Before You Catch Your Flight, Know the Boot from the Bonnet

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If you are going to vacation in Italy, France or any country that speaks a different language, and you are one of the many Americans who only speak English, you may decide to get a software package like Rosetta Stone or some other language learning package before you travel. But aside from speaking the language, just being able to read road signs or other signage can make a difference in how comfortable and enjoyable your trip will be.

You may not think that traveling to the U.K., Ireland or Scotland would pose a communications problem, since they do speak English. While you don’t have to learn a whole new language, there are striking differences in custom and how things are labeled that can make it confusing. Here are a few things you may need to know in order to communicate and navigate well at your International destination:

1. If you are looking to leave a building, don’t look for the “exit” sign. Most likely, you will see a sign that says, “way out.” No, it’s not a comment on your fashion choice from the 60’s. It’s merely telling you how to find your way out.
2. If you are driving and there is a lane merging, you may be asked to “give way.” That means you should yield to the other driver.
3. Looking for somewhere to park your rental car? Don’t look for a parking garage. Look for a “car park.” It may seem a little dyslexic, but it’s exactly what it means. The name conjures up images of cars playing nicely while their owners are about their business.
4. If you want the bellman to load your luggage, don’t tell him to put them in the trunk. Instead, pop the “boot” so he can take care of it.
5. Is your engine overheating? The mechanic will have to check under the “bonnet,” not the car hood. These last two are quickly corrected, but you will gain more respect from your mechanic (and maybe a better price) if you can communicate with the correct labels.
6. Had too much coffee? You’re going to have to ask someone where the toilets are. In the U.S., we avoid saying that word because it evokes snickers, but it is what it is. It takes some getting used to, but asking for the “bathroom” may get you a hot bath or shower but not the facility you desperately need.
7. Temperature is measured in degrees Celsius, so it’s good to have an idea of how to convert from Fahrenheit to Celsius so you will know how to dress for the weather. Thirty-two degrees F. is actually 0 degrees Celsius, so there is a world of difference.
8. One “must” is the exchange rate for currency and how to make change using paper money or coins in the country you are visiting. Especially if you are traveling on business and hosting clients, you don’t want to have to display your money on the table and have your waiter count it out for you. It also guards against unscrupulous vendors and cab drivers of helping themselves to a little more than they are entitled to.
9. In some countries, distance is measured in kilometers (K) instead of miles. Since a kilometer is only .6 miles, you have to make a conversion to miles to give you a familiar reference if you have a meeting time. Weights are also measured in kilos, which is 2.2 pounds each. So, two kilos of oranges are a lot heavier when you have to carry them in a bag than two pounds…actually 4.4 pounds!

Mary Nestor-Harper, SPHR, is a freelance writer, blogger, and consultant. Based in Savannah, GA, her work has appeared in "Training" magazine, "Training & Development" magazine, "Supervision," "Pulse" and "The Savannah Morning News." You can read her blogs at, and on the web at

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