Good morning! That picture above is from a past trip to Paris. I remember the exact day I took the photo, it was in 2015 just a few days after Christmas. I had gotten a little lost in an unfamiliar part of the city and as I was walking back to the apartment I turned a corner and found Rue de Croissant. The sun was shining on the street sign like a beacon of hope. Is there a better Rue out there? Maybe Rue de Fromage. Or Rue de Vin. See how Frenchy I am? With all the French words?
One of the questions I got this week was about traveling and language comfort, it’s the last one of this post. It’s a very good question and it’s something I think about a fair amount these days. So here’s today’s Q&A and sometimes just A!
* * * * *
Since you’re answering questions- where in the heck did you get your desk? I’ve coveted it since early CAP days!!!
Hi there, Tai. I got that desk at Pottery Barn. It’s the Bedford desk collection and it is currently on sale! Here’s a link. It has definitely stood the test of time. I got this way back in… 2005? Earlier? And I have moved it three times and it’s still as sturdy and solid as when I bought it. The delivery process was not good, but it’s been a lot of years and maybe they’ve improved. I had to send many pieces back that arrived damaged, and everything took months and months to get delivered completely. Once I finally got that sorted out it ended up being a great desk and I love that you can customize it with different side pieces. Plus, on sale!
* * * * *
An Answer Instead of a Question: Quick-Drying Travel Towel
I mentioned a while back that I need a travel-friendly towel for my hair since a lot of these Airbnb folks don’t understand the need for an extra hair towel. (If you have long hair you know it is a serious thing!)
Debbie wrote: “I use an Aquis super absorbent hair towel that I got at Bed, Bath & Beyond. It comes as a flat towel or as one of those turban twist type thingies.”
Kathleen agreed: “I have used Aquis hair towels for travel and at home for years. They are a nice, cushy waffle weave and I have never had to replace them–they never wear out. They are worth every penny. They even have a ‘long-hair’ version that is a bit bigger.”
Sold! This was such a great suggestion, I love that the towel may even cut down drying time on my hair. I bought this one, I will let you know how it goes. It’s in the mail and I’m excited to try it out when it arrives. Thank you so much for the suggestions!
* * * * *
Another Answer About Those Leggings!
Reader Lora added a great comment to my whole monologue about skirted leggings, “For anyone that may need those leggings in a plus size, Nordstrom carries them online here.” YES. Thank you for adding that! Also, if you are on the fence about your size, order one down. I find these run a bit big.
* * * * *
I enjoy traveling with you via you blog, wherever you may go! Some time ago you mentioned that you were writing another book….fiction, I think. Has it been published yet?
Hi Betsy! Thank you for the nice words… now about that fiction book. Yep. How about that.
I started writing my fiction book and it wasn’t bad, it was a solid start anyway. But after the first 30 pages or so I stalled. For some reason fiction takes me forever and a day to write. I can jot off a first-person essay or newspaper-style article in no time flat but the structure, time, and discipline needed for fiction writing surprised me. I have not entirely given up on it, but it’s on pause. Maybe I just wasn’t passionate about the story. Or maybe my real life finally improved enough to stop living through a character. Either way I sort of lost the plot.
What does set me on fire right now is the idea of compiling another first-person book, perhaps about travel. That’s sort of how this blog started. I got excited about a story I wanted to tell about Paris and here we are. So while there is nothing on the books (hah!) right now, I will keep you posted on anything new. And things are always changing so something new could happen any old day!
* * * * *
Could you talk a bit about language requirements in the countries you visit? Are you only learning French or do you learn a little bit of each language before a trip?
This is a great question, and it will be fun to hear how others handle this.
To me, it’s important to learn at least the basics before I go to another country: Hello, Goodbye, Please, Thank You, I’m sorry I don’t speak this language, and “I’d like a red wine, please.”
