Home > Take Off E-Mail this page || Print this page
Mind Your Language

Thatís something you hear across Europe, not because youíre being explicitly abusive or offensive, but because you simply donít speak European lingos, discerns Sheetal Wadhwa

What makes it to the top three in the list of essentials of any business traveller? Airline, accommodation, apparel... language anybody?

Language, as trivial as it may seem, is an extremely vital aspect when it comes to travelling in an alien nation, especially cross country in Europe, where language changes are more striking than the weather changes and also exert a greater influence, believe me! In most European countries, English is not spoken very widely and specific cultural traits sometimes manifest themselves and are easy to interpret, if one can speak the local language. A handicap you don’t want to have at least on this side of the West.

In Rome do like the Romans, to some extent should be rephrased to, in Rome speak like the Romans. Not that much in Italy, where the warmth and charisma of the people is reflected through the gleam in the eyes or the expression on their faces, just as well as through their mother tongue. And it would help to know that ‘Ciao’ is your password to strike any conversation with the ‘drop dead gorgeous’ Italians!

However, you may confront a problem in a ‘cold’ country like Germany or France, where it definitely is a tough task to gauge the hospitality of the locals through their non-verbal expression. Like most people who travel in Europe, I had my share of experiences too, to begin with lets start with the land of the English language - The United Kingdom. You would assume you wouldn’t face any language problem there.

Land yourself in Scotland and you’ll find out otherwise. I can vouch for the fact that Scottish English is far from the Queen’s dialect, leave alone the Indianised form of it. During my visit, to the Chivas Regal distillery in Scotland, we had a quintessentially English (Scottish) gentleman conducting the tour. I can assure you that it wasn’t just me or the French nationals who gaped in bewilderment.

English is not a ‘foreign’ language to me, it’s my means of communication, or so I thought. However, this incident made me think twice because I could not figure the words coming out of his mouth! He could have been speaking in German or Latin to me, they’d all sound the same - strange!

There’s not too much you can do to combat the situation in Scotland, coz it’s not really an accent you could acquire in days or even months, no matter how good a linguist you may think you are. However, this may not be the case in France, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and many others. It is really not like saying ‘Have a good day (die)’ in Australia or ‘Pleasure’ at a slower pace in South Africa. It’s far more complex. In Paris, you would be well received if you said ‘excuse me’, but you’d be welcomed with an ‘Excusez-moi’. If you said you were a fan of Belgian beer in a Belgian pub, sure they’d serve you one. But if you say that you thrived on ‘La Biere Belge’, it may be accompanied by a generous helping of hospitality.

Although it is not imperative to be a master of the language, it’s always nice to carry a ‘pocket book of phrases’ that help you literally ‘break the ice’. Lastly, never forget that more than anything else ‘Money Talks’ and just like you need the currency of the country you’re visiting to survive, you also need a colloquial approach to communicate with people.