Learn the Language
Americans’ have a pretty terrible reputation abroad. More so in certain countries but terrible none the less. I’ve flat out asked locals what they think of Americans regardless of where in the states they are from and the most common answers are ignorant, rude and uncultured. Being an American, I obviously don’t want to be perceived this way. I spent much of my youth (grade school and beyond) studying other cultures, learning about their customs, finding interest in their history. I in no way wish to insult anyone I meet.
Because I know how Americans are perceived, I’ve worked very hard on being the anti-stereotype. I enjoy learning about other cultures and customs. My second major at university was cultural anthropology anthropology . I do my damnedest to be well informed. And knowing that my family isn’t centuries old America definitely doesn’t hurt.
Knowing a HUGE portion of my family are from places like France, Germany and Ireland not only increases my desire to visit these places but also increases my desire to learn the language. In Texas, you are required to take a certain number of years of languages in school. Typically they must all be the same language but you can always play the system a bit.
I was lucky. Before he passed away when I was young, my grandfather would speak some German he learned from his family and while overseas. I picked up those phrases. My best friend growing up was born in Russia and since we were practically inseparable, I somehow by osmosis learned some Russian phrases. In middle school and high school, I took Spanish. At University, I took French as well as Dutch (my middle name is actually a Dutch word). When I started working for my company, I started learning Swedish. I like to be prepared.
I may not be fluent in all of these languages but I do know how to be polite and ask for something in each language. And I’m glad I can do so. Not just for me but also as a sign of respect to the culture I am immersing myself in.
There have been several occasions in my travels where I have been pleasantly enjoying a meal or some other activity when another English only speaking person has yelled at a server or whatever in another country in English because, and I can only guess on this, they thought yelling would help the server understand English. News flash guys, while most Europeans speak English, it doesn’t mean they have to. While in the Latin Quarter in Paris at a Crepe shop, an American couple, the man mostly, was yelling at the female server in English as if she was an idiot. I could tell by the look in her eyes, she knew exactly what they wanted. And while pretending to not understand may have been a bit of an asshole move, yelling wasn’t warranted. Long story short I ordered for the couple, apologized for the couple (it’s not like they knew what I was saying), thanked the waitress and went about my day.
Knowing even the smallest phrases or littlest history about your destination is at the very least, a sign that shows you respect the culture and are trying. Better to look stupid trying to say a phrase correctly than look like an ass for not even trying….