Just over a week ago, my wife and I went to Santiago, Chile for a quick two night vacation run. She needed the miles and there was award space, so I figured I’d tag along. I’ll be posting the trip report in a few days or so, but I thought I’d share a perspective from my time there, correlated with my experience in Panama, and perhaps to a lesser extent, Spain.
I’ve traveled now to 36 countries. Of them, including more languages than I could count on two hands, including–but not limited to–Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Thai, Korean, English, German, Indian, Arabic, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and probably others, like Australian (kidding!). For most languages, I can speak enough to be polite, you know, things like “hello” “thank-you” sometimes more. French, I can speak more, but during my one weekend in Paris, I found that Parisians would prefer to speak English than let me stammer through in French–which I appreciated. Spanish, is probably my strongest language, which is much like saying that running is my best sport–and using mileage running as the justification!
Are Spanish Speaking Countries Less English Friendly?
I’m not sure if I’m noticing this because of my supposed strength in Spanish, and as a result expect more from myself, or if fewer Spanish speakers that I encounter in various Spanish speaking countries speak English. I’m not sure if that’s even the half of it. Suffice it to say, in my limited experiences in Spanish speaking countries, I’ve found that folks aren’t necessarily as willing or able to converse in English.
My most recent experience–before Chile–was getting into a cab for a weekend trip to Panama. The cab driver spoke little to no English, and having just gotten off of a 4-5 hour flight from Washington, DC, neither my wife, nor I were particularly ready to converse in Spanish. I think we ended up communicating well primarily due to teamwork. My wife and I could piece together enough Spanish to first convey our destination (our hotel). During the ride, we were able to piece together sentences to learn more about the driver’s background and different things in Panama we should see. Why did we try so hard? Because that’s part of the fun of travel, learning about the folks you encounter and what they recommend that you see in their country.
Before that, we had traveled to Spain, Argentina and Uruguay, and we were more able to converse, but ultimately left us with the feeling that we needed to rely more on our language skills than perhaps someplace like Thailand, Singapore, or Indonesia.
This may just be my personal experience–in fact, it probably is–but, I have definitely gotten the feeling like I need to be more proficient in Spanish than most other languages. Put differently, visiting Chile, my wife and I were lucky to run into a collection of bilingual Spanish/English speakers in our travels, because without them, we very well may not have been able to get by as much. Would we still have been able to eat, drink, and get around? Yes, but the few times we tried, it seemed a whole lot harder than other countries.
Have you noticed some countries to be more difficult to get around without knowing the local / national language?