Travelling to a foreign country where you don’t know the culture, the language or the people can be awkward; there is no denying it. And while some people find this challenge exciting and daring, for other it simply makes them feel uncomfortable and insecure. Which is why we are providing you with a small guide to Spanish and French essentials to know before you start packing. If it sparks your curiosity and you decide you want to know more, grab a basic language book and read it on the train while Renfe-SNCF takes you speeding along to your destination.
Most important words and phrases
Buenos días – Good morning (Until lunch time)
Buenas tardes– Good afternoon (Until around 8pm)
Buenas noches – Good night (After 8 pm)
Adiós - Goodbye
¿Qué tal? or ¿Cómo está? - How are you?
Por favor - Please
Gracias - Thank you
De nada - You’re welcome
No pasa nada – Basically means “no worries”
Vale – Can be considered the Spanish equivalent of “Ok”, and is used about 5 times per sentence.
No sé - I don’t know
Perdón – Sorry/ Excuse me
Sí – Yes
No - No
¿Habla inglés? - Do you speak English?
Yo no hablo español - I don’t speak Spanish
¿Que hora és? - What time is it?
Yo quería…- I would like…
¿Donde está …? - Where is… ?
Los lavabos - The toilets
Izquierda – Left
Derecha- Right (not to be confused with Derecho, which means straight ahead)
Ayuda - Help
Spain has a very Mediterranean and Southern European culture, and hence, unlike some other cultures, people are quite warm towards each other and physical contact plays a large role in communication and body language. Saying hello to people from different cultures can be a very unsettling experience when one person goes to kiss another on the cheek, while the other extends their hand for a handshake.
A greeting is the first impression you make on someone; so it’s good to know what most people will be doing once you arrive at your destination.
In Spain, women will greet other women and men with two kisses, one on each cheek. Generally you go left first (touching right cheeks), to avoid going the same direction, and yet another awkward situation. Basically, if you a are a woman, you will greet everyone with 2 kisses. Men greet each other generally with a handshake, or a hug if they are friends.
It is also important to realize that when we say, “kiss on the cheek”, you do not actually kiss the person’s cheek – you actually just touch cheeks and make a kissing noise.
In case of emergency
If you are travelling from outside of Europe, it is important to know that the emergency number in the European Union and some other European countries is 112. It can be dialed from almost any phone without unlocking the phone or even having a SIM card. It will connect you to all emergency contacts – ambulances, fire brigade or the police stations.
Synchronizing your mealtimes may take a few days if you are not used to the culture. Lunch is usually eaten after 2pm, and is the main meal of the day, and an afternoon coffee after lunch is all but mandatory and a very social event.
Dinner is had quite late, usually after 9pm, and is light in comparison to lunch.
Lunch is by far the most important meal of the day, and you will find most shops close between 2pm and 5pm more or less, other restaurants and cafés of course, although some shops will always be open. They normally call it a day around 7pm.
On Sundays however, most establishments close all day (again, other than some restaurants, cafés and bars). This does include supermarkets and shopping centers, so be sure to make the most of Saturday to stock up on anything you may need to make it throught Monday.
Different regions in Spain
One of the most interesting, unique and unknown facts about Spain is that Spanish is nowhere near the only language spoken. Spain is actually made up of no less than 17 autonomous communities that hold their own executive, legislative and judicial power, and although Spanish is an official language in all of them, 6 of them have other official languages also, and a significant change in culture can be felt from one region to another. Catalan is spoken in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands, Valencian in Valencia,Galician in Galicia and Basque or Euskara in the Basque country and some areas of Navarre. Be careful and respectful of the differences between these areas, people take them very seriously and can cause polemic discussions.
Most important words and phrases
Bonjour – Hello / Good morning / Good day
Bonsoir – Good evening (Hello in the evenings)
Bonne nuit – Good night (As a goodbye)
Au revoir - Goodbye
S’ilvous plait - Please
Merci - Thank you
Excusez-moi or Pardon - Excuse me / Sorry
De rien- You’re welcome
Je ne sais pas - I don’t know
Oui – Yes
Non – No
Je voudrais… - I would like….
Parlez-vousanglais? - Do you speak English?
Je ne parle pas Français - I don’t speak French
Vous avez l’heure? – Do you have the time?
Où est… ? - Where is…?
Les toilettes - The toilets
À gauche – Left
À droite - Right
France can be slightly more complicated than Spain. Although generally two kisses, one on each cheek, is the most common greeting when meeting someone, there are areas in which three kisses in the norm (in the southern region of France, around Montpellier) and others in which 4 is more common (northern region). This is, again between two women and between men and women. For greetings between two men, a handshake is most common.
It is considered extremely rude not to verbally greet people when entering a shop, café or restaurant, so even if you’re just popping in to have a quick look and don’t need any look, don’t forget to throw in a friendly “Bonjour” or “Bonsoir” followed by a title. It is common courtesy to treat women as Madame, men as Monsieur and younger women as Mademoiselle, even if you do not know them or their name.
Manners are also very important in French culture, and this goes for strangers as well as friends. Feel free to approach people on the street to ask for help or advice, but be sure to always start off with a Bonjour Madame, and to say please and thank you!
There are 3 very common names for dining establishments in France, which can be quite confusing when you’ve been travelling for a longtime and all you want is to sit down for a nice meal. You will see the terms restaurant, bistro andbrasserie used very often and sometimes quite interchangeably, although there is a difference.
The word bistro originally comes from Russian meaning “fast” and was more or less the olden day equivalent to fast food – Bistros will generally be smaller, family run or hole-in-the-wall type places that are mainly where people go to drink coffee or have a beer, but also serve standard, uncomplicated meals that may or may not change on a daily basis. Brasserie literally translates to “brewery”, and are more standard, larger places that are open until later and are known for serving Alsatian dishes. Lastly, a restaurant will be a classier, more meal-oriented establishment open during specific hours at mealtimes and a nicer menu with several courses. Watch out for the opening times, as they will generally close between lunch and dinner.
It is important to point out also that tips and services come included in the bill in France, so although the staff will without a doubt very much appreciate your generosity if you leave something extra, do not feel obliged to leave a tip alongside your bill as you may in other countries. Want to travel somewhere that matches your personality? Discover your perfect destinations!