Allergies and Language Barriers

Have you encountered a situation when you are unable to communicate your allergies and their severity due to an obvious language barrier? Perhaps you have traveled to a different country where they spoke primarily french, portugese, spanish or another language you may not be very familiar with. How have you dealt with these situations. Have you trusted them when they said that your food would be safe? Have you trusted the hotel staff who seemed convinced no animal had ever been in the room? Do you try and learn some phrases before your trip if you know that your language may not be spoken where you are going?

One trick my parents and I came up with a few years ago was to have someone translate a few key phrases and words for us and write them all on separate pieces of paper for us. When we went to the Dominican Republic years ago, we at least 3 different notes in spanish that we could give to the chef for assistance. One would say: “hello, my name is Erika and I have SEVERE, life-threatening allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, …” another said “can you please help me find something safe to eat?” and the notes went on. I found it extremely helpful to have everything written down, because I didn’t have to worry about not saying something correctly, or mispronouncing it. I felt safe, knowing the chef had very specific messages. The chef on this particular trip was awesome. He did not speak a word of English, though he would nod or shake his head when pointing at items in the buffet, to express whether I could eat it or not.

I find it truly amazing how despite talking, gestures and written communication can be a very successful means of expressing thoughts.

Are there times you have found it impossible to communicate your allergies? Maybe when eating out, or renting a room at a hotel, when you are asking them about cleaning products they use and their pet regulations… How have you felt in those situations? What have you done? Do your friends or family try and assist?

My thought on this topic is to try and have a few phrases in the languages of the place you know you will be visiting. If you live in British Columbia or any other province or territory.. and will be visiting Quebec, don’t worry, there is English and French, though it does not hurt to go prepared, with a few notes and phrases!