Allergies Abroad

I am the sort of person who will not go to a foreign country unless I have, at the very least, a few key phrases scribbled down (in the local writing system if possible). Things like “Hello”, “thank you”, “where’s the bathroom”, and “I can’t eat ____”.

While most people recognize the value of saying thank you the world over, other phrases, like that last one, are also important. Whether you don’t like mustard, are lactose intolerant, or deathly allergic to seafood, it’s good to know even one version of the phrase to make it easier on yourself.

For those of us whose first language is English, we are in a unique situation where we can go almost anywhere and can expect someone in the area will be able to speak a bit of our language. However, I operate under the belief that we shouldn’t have that expectation, that when you visit a foreign country it’s good to try to reach out to the locals in their own tongue. I’ve found that even saying a simple, “Annyeonghaseyo” in Seoul or “Danke” in Berlin does wonders for encouraging people to help you.

To that end, in Japan here’s what you can say if you’re allergic to something:

” ______ ga arerugi.” (_____がアレルギー。)

Now, for the blank part, you have a choice. You can look up the food product in question and say it, for example, “Sakana ga arerugi” (I’m allergic to fish). Or, you can find a picture of whatever it is and show it to your waiter or chef and say, “Kore ga arerugi” (I’m allergic to this).

What if it’s not a proper allergy, but an intolerance? Or if you just don’t want to eat something that day?

” ____ nashi de kudasai.” (___なしでください。)

This basically translates to “Without ___, please.” Again, like the allergy sentence, fill in the blank with the name of the product in question, or show a picture/bit text and say “Kore”.

What if you want to ensure you’re getting vegetarian- or vegan-friendly food?

“Bejitarian/Beegan desu.” (ベジタリアンです。/ビーがんです。)

What if you want to say you don’t like something?

Well, that’s going into language-teaching territory, so I’ll leave that up to you to discuss with someone else.

The point being, putting a little effort into your communication with locals will not only ensure they feel more comfortable helping you out, you will be helping yourself out all the more when you do so. Even if you can’t speak a single word further, the recipient of your efforts will generally put even more work into helping you.

Is this post preachy? Maybe. But would you rather get your food order done quickly, or be That Person in line who spends five minutes waving your arms ineffectually at an increasingly panicked cashier who starts shouting in confusion until you order or go away?

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