Financial News

Poor Language Skills Show Up Expats

British expats get their red faces from embarrassment due to a lack of understanding foreign languages as well as sun burn, according to a new survey.

Although more than half try to learn a few well-used phrases before departing overseas, many of us still manage to trap ourselves in misunderstandings, says AA Financial Services.

Typical Brits abroad carry a phrasebook (21%) or brace themselves to bluster through without any knowledge of another language (9%).

Embarrassing scrapes

A third of expats and holidaymakers confess this has left them in some difficult scrapes:

  • A shopping expat in The Netherlands was trying to buy a postcard, but without knowing a word of Dutch, resorted to hand signs and other gestures. Fortunately an English-speaking Dutchman came to his rescue and explained the shopkeeper was blind
  • Someone else tried to helpfully explain a customer would have to pay extra charges for transferring money through a bank account – only for the customer to ask why he would have to donate strawberries as well as paying his bill
  • In a restaurant, one British diner instructed the waitress to lie down rather than bring the bill after he had finished his meal
  • In a German hotel, one Brit went to reception to ask for an extra pillow – only to be told he had asked the woman to his room to have a kiss on the bed
  • Ordering a ham sandwich proved too much for one visitor to Spain. She explained ham went between two slices of bread in the same way as chicken, beef and cheese that were also on the menu. The bemused waiter returned with a sandwich almost a foot high crammed with all the fillings she had mentioned
  • A driver in Italy wanted to fill up with petrol and asked where the nearest service station was, only for the person he asked to return a few minutes later with a saucepan full of fuel because they thought he had run out
  • Slang can also be a problem – ‘Mind your fingers’ was a warning to someone chopping vegetables, but the message was lost in translation as the cook had no idea what his mind had to do with his hand

Learn a few words

“Most of our linguistic mistakes overseas are top do with ordering food,” said a spokesman for the firm. “Language barriers can be frustrating and often funny, but have a serious side if you are trying to conduct business or sort out money.

“Learning a few basic phrases before you leave is useful, but if you are staying anywhere long term, getting to know the language is often vital.”

Technology can help – like the Google Translate app for smartphones that lets you speak or hold a conversation in several languages.

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