This is one that is for international travel and applies to everyone: learn how to say a few key phrases in the local language. When you’re planning your trip abroad, don’t get so lost in your excitement of going away that you forget to do a little research on your destination. Yes, they probably do all speak English, but knowing a few pleasantries (like Hello, Goodbye, Please, Thank you) will get you much further along much easier.
When Rambo and I were in Hungary, people were so pleased when I attempted to utter some words in Hungarian. Sometimes they were nice enough to correct me when I was doing it very poorly, and then we got to bond over how difficult and beautiful their language is. They were also much more amiable to helping us find something or order something. But definitely watch out for this:
The French, poor fellows, get an awfully bad rap for being rude and hating Americans because they refuse to speak English (especially in Paris). The French, like the Americans, like to be spoken to in their own language without the assumption that they speak another one. In my experience, even in Paris, if you approach with the intent to try to speak a little French, they will happily switch to English for you. Also, for the record, the French were a very lovely people when I was in Base-Normandie and Paris.
In America, we force the whole of the world to speak American English when they come to visit (half the time when Rambo talks, people just stare at him like he’s speaking another language). In my experience, most Americans – even the fresh out of high school/college kids – don’t speak anything but English. I don’t know how many times I’ve had people just stare at me when I spoke English to them or how grateful people were when I was actually able to help them in their language. I was out shopping with a friend of mine, and we heard this family walk by us speaking a different language. My friend looked at me and went into a tirade about people living in America and not speaking English. When I picked my jaw up off the floor (because I had no idea she felt that way about non-English speakers), I calmly responded by asking how she knew that they lived here. She had no idea if they were immigrants, or if they were just in Dallas for vacation. She didn’t know whether or not they did speak English and were just conversing in their mother tongue for ease of communication.
It doesn’t matter if you are any good at the language or if your pronunciation is horrible, it’s nice for them to hear you at least trying to respect and appreciate their language and culture.