8 Things You Learn When You Move To A Place Where You Don’t Speak Their Language

Umm… So how do you say, help? By Wani Azahar

Moving to a foreign country is mostly an exhilirating journey. New friends, new restaurants and new adventures; what’s not to love? With that said, not knowing the native language can pose some problems. Here are my eight observations after a month moving to Israel. 

People just assume you know the language.

Whether you’re at an international boutique or the neighbourhood bakery, expect to hear a trail of impenetrable words before they notice you’re completely clueless. It’s no sign of ignorance of course and while they would usually accommodate for your understanding, it’s never fun making others repeat. On the upside, you will soon learn your favourite order despite the fish-out-of-water status.


You’ll also probably end up with more than just your change (read: stares from around), which brings me to the next point. 

People will stare. Even the non-locals.

One of the first blatant things I noticed was the stares given. They were neither good nor bad, just plain stares. Initially I thought it was just from the locals due to how different I looked and sounded but I further noticed that even the non-locals stared. This was made more apparent when I started to speak. You almost feel like you were a rare specimen in a glass jar for all to study.


It was mildly uncomfortable at first but you’ll grow to take pride in this diversity you possess. More often than not, they’re just intrigued in knowing the story behind your arrival – and boy, do you have a story! This is also frequently the start to many great conversations and friendships. 

Locals are always pleasantly surprised when you speak their language, no matter how little.

You’ll soon pick up some words and the time will come to show them off. Friends and strangers alike will celebrate with “aaah!” and “nice!” at the pleasant little surprise. Heck, you might even surprise yourself!


Even if it’s just saying “one bagel” at that famous pastry shop by the street, regard the smiles you receive as a nice warm welcome to your settling in. Truth be told, this was also how we ended up buying 13 bagels instead. 

Eating out can be a bitch hassle.

Talk about food, every meal outside starts off with a “Do you have an English menu?” and I pray luck be on your side that they do. For on the revolting occasions that they don’t, rest assured your choices are significantly halved. This is of course no ideal situation for someone who loves having choices.


Best-case scenario, the companion you’re with will tell you “all the good stuffs” on the menu (but what if you really want to know everything!?) Worst-case scenario, your long-awaited no-foam flat white turns into a huge mug of frothing cappuccino. Don’t even dream of requesting for cheese to that nutella crepe — it’s not on the menu, and you won’t know how to explain without troubling the person next to you. Plus, no one really eats nutella with cheese here. Oh, the oddities! 

Some signs really don't signal anything.

Most of the road signs here are written in Hebrew, Arab and English for easy understanding. Unfortunately, this is not the case for every printed material, which sometimes literally leaves you with a huge question mark. 


Sure you can ask for an English explanation, but do you really want to pester for the 1000th time? I didn’t think so. More importantly, noteworthy signs are always very easy to understand. I mean, “50% off” and “SALE!” are never bad, right? 

You won’t fall prey to advertising.

On the upside, not understanding everything can be a good thing and not being bought over by driven salespeople is one of them.


Paying more for two identical vegetable choppers because it’s just cheaper like that? Well, you’re not going to be that person. Of course, this will only last for so long as you will want to know the best deals for essentials. I repeat, essentials; so put down that burgundy lipstick which you already have 10 of. 

Music is a universal language.


I'm no music genius, but if there’s anything the many car rides have taught me, it’s that good music is good in any language. Likewise, bad music will be awful in any situation. 

As sweet as Gilad is for translating the words, I think I would have enjoyed the song all the same.

You feel dependent and then you feel independent.

While the first few weeks will see you weaning off those around you (I can't thank them enough!), but take comfort in knowing independence will be gained over time. You will grow more familiar to your surroundings and comfortable with those around you. You will even know when is Tomato Tuesday – all that only because you will ask more, see more and, above all, learn more. 


Till next time, Lehit Ra'ot! 

Non-verbal communications go a long way.

As you might have already learnt from Love Actually, you don’t need words to truly converse. I was at this amazing nail salon the past weekend where I enjoyed not only great service but also a full conversation with a Russian lady who understood little English.


In most cases, your converations will boil down to mostly nods, smiles and hand gestures, as if you were communicating with a friendly dog or a cat. The feelings are probably mutual on their end too. Just make sure you don’t try to pat people, no matter how adorable they may seem.