I recently returned from an 11-week trip in Europe spanning Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Germany, Holland and England; each country obviously unique in its cuisine, language and culture.
I thought I would begin my blog with an introductory post that covers my pre-travel planning, so forgive me if this first post is rather unexciting (but is hopefully quite useful).
During the length of my stay, I was to encounter 8 different languages, of which I spoke none (unless you count my year-10 extremely faded, never-very-extensive understanding of French). When I travelled with my family as a child, I had a scary close-call incident as my mother read a foreign ingredients list and, looking for the translated word for “peanut”, missed the completely different word for “nut”. Due to this incident, I knew that I had to embark on this trip better prepared. I scouted my friends, family friends and the Big Wide World of Facebook for someone fluent in each of the languages that I would be dealing with and asked them for a translation (read: “I have a life-threatening allergy to nuts, especially peanuts. Could you please alert me to any food items which contain nuts or nut derivatives. Thank you for your help”). These translated signs are also available for purchase online, but I was lucky enough to find a connection who fluently spoke each of the languages I needed.
I wrote each translation on a flash card and showed it to each waiter/server when ordering or buying food. I got plenty of chuckles and a lot of entertaining responses [e.g. one waiter in Barcelona joked that he had “nut juice” when listing the juices they had], but it was a very effective way of getting the message across. Asking in English simply does not translate the seriousness of the situation. The other benefit of my flash cards was that I often found people were far more respectful and helpful when I first made an effort to talk to them in their own language. I ate every meal out for 77 days and did not receive any negative responses. Merci!
Here is my most important piece of advice following my recent trip. In Australia, I have learnt when I do and don’t need to ask whether food contains nuts. BUT I found that in Europe, I had to ask almost every time because occasionally nuts would be “sneaked” into foods when I least expected, which is something I am not accustomed to in Australia. I will discuss these specifics in my later posts. Perhaps the fear of litigation in Australia ensures that restaurants and cafes would not risk “sneaking” nuts into food unexpectedly without mentioning it on the menu. My translated flash cards meant that I could easily ask about nuts at every meal, rather than engaging in a difficult broken English (or broken Italian/French/Spanish… conversation).
Overall, these translated signs were so, so useful, and I would recommend them to all travelling Allergians (/intolerants, /vegans, /vegetarians etc etc). It will avoid the frustration of trying to get a message across to someone who doesn’t understand you (this can be very, very painful.. trust me!) and give you more comfort when ordering food as you know you have been understood! Bon appétit!