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Non-English Menus without a Smart Phone

I will not be taking a smartphone to Switzerland or Italy this summer but will be taking either an Ipad or Netbook or both. I do not want to spend money on an electronic translation device. However, I have been told it is not a good idea to bring a netbook or Ipad to a restaurant. First question...is this true? Second question...how do I deal with non-English menus if the wait staff does not speak English? Old fashioned pocket dictionary?

Posted by
3685 posts

It may depend on where you go. Most of the Swiss we encountered spoke English. Most of the menus were in German, French and English. I just Googled food words and printed a quick list.

Posted by
9717 posts

In Italy most of the menus either had translations or the waiter spoke enough English to understand my horrible Italian. I have a pocket sized book called a Marling Menu translator, but really it is so complex I never needed to use it. I was pretty successful in obtaining awesome meals everywhere in Italy that met my food needs.

If you have any kind of special food needs or allergies (gluten, celiac, vegan) there are some simple phrases you can download from the internet to carry with you. I only needed to pull that out one time when I was not sure the waiter was understanding me.

Please know I worried about this quite a bit ahead of time and it was so very easy when I got there.

Posted by
9110 posts

Since you asked the question this is obviously your first trip. Thus, there isn't a chance that you'll get far enough into the outback that language will be a problem.

Lugging a darn computer around on the off chance that you might need it for some minor reason wouldn't be my idea of fun.

Posted by
2081 posts

lisaew,

Im not sure about bringing an e device into a eating establishment. I fly solo and use my waiting time to dump picture, review where im going next and to just chill. So far, i havent been booted out - knock on wood.

As far as communication, i was able to ask about any item on the menu and most of the places had someone to speak/translate for me.

if you care to, you can pickup a Switzerland/Italy guide book and usually it will have some food words translated for you. Not alot you have to remember unless you dont like certain things or have allergies.

also, even with an app for that, i would rather speak to the locals and chat with them, especially if they are cute.

happy trails.

Posted by
6486 posts

Since most travelers seem to have managed to get by and not starve when faced with only foreign language menus for many years before smartphones (and other electronic devices), I think you can get by without anything or, at most, an 'old fashioned' paper dictionary/menu translator. This would not be a high item on my list of things to worry about before a trip.

Posted by
1286 posts

Lisa - I think you'll be fine too. I have tried to use translation books including the Marling book in restaurants and a lot of the words aren't in there anyway. I'd try to learn a few basics if there's anything you especially like or don't like and you can always point at what someone at another table is eating that looks good to you. I haven't been to many restaurants that don't have someone who speaks English. You'll be OK.

Posted by
5697 posts

If there's no allergy problem, the worst that can happen is that you order something and learn the name of a food you don't want to order again, right??

On my first trip I used a French-English dictionary (paper!) -- and learned the word for "oysters." On another trip the waitress had to bring over the English-speaking manager to explain that cheese was included in the price of the meal we had ordered.

But nobody ever starved.

Posted by
238 posts

Thank you all for the advice. I have been to a few different countries but never to Italy or the Appenzell region of Switzerland. I got concerned when I noticed so many websites for the places I wanted to go did not have an EN option, or, a menu that could be translated online easily. I will definitely write down some of the words for things I am allergic to and do not want to eat in Italian and German.

Posted by
2716 posts

Yes, if you have food allergies make sure you learn how to say "I'm allergic to x. Eating it will make me very sick" in the local languages. Have it written down, as well, for clarity. Otherwise, a basic list of common foods, so you can recognize something on the menu should be enough. If you get your allergies across, then you can relax and eat what shows up, even if it's not exactly what you wanted.

Posted by
21723 posts

Who is telling you these things? The only reason to not bring an ipad or netbook to a restaurant is that is might get stolen if you are careless. However, we take an ipad all the time so that we can take advantage of free wifi especially at lunch. No one has every said anything other than to gives us the password. We don't do it for evening meals because by that time we generally have ditched the day bag and computers. The probability of non-English menus and non-English understanding waiter is close to zero.

