You studied English for years, maybe practice it often, but travelling abroad can hold some challenges even for people with an advanced level.
Misunderstandings can occur in the most banal situations, like ordering a coffee or calling a taxi. The main reason for these incidents is the lack of familiarity with the culture of the place we are visiting, or better: the fact that we may forget facts about that culture because, when we speak English in Italy, they are not so relevant. For example, most people know that liquids in English-speaking countries are measured in pints and not liters, but, when in a pub in Britain, we can forget and ask for a “medium beer”.
To make your life – and the bartender’s – easier, here you can find some useful “reminders” to enjoy your trip abroad with fewer misunderstandings.
Review the measurements in use in the country you are visiting: you can never tell when you need them. Getting back to the beer example, in Britain you can have a pint of beer, or half a pint. They are not exactly identical to our medium or small beers, but quite similar. In the States, for almost everything (also drinks) you have three sizes: Small, Medium and Large.
If you are into American coffee, remember that coffee is measured in ounces; so you have an 8-ounce coffee, or 20, or even 30. Fun fact: in the famous coffeehouse chain Starbucks, some names of these sizes are in Italian. The 20-ounze coffee cup is called “venti”, the 31 “trenta”. Can you imagine a foreigner ordering a “venti” in an Italian bar?
When abroad, it’s a good idea to try the typical cuisine of the place. If you really get nostalgic, remember that Italian restaurants abroad adapt the dishes to the taste of their public, even if the chef is Italian. As a result, the food can be VERY different from what we have in our country. Instead of wasting your money in overcooked pasta or pizza with pineapple, and if you don’t have a kitchen in your accommodation, keep your nostalgia for when you get home. Oh, and also: if you want an espresso, order an espresso. Don’t ask for a coffee.
In many countries, tipping is considered polite, whereas in others it is compulsory. In the last case, it’s easier for Italians, as it can help us remember to pay it – you can consider it some sort of “coperto”. Before leaving, do a little research about the “tipping-policy” of that country: you can avoid leaving a poor impression on the people you share a meal with. And the waiters.
We Italians are not as aware of our space in the same way as people from some other countries: we just “are”. Every spot is the right spot for an Italian. “Where is the queue?” asks our British friend, watching a shapeless crowd in front of a gelateria. What a question! The queue is where you are. If you see a tiny spot between two people in front of you, you can tuck yourself in, and that’s queueing. I’m joking, but abroad you have to be more careful about the space you occupy. Some places can be very crowded, so it’s important that you notice immediately where you have to be if you want to walk slowly, or fast, or you want to stop, or which side of the pavement is for you – and not for cyclists. Don’t forget that in some countries, like Japan or the States, smoking is not admitted anywhere, so pay attention to the signs before you light up a cigarette. Last but not least, keep the volume of your voice in check if you notice that the people around you speak more quietly than you.
In conclusion, travelling is fun and sometimes even making mistakes is, too. However, it’s never a bad idea to refresh your English before you set off on your journey!
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