Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Parlez Vous Français?

No Italian translation needed.  It's all delicious!

Boomers, You Can Do It! Part 4

 "Not only can you travel independently to Europe, but you can do it much more cheaply and easily than you thought possible."

I always hope that sentence will galvanize my listener into action so that he'll race to buy my book, Europe on a Dime: Five-Star Travel on a One-Star Budget, and start planning a trip. After all, the book holds your hand, step-by-step, so you can plan a European experience that is easy on the budget.  Truly, Europe on a Dime practically makes the reservations for you!

But no matter how sincerely I promise to walk people through the process, it's never quite that easy to convince them.  No matter how tantalizing the thought of traipsing down the Champs d'Elysee or cruising the canals of Venice, there's usually a "yes, but...." counter to my promise of cheap and meaningful travel.

So, it's time to face those "yes, buts...." in the next few blog posts.  We're going to take a look at the fears which keep people rooted to their La-Z-Boy recliners when they could be sauntering down exotic cobblestone alleys instead.  We'll confront the objections head-on in hopes that everyone will soon feel confident enough to plan a European trip.

We've dealt with most of the fears in previous posts, but there is one more fear, more of a niggling doubt really, that holds people back even though they are reluctant to admit it.  People worry that traveling independently, without a guide/interpreter, means that they'll be wandering the streets mumbling incoherently in a futile attempt to communicate.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Europeans love to help foreigners, and they relish the opportunity to practice their English.  Unlike Americans, Europeans begin studying a foreign language--almost always English--in first grade, so their level of proficiency is impressive.  If you ask your question slowly and enunciate each syllable, you will probably receive a response.  Be sure to phrase your statement as simply as possible such as, "Where is the Eiffel Tower?" instead of, "If I take this street for two blocks and then turn left, will I run into the Eiffel Tower?" 
Eurostar station with English and French signs

All airports, bus and train stations use signage in two languages--that of the native country and English.  ATMs (automatic teller machine) at banks, where you will be accessing your money, allow you to perform the entire transaction in English.  Most taxi drivers picking up passengers at airports speak a smattering of English although it's often helpful to have your destination address written on a piece of paper you can give to the driver.

So, you have nothing to fear about public transportation or on-foot navigation, but what about shopping in grocery stores when you're traveling the Tightwad Way?  Will you be able to find what you need?

While it's true that grocery stores will probably have no English signage, most items you'll need are easily recognizable.  Bread looks like bread the world over, cheese is cheese, and wine is easy to spot.  You may have a little difficulty locating some items like cream or butter, but that provides an opportunity for interacting with the other customers or the market staff.  And if you make a mistake and get the wrong thing, chalk it up to being a part of the learning experience.  After all, you came to Europe to experience other cultures, and eating their food is part of that encounter.
Use your language cheat-sheet.

Of course, you will get far more smiles from the people you meet if you can speak even a few words of their language.  A great source of information is Fodor's Language for Travelers.  On this Internet site, you will find more than 150 words and phrases in six different categories (greetings, directions, shopping, numbers, dining out, basic phrases) and a free download for your iPad, iPhone or Nook.  Another Internet source to try is Foreign Languages for Travelers.

But whether you spend two years learning a foreign language or only two minutes learning to say "hello," never let your lack of a foreign language keep you from traveling. You may not be able to parlez fluently, but you will never be at a loss for words when it comes to enjoying the many pleasures of exploring another culture.

Don't hesitate to ask for interpretation.  You wouldn't want to miss the Herculaneum Ruins.


  1. Dru,Just read Europe on a Dime--loved it and found it true. Worried however about Christopher Elliott's recent warnings on phishing related to HomeAway and VRBO. Pls address this when you revise.

    1. Merci! I'm glad you enjoyed Europe on a Dime and hope that it will help you plan meaningful, frugal trips to Europe. As for Christopher Elliott's warnings, if you take a few precautions, it is no more risky to rent an apartment than it is a hotel room. You MUST talk to the owner on the phone (Use Skype, a free Internet protocal to call for minimal cost, if you're dialing Europe.), and you MUST use a credit card. Most international transactions require you to use PayPal. Using your credit card via PayPal (In other words, having PayPal transfer the money, not from your bank account, but from your credit card.) doubles your protection. You can also, in most cases and for minimal sums, purchase the Carefree Rental Guarantee insurance from the Home Away alliance. All these approaches should ensure you will have a successful trip without any unpleasant surprises.