Posted by
430 posts

You know, I've never worried if I didn't understand completely what the menu said. I don't have any allergies, so it's not a huge issue for me. I've learned a few key words and phrases in french and german, so generally I know if there is potatoes or mushrooms, or if it's chicken or pork of some kind. I've never been disappointed, and I've always enjoyed what I ordered. Take a chance -- take a risk --- it's part of the fun of traveling !!

Posted by
238 posts

I read that bringing an Ipad attracts thieves and I will be solo. The material I read was on various blogs by people who either lived in the country or traveled a lot. However, I also heard from friends that having their Ipad was absolutely essential during the day. So, I appreciate the insight from everyone here :-).

Posted by
27 posts

Study up a bit and know basic food terms (and the handful you absolutely don't want like reins, no kidneys for me thanks!) For the most part you will find people that speak English but it's nice to be able to navigate a menu.

I also use the translate function on Chrome to go back and forth between French and English so I can get used to what the menus will look like since menus don't just list a single food but a prepared item with seasonings and sauce. It helps that I took 5 years of Spanish and I have been using Duolingo to brush up on French before our trip this fall.

Posted by
2081 posts

lisaew

"I read that bringing an Ipad attracts thieves and I will be solo. The material I read was on various blogs by people who either lived in the country or traveled a lot. However, I also heard from friends that having their Ipad was absolutely essential during the day. So, I appreciate the insight from everyone here :-)."

I would assume you have traveled into NYC?

if you can survive there, you can survive anywhere. They have the "snatch & grabs" just like anywhere else. If you leave your purse out where someone can snatch it. Just practice some common sense.

have you seen the movie "field of dreams?" - If you build it, they will come. If you bring tourist, thieves will come. No different than anywhere else in the world. if you're a thief, why would you pray on locals, when the locals know better? Tourist are easy pray just like here in the USA. Traveling in Europe is no different but i will say and this may not sit well with those that live there and frequent here, but i think the pick pockets and such are more prevalent there.

Ive seen many people with e garbage talking selfies everywhere, looking at "what to do/see", using some map app, calling people and so forth. they had their e device out in hand no problems. Just be careful.

happy trails.

Posted by
11450 posts

Am iPad is not essential,,,, thousands of people travel without one. I do.

Posted by
238 posts

Thanks everyone! I appreciate all the insight and advice!

Posted by
988 posts

In my experience, most restaurants will have an English version of the menu, if you ask. i

Posted by
238 posts

LOVED every minute of my time in Italy but I also had a hard time with the seafood which was a bit more "rustic" than I like. Personal opinion. I had great shrimp at a restaurant in Manrola where the waitress totally understood what I meant when I said I like my shrimp cleaned. I think we are not allowed to post names of places here so if you want more info message me!

Posted by
11288 posts

"I think we are not allowed to post names of places here"

You can certainly post names of restaurants, hotels, etc., along with your experiences of them. In the Italy Reviews section, you are specifically encouraged to do so: https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/italy-reviews

There are restrictions on posting links to your blog, but this is quite different.

Posted by
1277 posts

just got back from 10 days in Italy, my group did well with the ability to recognize a few words that are similar enuf to my little bit of Spanish......ie pollo, pesce.........waiters frequently spoke enuf English to help with their own menus, etc, or in a lot of restaurants menus were available in English..... but in Venice I decided the English language menu was written by someone with only a marginal second language skill (again I reference my 10th grade Spanish).... I selected the daily special of "fried fish" without asking any follow up questions, and got a plate of sautéed calamari. I was hoping for whitefish......but fortunately one of my friends just traded plates with me.

Posted by
11450 posts

Calimari is scrumptious less fishy tasting then many fish!
I wing it if I don't know some word. I have never had a disaster and am open to most foods. I however have no allergies.