When you’re in another country, English is usually sufficient to communicate in a very simple way. If you want locals to connect with you, though, you have to make the effort to reach out as well. You can do this by speaking in their language. You don’t need to be conversant and fluent, you just need to know a few useful phrases. Google, as usual, will be useful before you embark on a trip.
Giving thanks is universal. It’s a simple phrase guaranteed to get people to welcome you, figuratively and literally. In most Arabic speaking nations, you say “Shokran” or “Mushkoor” to say thank you. The Chinese say “Xie xie”, Spaniards say “Gracias”, and the Japanese say “Arigatogozaimashita”.
Not all languages have the equivalent of excuse me, and depending on the culture, this word may have different literal meanings if you translate it. “Sumimasen” is an apologetic excuse me in Japanese, and it’s used formally (when you don’t know the person and speaking to elders). In Arabic, you say “An iznak” if you want to catch someone’s attention, or “Min fadlak” if you need to go through.
A greeting can be a simple “Hola!” – hello in Spanish, “Bon Jour” – which also means good day in France. Or it can be as elaborate as “As-Salaam-Alaikum” in Arabic nations, where you have to reply, “Wa-Alaikum-Salaam”. It means peace be unto you and the reply is “and unto you, peace.” Every culture is different, and we greet each other in a myriad of ways.
I Don’t Understand
This is very useful in any language, especially you’re the type who can pass for a local. I have frequently had people talk to me in their native language, and I would have been considered rude, had I not learned to say “I don’t understand” in their local dialect.
Can You Speak English?
Sometimes, with tonal languages where your efforts are wasted trying to say anything, the best phrase to know is “English?” coupled with whatever gesture is considered polite in that culture. Don’t forget to attach a smile to whatever gesture it is. People are people wherever we go, above all we can sense sincerity and the willingness to ask for help. Most people would find it hard to refuse to help a stranger in need.