Language Barrier in Restaurants while eating
It is in situations such as these that the boundless alternatives for human communication amaze me. Language Barrier in Restaurants are an intimidating thing. There is nothing more disheartening than abruptly having the option of verbal communication plucked from your life.
Now I can’t tell you how to express your political and religious views with smoke signals and hand claps, but I can give you some tips for getting on in your day to day interactions.
One of the most common situations that comes up is ordering food. It is something that you have to learn to deal with, because the alternative is starvation and I don’t know of anyone who is to keen on that idea.
So let’s cover the obvious first. If you are in fact fortunate enough to find yourself in a classy enough restaurant where the menu features pictures, thank the good lord. Use your fingers, smile, and point. Just don’t be disappointed or shocked when questions such as, “Would you like fries or a salad?” get asked, and you, not understanding, don’t end up with your preference.
When I was traveling with an old boyfriend in Europe, Germany was rough. He knew enough German to be able to offer invaluable insights like, “I believe that’s cow” or “I think that’s pork… yeah, definitely pork.” For those of you who are in the least familiar with German cuisine, stating, “this has meat in it” doesn’t exactly narrow down your choices. I learned to be really flexible with what I ate. Sometimes I was pleased with my random menu selection, and sometimes I was mortified. Poverty demanded I consume my choice regardless of my taste buds’ preference.
Sometimes you aren’t even lucky enough to have someone along who can identify the variety of livestock. Sometimes you are just plain clueless. When I got to Peru I was shocked to realize that I didn’t speak nearly as much Spanish as I had previously given myself credit for. I hadn’t heard of any of the typical dishes and knew no body parts and very few animals. I developed a unique way of communicating with waiting staff. It’s fail safe, but certainly not “fool” proof. Meaning? You are guaranteed to make a complete and total fool of yourself. Please see below:
First, situate yourself in a table as far away from other customers as possible. You will thank me for this later.
Second, wait for the list. Try to identify one or two things on the menu that sound appealing in the mother tongue of your server. This could mean that you simply enjoy the spelling of the word because it seems that it would sound appetizing on the off chance that you were capable of pronouncing it properly.
Third, ask, “What animal is this?” Then start moving through the animal noises. I start with mooing and then make a thumbs up and a thumbs down signaling for the waitress to confirm, “Yes, you are about to eat a cow you stupid gringa” or otherwise. I then move on to oinking, clucking, flopping like a fish, etc. If you are fortunate enough to get a fun, or in the very least curious, server, they may even participate with you. I have had servers making animal noises right along with me more than a few times.
Now that you have narrowed down which animal you are about to consume you are ready for the final step. What part of the animal? This is the most important part for me. Namely because I would have to be really, really hungry to eat intestines or lung. I start by eliminating lung by indicating my chest and taking a couple deep breaths. I then move on to heart by indicating my chest once again and making one hand pump like a beating heart. Sound effects are always a nice touch. A lot of the other parts can simply be indicated by pointing. Legs, breasts, and ribs all require minimal creativity.
By this point the waitress has already deduced that you are stark raving mad and wouldn’t dream of poisoning your food out of fear that she would only exacerbate your madness, because you are clearly not of this world.
Just so we are clear, I wasn’t kidding at all. That is really my method and it’s totally functional. I never once got intestines or lung in two months of eating out without knowing the words for either organ. However, there is one more foolproof alternative, and this time I mean foolproof in the traditional sense.
Use a dictionary, people. Keep a pocket dictionary on you, which you should have on you anyways if you are traveling somewhere where you don’t speak the language. Greet the staff as politely as possible given that you look like a muted imbecile, sit down and get to work.
Naturally, going through the entire menu is a project. Once you have identified a few words that repeat several times, check those. For example, you are going to see pollo (aka chicken) and carne (aka beef) on a menu several times in pretty much any Spanish speaking country. If you know that you want beef, then you only need to translate the words associated with the beef dishes.
The more that you go out to eat, the easier that this entire process becomes. You will begin to familiarize yourself with the local cuisine, and ultimately identify dishes that you have enjoyed in the past as well as dishes that you would like to avoid.
I strongly encourage all travelers to keep a little notepad with them where they can note basic phrases such as, “Could I please have…” and “I’d like water.” I also recommend writing down the translations of words when you do use a dictionary. The more that you write down the first time, the less foolish you look later down the road when you suddenly only need to look up one or two words as opposed to an entire menu.
The decision is yours. Have fun proving yourself a fool, or keep it safe with a foolproof dictionary.
(This article was created with the assistance of Tina Stelling, Her Website is www.tinastelling.com I welcome you all to check it out.)
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