Oui, Si, and Yes

Seasoned traveler Nick Topitzes of PC/Nametag compares Madison to the cities he visits - and reports back on his findings.

Ever since stories about the ugly Americans traveling the world, I think our nation has gotten better at respecting other cultures and their languages. Sure, we could always do better, but after traveling in Europe and Asia, I think other nations have taken our place at the top of the Ugly Travelers list.

The rest of the world loves our dollars and we have been consistent in spending them. For awhile, Japanese tourists took our place at the top of the spending tree — and it was interesting to walk into the elite stores of Europe to see Japanese sales people catering to the busloads of Japanese tourists who couldn’t spend their dollars fast enough. Rising quickly now are the Russians. And of course, the oil rich Middle East spends money as if it were Monopoly money.

But one thing that really stands out in my mind is that the Europeans and Asians who want our business really work at learning English. Granted, it is becoming the language of business, but it’s intersting that most Europeans don’t just learn English, they learn two and three languages beyond their own. In a sense they are blessed with the proximity to different tongues. But they see it as a way to advance. Walk in to a restaurant and it is relatively easy to find someone who can speak English if you can’t speak the local language. And most places have a menu in English as well as the native language: French, Italian, German, and other translations are all available.

I always try to learn some of the language in the land I am visiting so that they see I at least am making an effort to understand. But it is wonderful when they can switch or find someone to help in English.

For years, I have hoped that U.S. stores and restaurants would put up the little flag decals on the windows of their storefront when they had someone who can speak a foreign tongue. In Madison we are blessed with thousands of students who are required to take a foreign language. When you think about all the foreign visitors attending international conventions and meetings like World Dairy Expo and University of Wisconsin events, wouldn’t it be great if we could reciprocate and offer menus in their languages and staff who could help them? Little pins on uniforms with German or Spanish or Mexican or French flags would bring smiles to the thousands who come here and would love to speak to someone in their own tongue. And it would be a great step in making Madison a special convention city.

Sign up for the free IB Update — your weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices and the names you need to know. Click here.