In December, I took a skiing break to Austria and every day, after three hours of skiing, we were ready for lunch. One day we were eyeing up the sandwiches which were all labelled in German. It suddenly occurred to me that I didn’t have a clue what was in half of them. Not only is it a language difficulty but it is also a cultural one. As a nation, the UK tends to be quite big on sandwiches, rather than the continental equivalent of filled Semmels or Kipferls. Although these are very tasty, it’s not quite the same as two neatly cut triangular sandwiches, which we’re so used to seeing packaged in supermarkets across the country.
Translating a menu is another challenge we took on. Unaided by any English translations, it was a case of guessing what each item might be. Certain words stood out, or were similar to English, which meant we could piece together some sort of plausible dish but others were much harder to get as they were traditional Austrian dishes, such as dumpling soup. The only visual cues we had were the dishes being served to other customers. Far from being food envy, it was more a case of matching the dish to the menu.
Drinks, however, are much easier to muster as many names are universal, like Coca Cola, and most people can put a twist on beer and lemonade to make them sound vaguely Austrian. The only obstacle remaining after successfully ordering a drink is the price. Without a till present, which is quite often in a restaurant as the waiting staff take your money at the table, we often handed over a 20 Euro note to be sure we’d covered what was probably around 6 Euros. Towards the end of the holiday, as we were trying to use up our coins, we were more concerned with the exact change and many staff would resort to English. When it comes to money, everyone wants to make sure they are understood!
The lesson learnt here is to come prepared. If I’d taken a bit more time to stock up on my vocab I would have known what was in the sandwich and got by a lot easier. When going on holiday, you tend not to think about the language barriers and it’s only when you get there that you realise. Interestingly though, as soon as you talk about travelling, your brain seems to switch gear and you arm yourself with phrasebooks for the relevant languages.
Holidays, then, are all about relaxing and we tend not to put relaxation and learning together. However, travelling is all about adventure and new experiences, which fits very well with learning new things, including languages.