You don’t need to speak any foreign languages when you go travelling. But you do need to be able to throw some shapes, as globetrotting Dancing Matt explains
The phenomenon of Dancing Matt, the American gentleman who travels the world dancing badly in front of ever more outlandish landmarks, had completely passed me by until I read this excellent interview on Brave New Traveler. Matt is currently on his second trip around the world, still dancing and this time sponsored by a brand of chewing gum. He’s just finished bothering humpback whales in Tonga. (I told you it was outlandish). Matt’s blog has become one of my favourite reads because he has a distinctive writing style – he clearly loves travelling and is often stunned by the places he visits, but he doesn’t gush. He has an admirable economy to his writing style that pays off well with pithy one-liners too. He is also very much aware of the simultaneous luck and weirdness of getting to do what he does, and his ruminations on that I find interesting too. Too much of the time travel writing is about the exterior, when it should also be about the impact it has within you too.
A while ago I wrote a longish article called How to travel anywhere when you only speak English, explaining that you can get by pretty much anywhere just using English and a lot of smiling. Browsing the FAQ section on Wherethehellismatt.com, I realised he’d already said what I was getting at in a single paragraph:
How many languages do you speak?
Just the one. English is increasingly common all over the world, especially in hotels, airports, and other places that are likely to have tourists passing through.
But even in spots where English isn’t spoken, it’s not hard to get by. You don’t have to be fluent to communicate that you want to go somewhere, or buy something, or you want a room. Pointing and gesturing goes a long way.
It’s also helpful and not too difficult to learn a few words of the local language. At a minimum, it’s good to know “hello,” “excuse me,” and “thank you.” “Yes,” “no,” and “please” are a bonus. If you want to get really fancy you can learn to count and ask “how much?” I also make frequent use of “sorry.”
That’s it. “Sorry” is the master weapon of travelling. Manage that in the native language of wherever you are and you’ll be forever impressing the locals.