, we make an effort to learn a few key words and phrases because it shows some respect for host country. People (other than French speakers) are usually delighted to help and pleased that you tried their language. We usually learn:

  • Please, Thank You, Hello, Goodbye, How are You?
  • The numbers 1-10,
  • Open, Closed, Left, Right, Straight (for the taxis),
  • Train Station, Airport, Taxi,
  • Restaurant, Hotel, Room, bathroom
  • When, Where, Who, (you’ll won’t like the long answers you get to Why), How Much, How Far,
  • Rain, Snow,
  • I like it very much,
  • Help.

With that set of words, and maybe a few more, you can get by, and impress your hosts with your willingness to try.

Beyond the basic set of words above, the next most important set of words are menu items.  You have to eat and non-tourist restaurants offer a unique glimpse of the local culture.  However, they will not likely have an English language menu, so you might want to learn (or have a cheat sheet for)

  • Meats: Beef, steak, chicken (breast, dark or white meat), fish pork, liver (and any food you really do NOT want)
  • Vegetarian, if that’s important to you
  • Vegetables: potatoes, carrots, broccoli, etc.,
  • Methods of preparation: fried, poached, braised, baked, grilled,
  • And pasta, rice, water, drinks, wine, and of course, any of the regional specialties.
  • Plus any meal you are in search of.