Now, be honest. Most English speaking people expect to be understood, no matter where they are in the world, right? After all, English is the most common second language spoken on the planet. While most school children in the UK and United States study Spanish, French, German, or Latin as a foreign language in school although they won’t become fluent. Other nations study English However, shouldn’t we at least make the effort to become familiar with the countries we plan to visit? Too many times I see English speaking tourists using translation services without making an effort to understand. Perhaps simply making the effort to learn a few phrases and customs would make our trips more rewarding. And, who know, it might make the trip a little smoother, too.
The most obvious problem, at first, for international travellers is the language. Although most educated societies learn English as a second language or, as in India, speak English as a primary language, it is a mistake to assume that everyone you contact will be fluent enough in the language to converse with you. In any country, even English speaking ones, it is simply good manners to try to learn a few basic phrases in the native language. If it does not earn you a place in the native’s heart because you are trying hard, it will at least entertain him for a while. Learn, too, the usual forms of address used in the country you will visit. It is better to err on the side of formality, than accidentally insult an official or inn owner with an informal familiarity normally reserved for family members. In fact, expecting everyone to understand you just because you speak English is like expecting everyone to drive on the same side of the road as you do. It just isn’t going to happen.
At least ½ of your communication is non-verbal. It pays to study the customs and gestures of the people who are natives of the country you are about to visit. Something as simple as nodding your head can confuse those to whom you are communicating. In the UK and US, nodding the head indicates agreement, or “yes”. In some countries, nodding the head indicates disagreement or “no”. This can get you in untold trouble, if you are not aware of the difference.
Former president Bill Clinton committed a tremendous faux pas in Brazil when he made the “ok” signal with his circled thumb and forefinger. This is a profanity in Brazil, and raised quite a few eyebrows.
In some countries, women are expected to walk behind their men, and are not allowed out in public without a man. If you go against these cultural norms, you can incite anger and find yourself unable to even check into a hotel room. Keep in mind that even if you are not prejudiced or sexist, that does not mean that other cultures share the same general acceptance. If you plan international travel, it is just simply good sense to study their customs and social taboos before crossing their borders.