One thing I always try to do whenever I’m in a new country is to learn how to say “thank you” in the local language.
It’s not much, but even that one new word can feel daunting when you’re surrounded by the unfamiliar. But thank you is such an important thing to say, and most people sincerely appreciate the effort when you try.
It’s a sad thing, but by learning how to say thank you, you’ll be doing more than many tourists.
The value of learning even one word was really brought home to me when I was on the train leaving Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. It’s a train that goes between Russia and China, and pretty much everyone who catches it speaks Russian, Chinese, or English.
I’d only spent a few days in Mongolia (seriously amazing country, by the way, do go there!), and I’d managed to pick up exactly one word – thank you, which was something like ‘baichlah’ with the kind of guttural throat sound that’s really tricky for an English speaker to get her tongue around.
After a few hours on the train watching the desert go by, my sister and I headed to the dining carriage to get some food.
The attendant looked to be in a pretty foul mood. He was a tiny little Mongolian man with a weathered face and a scowl – well, that’s ok, everyone is allowed to be in a bad mood here and there, right? I’d probably be in a bad mood too if I had to deal with the English backpackers in front of us! They were the sort who just get louder and shouty when someone doesn’t understand. Ugh, don’t be those people, ok?
So when it was our turn to order, we didn’t talk AT him in English. Instead, we smiled pointed at what we wanted on the picture menu, handed over our money, and said “Baichlah,” which means thank you.
Suddenly the man’s whole demeanour changed. His weathered face broke into a huge smile. “Baichlah!!” he exclaimed. “Yes! Very good! Baichlah!!”
We grinned back at him and took our seats. A minute later, I was staring out the window when I felt something. I turned around to find the man sitting beside me, still grinning massively. “Baichlah, baichlah!!” he said again. “You very good! Baichlah.”
Honestly? We might have been the only ones on the train that day who even tried to speak Mongolian to him. But that tiny little bit of effort? It seems like it pretty much made his day. It was such a sweet little moment of human connection, and it’s a memory I treasure.
When you’re on the road, learn to say thank you in the local language– and say it! You never know just how much it might mean to someone