I’m sick of reading posts by bloggers who assure you it’s okay, they had a magical and revelatory experience in a foreign country wherein they knew basically none of the language.
Good for you.
Do you know how we treat people in America who don’t learn the language? Like dirt. Even if someone knows the language but has a little trouble, or a bit of an accent, we give them a hard time. We insinuate that they’re clueless or stupid, and make jokes about their lack of credentials. We say, “It’s AMERICA, learn ENGLISH!”
Do people even understand the phrase doesn’t work that way? At least, “We’re in England, learn English,” works rhetorically, but the America one just makes you sound ignorant.
Every time someone goes abroad and doesn’t even have to try the language, they’re demonstrating a tiny bit of why people hate America. We get whatever we want, and no, we’re not working hard for it. We just collectively have so much money and pull, and other countries have so little, that they have to accept our 2.5 gpa English-only students.
Don’t pat yourself on the back for getting by with gestures. Try moving away from the backpacker code or the study abroad rut and learn something real about the place you’re going to. Something that doesn’t involve alcohol, hooking up or a beach. Maybe it will involve a local meal for more than just the one token time, which inevitably will become a blog post or oft-repeated story. Or try spending time with people who are not also fellow travelers, people who are not expats from your country or a place where they speak your first language.
If you’re just going to sit around speaking English, hanging out with western people and going to bars and the beach, you may as well just stay home or go to a resort. Make it a cheap and dirty one if you’re a backpacker.
I know there are many languages out there, and it is unreasonable to limit your travel just because you don’t know them all. But can’t you at least put in a little effort, a little respect? If you can’t even handle a few conversational phrases, why not try to learn some basic information about the country. Learn some history or about a prevalent religion.
I’m all about traveling, but if you’re just going to take advantage of American privilege and stay in a bubble, then why are you leaving the country? Show some respect and make the most out of your time.