Knowing the basics of a country’s food and drink — and some of the conventions that go with it — will stand you in good stead before you visit. In a lot of countries, food and drink are more integral to the culture than in the UK, so it’s not uncommon that daily life revolves around mealtimes. Sometimes it’s so intrinsic that it even seeps into the language itself: for instance, bread is so prominent in French culture that a word for friend (‘copain’) roughly translates as the ‘person you share your bread with’.
- You could spend a lifetime learning vocab for food and drink, so tackle it practically. You might not always have visual aids, so start by learning some key foods that you like (and dislike, of course) in your target language so you can pick out dishes and ingredients more easily if you find yourself in a restaurant or supermarket. This is particularly useful for language learners with allergies or intolerances.
- Dining etiquette varies from country to country. So, with this in mind, do a bit of research before you go — there are plenty of useful blogs and travel articles out there that break down this very issue for cautious travellers. For example: it’s polite to wait for the host to announce ‘buon appetito’ before you tuck into a meal in Italy, and don’t be alarmed not to find a knife at the table in Indonesia — they use spoons and forks.
- When it comes to ordering, it might sound odd, but don’t abandon your past experience of being a diner in a restaurant. A lot of language learners are so focused on the words they’re saying and hearing that they forget about the context of the situation. You probably have a good idea of what a waiter is asking you if you’ve eaten in restaurants before. Once you’ve got a hold on the context, you’ll find you recognise words far more quickly.
- If dinner turns into dancing, it’s worth figuring out what the locals do if you want to fit in better. There’s quite a strong disparity between Northern and Southern Europe when it comes to binge drinking, so what you might get up to in your hometown might be frowned upon in Lisbon or the Greek islands.
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