If you’re going abroad, but you’re worried you might offend rather than befriend the locals, fear not. You don’t need to be able to speak the local lingo to make a new pal. Whether it’s through food, dance, or just being aware of body language – there are many different ways to bond with people abroad.
Here are some tips to make friends in a foreign country.
1) Learn how to greet and be aware of any potential body language.
You can really put your foot in it with this one, so just be careful. If you’re visiting different cultures, it’s always a good idea to check out the body language differences and what each gesture means. For example a head nod in Bulgaria means ‘no’ and should never touch a person’s head (especially a child’s) in China or Thailand. In Japan, it’s normal to bow to greet people instead of opting for a handshake. You should also avoid kissing and hugging and keep physical contact to a minimum.
2) Share a meal with locals – it’s easy to gesticulate and show it’s good
Food is the universal language that helps people to connect with one another. We can all appreciate a good meal and there’s a real delight in enjoying this together. Locals will recognize when you’re enjoying a particular dish, and your local language lesson will probably start with learning the words for ‘delicious’ as well as the names of the individual dishes.
3) Bring some mementos from your home country to give as gifts
If you’re going to somewhere that’s very different to home, bring some mementos to give to the locals. This doesn’t need to be designer clobber or fine china – ideas could be postcards, stationary, key rings, fridge magnets, coasters or anything with your home country’s emblem on it.
4) Learn how to say some basic phrases in the language you’re learning
You don’t have to panic about getting fluent in a week, but it’s always a good idea to learn some local phrases such as ‘hello’, ‘how are you?’, ‘thank you’, ‘please’ and ‘goodbye’ as well as the useful ‘where is?’, along with important places of reference.
5) If you can’t speak the language, communicate through photos
If you’re stumped for words – as the old saying goes, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’. So tell your life story through pictures, and don’t be scared to invite a foreign friend into your world, by showing them the photos that mean the most to you. You could even draw things as examples on pieces of paper if you can’t find the picture.
6) Learn some unusual local phrases that not many tourists would know
You can’t beat the excitement of surprising a local with a phrase they wouldn’t expect a foreigner to know. Something you wouldn’t find in a standard guide book under the ‘essential phrases’. Perhaps this is a jokey slang term or a local way of expressing how good the food is. It may even be a local tongue twister or riddle. This will endear you to the locals more than you can imagine. So plan a surprise in advance and do your research.
7) Try other languages
If you’re absolutely stumped on the language front and everything is getting lost in translation, think back to your school days or any other languages you’ve learnt in the past, and give them a go. You might have another mutual language in common – definitely worth a try.
8) Bond through music – karaoke or dancing
If in doubt, sing and dance! Whether it’s learning the local dance or showing off your finest disco moves, a great way to bond with locals is to have fun and appreciate music together. If you’ve got the vocal chords of Tom Jones or Dolly Parton, why not try a spot of karaoke? This is a super way to show you don’t take yourself too seriously, and whether your singing/dancing skills are good or bad, it’s a great way to keep your foreign friends entertained.