How to Ask for Directions Abroad

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

When you're lost abroad, speaking louder and slower in your mother tongue isn't likely to get you any further than a quick shove in the wrong direction. But with a little preparation, some street smarts and a few common courtesies, you'll be on the right track in no time.

If you're driving, park safely

Hanging out of the window and yelling for assistance isn't just tricky, it's dangerous. Plus, when you're lost and stressed, the last thing you need is to be exchanging car insurance details in a foreign language. So find a safe parking spot before seeking assistance.

Learn some key phrases

It's crucial to prepare your opening gambit. At least know how to say that you're lost, your language skills are ropey, and you need directions. Remember the all-important 'please' and 'thank you'.

Bring reinforcements

You won't be able to look up words on the go, but keep a dictionary or electronic translator handy to translate details or landmarks.

Ask an official...

Officials are duty-bound to be helpful and may even be multilingual, so they should be your first port of call when seeking directions.

...or at least a local

If uniformed folks are few and far between, try service industry staff. Hotel receptionists are ideal candidates since they deal with these queries often. Cafe and bar staff are also a good bet for friendly assistance.

Say what you see

If the language barrier becomes a roadblock, a few handy snaps may be your saviour. Most hotels and tourist sites have pictures online, and signs for toilets and train stations are easily sourced, so have them ready on your phone.

Have a map (and pen) handy

If you're struggling to follow directions, all your new-found best friend needs to do is mark where you are, and your destination. Your map-reading skills can do the rest.

Get artistic

If a map's out of the question, get sketching. A notepad lets you draw out their directions as they describe them, or, if you're lucky (or really bad at drawing), perhaps they'll do the doodling for you.

If you don't understand, say so

Politely requesting that someone speak slower or clarify instructions is OK. And remember, if things become too murky or uncomfortable, you can always say thanks and make a quiet exit.

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