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Publié le by NmNomador

Between the Lines: 4 Tips to Connecting with Foreigners in Spite of Language Barriers

Although I can speak canine, feline and leporine, I do have a tough time with Chinese.  So when I find myself housesitting in a foreign country where I’m unable to speak the language, I need to get creative.
Here are my tips:

Tip #1: Learn a few phrases in the local language

“Hello,” “thank you,” and “good-bye,” at the very least. Not only does that break the ice, it can help smooth transactions. Thanking taxi drivers in their native Wolof (“jërejëf”), for example, while housesitting in French-speaking Senegal sometimes avoided a renegotiation of the fare. It always elicited a good-natured smile (perhaps due to my terrible pronunciation?).

Sometimes, though, my pronunciation of “hello” is so spot-on, the listener assumes I know her language and takes off, leaving me wide-eyed and mouth agape…and both of us laughing!

Tip #2: Smile. A lot.

It will help you appear more courteous, likable and non-threatening (and thin, too, according to studies).  Smiling as a way to appear harmless dates back more than 30 million years, according to primatologist Signe Preuschroft, who studied monkeys’ and apes’ barely clenched teeth that indicates their harmlessness.

Smiling is contagious.  Since humans engage in body language mirroring, we automatically copy others’ facial expressions, so smiling bonds people together – even those of differing cultures.  In his studies of the human smile, Charles Darwin noted that smiling, unlike body language, for example, is truly universal, opening opportunities for cross-cultural connecting.

Smiling is so universal, in fact, that the first Friday of every October is World Smile Day!

Tip #3: Download smart phone apps

Download smart phone apps, such as Speak & Translate or Google Translate.  They are definitely helpful, especially for translating directions and basic requests.  While housesitting in a small village in China, for example, I was the only non-western face I saw in over a week.  I relied on communicating by Google-translating phrases on my laptop such as “minibus to panda sanctuary” and photographing the Chinese characters with my cellphone to show to taxi drivers.

Sometimes apps can lead to hilarious encounters, however.  After being led to the dairy counter and handed tubs of butter by five different grocery clerks when I had displayed what I thought was the Malaysian phrase for “peanut butter,” I nearly gave up.  Then one clerk got a strange look on his face, grabbed my hand and led me straight to the Skippy.  We both laughed and rejoiced in his triumph. While helpful, these apps aren’t perfect, but a little persistence can often help with understanding.

Tip #4: Stop and chat with foreigners

Stop and chat with foreigners who want to practice their English. On an evening walk around Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi, I was approached by a young man who explained he and his friends were raising money for their university’s English Club. Would I buy some homemade juice and chat for a bit? Then I was asked my opinion about the Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty!

But not all foreign housesits are that exotic, linguistically speaking. I have a recurring housesit in Ajijic, Mexico, one of the world’s largest expatriate communities. The community is quite “Anglicized”: I grocery shop at Wal-Mart.
During one shopping trip, I approached the deli counter to buy chicken breasts, but I didn’t know the Spanish verbiage. “Quiero seis pollo de … este” I blurted while pointing quickly at my own breast. (“I’d like six chicken, uh….“). Without missing a beat, the Mexican guy behind the counter responded in perfect English, “We don’t have any that big.”
For the record, the word for “chicken breast” is pechuga….and that’s how I keep abreast of languages at my housesits.

Author Bio

Kelly Hayes-Raitt

While housesitting, Kelly Hayes-Raitt is writing a book about her experiences in the Middle East with Iraqi refugees.  She recently published How to Become a Housesitter:  Insider Tips from the HouseSit Diva, available at HouseSitDiva.com

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