However, I didn’t do this for Sweden and Denmark. I understand enough Norwegian (similar to Swedish) to get by and honestly I was so exhausted and time-poor before we went to Copenhagen I had to let it go. Luckily everyone we encountered there spoke to us in perfect, unaccented English. It was remarkable! I felt a little lazy but also really appreciative.
In general, when you travel abroad you’ll have more luck finding English-speaking folks in the bigger cities. The deeper you go into smaller towns anywhere the less you’ll find they are equipped to banter with you. And sure, it’s preferable to be able to say a few phrases and niceties in the local language. But I don’t think it’s a barrier to seeing the world. If you want to go to France and you do not speak a lick of French don’t let that be your excuse not to travel. Just GO! You can learn how to say s’il vous plaît when you’re on that long-haul flight.
Fun Fact: Did you ever see the movie version of Julie & Julia? My French is a lot like early Julia Child’s awful French. But I never have any problems in France, I just muddle through and I’m patient with myself and everything works out just fine. In the end we are all people, and traveling shows you how much more alike we are all than different.
Here are a few quick takes on English-ease in places I’ve traveled to over the years:
- England/Ireland/Scotland: Obviously you don’t need to get a phrasebook for the UK but FYI the word “pants” means something different there! 🙂
- The Scandinavian countries are the next easiest after the English-speaking countries. It seems like every human being in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and most of Iceland speaks about four languages fluently and one is English.
- France: You definitely need to pick up a few phrases before you go, I recommend the Pimsleur audio courses for this. I am still hoping to one day speak decent French. Maybe. I’m not dead yet!
- Spain: Definitely try to learn a few phrases or brush up on your high school Spanish. In my experience, very few folks in Spain are going to engage with you in English. I speak pretty solid Spanish, so I’ve always had an easy time in Spain but outside of Madrid almost no one I met spoke English.
- Portugal: In the south where British folks vacation I met several people who spoke English, but I did not encounter this in the rest of the country. I also found that my Spanish would accidentally pop out which they bristled at a bit (Portuguese is not Spanish, after all!) My brain wants to insert Spanish into all languages, so it’s an honest mistake.
- Rome, Italy: I’ve only been to Rome, and it was extremely tourist-friendly. I studied for months ahead of time but never really got the chance to use my Italian! Super easy for English-speaking travelers to navigate Rome, though I can’t speak for the rest of the country. Basically, if you don’t immediately look Italian they speak English to you.
- Potsdam, Germany: Kind of a random entry on the list, but it’s a funny story. I drove through Germany and stayed here one night. At a local pub I met a whole group of Chilean folks and we spoke Spanish all night. I never spoke a word of my carefully-practiced German!
- Poland: I was there for over a week and met only one person who spoke semi-English. This was an interesting trip, because it was pre-smartphone so I had no translation apps, and I kind of accidentally ended up in rural Poland so I hadn’t done any planning. You know what? I managed just fine. You’d be surprised what you can do with goofy hand signals and a little patience. I did learn one word before I left: pivô. It means beer!
I know I left out several but you get the idea. Yes, it’s polite (and fun!) to learn some key phrases. But you do not need to speak the language to go visit the country and learn about its awesomeness. Be patient and don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re a tourist. It’s OK to be in learning mode instead of expert mode.
Oh, And There’s An App For That
If you do want to learn a language or get translation help on the road, there’s an app for that! I have these apps on my phone:
I love DuoLingo. Free language lessons and it’s really fun.
Speak & Translate App
This app has been a lifesaver for me a few times in France when I was trying to convey something complicated. In a few weeks The Captain and I are going to Romania (!!) and I believe this app will come in really handy.
Snap & Translate
Not free, but I bought it to help me with vocabulary and also to translate menus! You use your phone camera to snap a picture and the app translates it into any language you choose. This was a $4.99 purchase that I hope comes in handy while we are in Bucharest. I tried it out by taking a picture of Frankie and it translated the image into a spanish word: gato. Success! heheheheh. I now know I have a gato. 🙂
* * *
That’s all for today! Happy Day-Before-Much-Needed-Friday!