Of all the things that really grinds my gears when traveling, it’s people who don’t bother to learn at least some of the local language. There, I said it. I am a passionate fan of learning languages, even if my actual results admittedly don’t stack up to where I’d want to be. But, I digress. As one of my biggest pet peeve, and arguably the biggest, I easily could go on in length about it. However, in order not to sound like a deranged lunatic, I’ll try to elocute my thoughts about it in a less-deranged manner.
This post was inspired by the fact that when I’ve been in more popular countries, such as Germany, France, and the Netherlands, I’ve seen fellow tourists try to chat in English in lieu of not knowing some. For them, it’s as if there’s no internet to guide them to resources to rectify this issue. That disgusts me, it really does. Don’t just treat the locals like people who’d automatically accomodate you in switching to their second or even third language. Meet them halfway. Another thing that’s come in handy is that I’ve been able to help fellow travelers in their native languages. Then, there’s the chance to get to better know who’s in your hostel. My hostel in Reykjavik had quite a few European guests, and thankfully, I got to practice German with them plus they told me things they wouldn’t have with the other guests. If there’s anything more rewarding than both of those, I dare you to one-up it!
Look, I know that some languages (i.e. Montenegrin and Icelandic, among others) are very hard to study due to the lack of available resources. English also has increasingly solidified its place as the global language, and it is tempting to resort to it as a fallback; that’s entirely fair, and I concede to having done this a few times. The difference between doing that and being a stereotypical foreign tourist is that the former only uses this as more of a last resort whereas the latter never thinks to not do it. (In defense of my countrymen, it’s just you who are guilty of this: I have seen quite a lot of rude Brits, Frenchmen, and Asians. As much stick we get for being ugly tourists, we’re not the only country who monopolizes this position.) Even some basic things such as, “hi”, “thank you”, “good morning”, and “goodbye” go a long way-my waiters in Kotor absolutely lit up when I said hvala to them. The Amsterdammers I said thank you to had a clear spring in their step when I briefly spoke to them in Dutch, as well. Now, how do I accomplish this? I use sites like Duolingo (good for more phrases/grammar) and Memrise (primarily vocabulary-oriented), and the cool thing about them is that the material is curated by native speakers. Both have free apps that are available for iOs and Android tablets and phones, so really, you’ve got no excuse not to pick up a few words and phrases.
Furthermore, it is incredibly mind boggling that some expats I’ve seen steadfastly refuse to learn the local language(s). I’m sorry guys, but that’s just disrespectful. You’ve had plenty of time to get adjusted and search for teachers, not to mention it puts extra pressure for the people around you to accommodate your lack of linguistic skills. Claiming to be embarassed to learn is a cop out, and it stunts your opportunities, if not inviting further embarassment. Even if, as a tourist and/or expat, your pronunciation induces some giggles from the locals, I guarantee you that they appreciate your efforts. And I mean, what’s the worse that could happen? My older Russian teacher, who told me that I’m the very first American she’s taught, absolutely appreciates the fact that I’m making mistakes in our lessons because I’m trying to learn. Yeah, it’s a bit of a hit to the ego to be corrected, but that’s the only way to learn/immerse yourself.
Even moving away from the daily aspect, languages do a lot to immerse you into a culture. In studying, you underneath the icebergs, rather than just only seeing the tip. Studying German through high school and university prepared me for visiting that country, and I also was able to speak to the locals. Shifting to a Muscovite context, my aforementioned Russian teacher able to tell me about the older, more literary words her (Soviet) generation used. It’s pretty darn neat, and studying with her offered me this uber cool glimpse. With both her and my other longstanding teacher here in the city, I’ve learned about the origins of some words that literally date back centuries!
So, there we have it. Maybe I’m fanatical about this peeve, but I feel actually justified in typing this entire post out. Of course, if you think I’m being irrational about this, feel free to tell me. But do it in another language.