Going to a place where you don’t understand the language, can’t read a map, don’t know what you’re eating, let alone what street you’re on, can be very frightening.
While in Munich, Germany over the weekend for Oktoberfest, I realized how difficult it truly is to be a tourist, but how fun it can be when you finally figure it out.
For as long as I can remember, tourists have always just been annoying foreigners who create foot traffic and ask for directions around every corner. I grew up in San Francisco and encountered numerous foreign tourists everyday, and each one was more dazed and confused than the next. I always thought, “C’mon, it can’t be THAT hard to get around this place.”
Landing in Rome for the semester, I never really felt like a tourist in Italy. I understand the language, so what wasn’t already translated, I understood easily. My study abroad program picked us up and dropped us off, we took tours of campus, and exploring the neighborhood on our own made it easy to quickly pick up where everything was. Within a few days, most of the study abroad students in Rome felt like we had surpassed the “tourist” title, and could slowly fit in with the locals. So when I landed in Germany with no knowledge of the German language or culture, I felt culture shock- hard. Holding a map in one hand and my luggage in the other, I was officially a tourist.
Americans tend to have a bad reputation in Europe. I always say, “When Europeans come to America, and we force them to speak English, then Americans come to Europe, and we force them to speak English.” We’re the first to ask for the wi-fi password, and many of us can’t even manage to say ‘Thank you’ in a country’s native language. But it really is hard.
Arriving in Munich, Germany for Oktoberfest was incredibly exciting. My friends and I were ecstatic to immerse ourselves into German culture, drink some great beer, and have some awesome German food like pretzels and schnitzel! (By the way, the food in Germany is amazing! It was a well-needed break from pasta and pizza everyday in Rome.) But trying to figure out the metro line, how to read an all-German menu (every menu I’ve seen in Italy thus far is also in English, so Germany’s was a bit of a struggle), and simply asking for directions was an eye-opening experience. It’s hard to be a tourist, but it also adds value to the traveling experience.
Try your best to communicate. Language is what makes every country and culture so incredibly unique. Before you get to your destination, try to learn the basics of the native language like, “Hello,” “Where,” and “Thank you.” It’ll get you far and show that you’re trying.
Research your transportation options before arrival. Landing in Munich got a whole lot more complicated when we realized we had no idea how to get to our hostel. We could have easily looked up the lines beforehand when we had Internet connection, which would have probably made the process a lot smoother.
Don’t be shy. Odds are, locals are willing to help assuming they can communicate with you. One night for dinner, my friends and I were struggling to understand the all-German menu. Luckily, the men beside us spoke enough English to recommend some dishes and helped translate with our waitress. Not everyone will roll their eyes at an American tourist.
Luckily, with the help of some great people, we found our way and had an amazing time at Oktoberfest. The girls all got their dirndls, the boys got their lederhosen, and the party began! It was an amazing experience and a great way to immerse myself into traditional German culture. This trip made me appreciate how different cultures can be, even though Europe can seem so small at times, and made me realize that even when traveling gets hard, you will figure it out- even as a tourist. Prost!
Kassandra Ferrante is earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism at San Diego State University. She is blogging from Rome, Italy this fall.