The Wander Woman’s Phrasebook: How to Meet or Avoid People in Three Romance Languages

Updated for 2013 with new words and phrases!

Sometimes you need a phrasebook that does a lot more than just tell you where the bathroom is. If you’re a woman in a country where you don’t speak the language, you might need more assistance.

What if you want to flirt with that really cute waiter in Paris? What if a strange man hits on you in Venice? Maybe you just want to sleep in a hostel in Madrid without worrying that your bag will get stolen.

Alison Owings, solo traveler extraordinaire, presents a handy guidebook to key words and phrases in French, Italian and Spanish. In addition to important, everyday phrases to help with finding hotels, currency exchange, dining out and transportation, you’ll also find terms from dating to shopping and political discussions to working out. There’s something here for every woman on the go.

San Francisco Examiner said: “This cheeky, savvy, sexy primer, designed for women but entertaining for all, is not your conventional ‘Can I have the check please?’ phrasebook. If it were a movie, it would probably get an R rating.”

And from The New York Times: “For women, here are ways to say scram or stay. A phrasebook for women traveling solo or with other women – whether you’re looking for a companion or look to get rid of one.”

Hilarious and helpful, The Wander Woman’s Phrasebook belongs in every woman traveler’s carry-on.


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Original Introduction

The Wander Woman’s Phrasebook is supposed to amuse (well, yes, and inform) you to the point that you’re not nervous about traveling to places where people have the effrontery to speak their own language.

It’s meant to help provide you with the best traveling companion possible: peace of mind.

It’s meant for women traveling alone, together, with a man, or with any configuration of a group.

Let us say you are walking down the street. Let us say further, an unpleasant man should begin disporting himself in an unpleasant manner.

Now, it is often difficult enough for a woman to pursue an unharassed stroll in her own country, much less where foreign tongues (or, worse, appendages) give assault. In foreign lands, one does not want to risk world peace initiatives by pummeling the creep into oblivion, nor does one want to be a stupid ninny. A rational middle ground is to say a few things back.

The ability to speak even a modicum of a foreign language is handy for more than giving hissers their comeuppance. There is, for example, the matter of the rest of the day.

And it makes an enormous difference if that day is spent in English and/or mute, or if it’s spent at least partly within the language of the country you spent the time and money to see.

I once neglected to take my own advice. I considered myself well-traveled, and developed a false security about travel and foreign languages. I figured I could get around almost anywhere with what I already knew.

Then I went to Turkey.

Unable to find a Turkish phrasebook, I reassured myself that I’d be fine. On the plane, I met someone who had a phrasebook; she let me borrow it. I turned a few pages and panicked.

Not one word resembled any other word or language I knew. Good day was iyi gunler. Yes was evet; no was hayir. The arrogance of the west had strangled me.

Once in Istanbul, I stuck to places where I was sure someone spoke English. It was not the way I liked to wander, but Istanbul did not strike me as a place for a lone American woman to be foolhardy.

My one independent venture was to a female world: an ancient, valuted, grey marble bathhouse, where at least three generations of Turkish women could be seen in clusters through the steam, pouring water from long pitchers and having a fine old time.

That experience helped me hone a formula: the less I know a language, the less comfortable I feel in a strange culture. Even if I rarely talk, it’s important that in a pinch. I’m able to.

Of course, if I were fluent in the language of every country I’ve visited, I’d have fewer stories. I would not have expected to see a ballet when I bought tickets in Florence to a ballata, and sat through hours of dialogue, straining to see a tutu, only to learn later that ballata is ballad. (Ballet is balleto.) Nor would I have asked what time the tables began in the cathedral in Seville. (Mass is missas; the word for tables is mesas.)

The Wander Woman’s Phrasebook does try to keep the amusement factor in ascendance while providing you with a wealth of repartee, as well as some ho-hum phrases for ordinary needs such as finding the post office.

But its specialty is to help you ask questions of universal importance, such as, “What is your rising sign?” or “Are you interested in poetry?”

To be able to communicate and to laugh: that’s peace of mind.
-Alison Owings