Published: November 29th 2011November 29th 2011
One of the great things about being an American, aside from the constitutionally guaranteed freedom to have obscene bumper stickers, is that so many foreign people speak our language (English). You can walk the streets of just about any major city in the world, and as soon as the natives realize that you're an American, they'll make you feel right at home.
"Stick them up!" they'll say. "Please to be handing over your American Express traveler's checks! Don't leave home without them!"
Yes, they are clever, those natives. Nevertheless, you may sometimes find yourself in a foreign situation wherein members of the local population, because of a poor educational system or sheer laziness, have not learned to speak your language fluently. This can lead to serious problems, as when for example you're in Spain, attempting to obtain a chicken-salad sandwich, and you wind up with a dish whose name, when you look it up in your Spanish/English dictionary, turns out to mean "Eel with the Big Abscess." This is why I strongly recommend that before you travel abroad, you learn to speak a foreign language, ideally the same one that is spoken in whatever country you're going to.
Of course you probably think it's hard to learn another language, because you spent years studying foreign languages in high school, and all you can remember is being forced to confiscate verbs and memorize those moronic dialogues wherein everybody seemed to be obsessed with furniture:
• PIERRE: Voici le bureau de mon oncle. ("Here is the bureau of my uncle.")
• JACQUES: Le bureau de votre oncle est right prochain de la table de ma tante. ("The bureau of your uncle is right next to the table of my aunt.")
• MARIE: Qui donne un merde? ("Who gives a shit?")
I took an estimated two thousand years of high school French, and when I finally got to France, I discovered that I didn't know one single phrase that was actually useful in a real-life French situation. I could say, "Show me the fish of your brother Raoul," but I could not say, "Madame, if you poke me one more time with that umbrella I am going to jam it right up one of your primary nasal passages," which would have been extremely useful.
So what you need, as a traveler, is to learn practical foreign expressions. Let's say you're in a very swanky Paris restaurant that has earned the coveted "Five-Booger" ranking from the prestigious Michelin Guide to How Snotty a Restaurant Is. You cannot be asking these people to show you the fish of their brother Raoul. You will want to use simple, foolproof phrases such as the following.
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