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How to order food abroad without sounding like an idiot

Simon Calder’s Travel

On any quest for good food while on holiday, you will probably find yourself staring down a wholly unfamiliar menu, with not a lick of English in sight. You scan each item, the letters or strange characters swimming as you start to sweat. The waiter hovers in your peripheral vision, and you wonder if they know how clueless you are. You start to panic as they inch towards you, notepad and pen at the ready. Oh god. What on earth are you about to order?

If all this sounds familiar, you’re far from alone. A survey by meal kit experts Gousto found that more than half (55 per cent) of British travellers have felt hesitant to try local dishes in a foreign country because of language barriers. The reluctance to try and order in a foreign language likely contributes to the 63 per cent of holidaymakers’ preference to holiday somewhere where they can speak the language.

As a Malaysian who grew up hearing, reading and at least attempting to speak more than two languages, foreign menus aren’t as daunting to me as they are to friends and family who can only speak one. It might be because I’m accustomed to switching between spellings and pronunciations, or seeing characters that are completely different to the Greek alphabet. In comparison, most Britons living in the UK will only hear, read and speak English.

Be kind to your wait staff, says Kate Ng

(Kate Ng)

But this shouldn’t stop you from trying foreign dishes while travelling. One of the greatest joys of going abroad is tasting new and exciting foods. It’s something that my British husband and I often go out of our way to do. We look for restaurants and cafes located away from tourist traps, but that usually means getting a menu that neither of us can read.

Between my husband and I, we can usually figure something out. While Googling under the table is his preferred method of deciphering dishes, I constantly try to convince him that there are other ways to get help with the menu that don’t require typing and scrolling in silence while the good waiters, well, wait.

Smile at the staff

I hate to sound like a catcaller, but in a restaurant setting, a smile will never go amiss. It sounds really obvious, but giving the wait staff a pleasant smile and enquiring how they are can get you a long way. Most people will understand, “Hello, how are you?” Once you’ve won them over, it opens the…

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