"Everyone speaks English."
They don’t. Myth dispelled.
And even if they do, you’re much more likely to make new friends or at least encounter polite locals if you learn enough for basic communication in their language.
Il y avait une fois (once upon a time), I was staying in the francophone province of Québec, Canada when I called for a cab to the airport. The driver spoke to me in heavily-accented English, not knowing that I speak French.
Having spent all my Canadian money on maple syrup scented candles the day before, I asked him if he accepted credit cards in his cab.
He became furious, mumbling in French about disrespectful Americans who don’t even bother to exchange their money.
So I responded en français, apologizing and saying I could call a different cab or asking if it would be better if we stop at a guichet automatique (ATM) on the way so I could withdraw more Canadian money.
He completely changed.
He wanted to know how I learned French, why I was in Québec and wanted to make sure I visited his favorite spot for late night poutine. We stopped at the guichet automatique and chatted in French all the way to the airport.
When we arrived though, he wouldn’t accept my money. He told me to keep the Canadian cash; that this way, I would have to keep my promise to come back to Canada.
Speaking the native language might not always equal free cab rides. But it will equal a better overall experience abroad and friendlier locals.
Do you have any examples of a time when knowing the local language has completely changed your experience while traveling?