Traveling around Europe might take you from one country to the next in a matter of hours instead of days or weeks. With so many different places to explore so close together, a traveler can easily botch simple words and sentences to get around (or try, at least!) among the locals. You might be saying “hello” on a Monday just to change it to “Bonjour” that Tuesday or to “Ciao” by the end of the week. Some of these mix-ups won’t cost you more than a laugh from a local, but others could leave you looking like a rude tourist. Rather than blurting out what you want at ticket counters and restaurants across Europe, you might want to do something about it. Just as your mother probably taught you, being polite can go a long way, especially if you are traveling. How about if, even before you take off, you learn how to say “please” in most European languages?
To say “please” in Spanish, you use “por favor.” It could go either at the beginning or the end of a sentence. For example, when asking questions such as “¿Puedo tomar una paella, por favor?” (“May I have paella, please?”).
The Germans say bitte for “please.” It sounds like you are saying “bitter,” but without the “r” on the end. “Bit-tuh” is an approximation of how it sounds. Bitte should follow everything you ask for, including coffee or even asking what time is it.
Because Italians share root words in Latin with other Romance languages, it shouldn’t surprise you that their “please” is very similar to the Spanish “por favor.” They add a little flavor to the end of it though, resulting in a melodious “per favore.” It sounds like “pair fah-vor-ay.” Italians start and end sentences with it, depending on the situation.
The French have two ways of saying please. S’il vous plait is formal, used only in those situations where you don’t know the person you are speaking to that well. S’il te plait, on the other hand, is informal, used only used when you do know the person. Try not to confuse them, or the French might be taken aback at your “familiarity” with them. Literally translated, these two phrases mean, “if it pleases you,” which is a very polite way of asking please. It should always follow every request you make, from train tickets at a counter to water in a restaurant.
Greek is another root language, like Latin. As such, many of its words have similar phrases. As for saying please in Greece, you go with Parakalo. It’s pronounced “para-kah-lo” but spoken rather fast. It means “from good” if translated directly from its two-word components, but actually means “thank you.” In short, you are asking for something and thanking that person!
Czech and Slovenian
The Czech and Slovenians are located in the same region and have often been invaded by the same nations. As a result, their languages have adapted to those conquering armies and adopted many similar words. Therefore, saying please in these two countries is exactly the same: Prosim or “proh-zim.” They also use it at the beginning and end of sentences.
To say please in Croatian, you say Molim (sounds like “Mole-eem”). It follows the end of phrases that make a request or when you are trying to interject in the conversation. Croatian is not an easy language to learn, but knowing how to thank people will surely help you on your trip!
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Although the Turkish language has its challenges, the word for “please” is rather simple. When in Turkey, ask for something and follow your question with lutfen, which sounds like “loot-fin.”
The Polish people say Prosze when asking for things. Despite its “hard” spelling, it’s actually pronounced very softly, sounding like “Proh-sha.”
The literal translation of “please” in Swedish is snälla, but it’s not said in the same way as its English counterpart. It’s used for begging, like when children nag their parents for ice cream. Instead, you should use tack — which is “thank you” — at the end of a sentence or question to close the breach with the English meaning. For example, Jag vill ha en kaffe, tack (“I want a coffee, thank you”).
Portuguese is a Romance language with Latin roots, and consequently, its phrase for “please “is also close to — yes, you guessed it right– the Spanish and Italian languages. It’s said se faz favor, which means “for your favor.” It is pronounced as “say fahz fahvor.”
Unless you were born Dutch or have booked plenty of cheap international flights to the Netherlands through the years, this is probably one of the more difficult languages to master. Learning please in Dutch is tricky too. Alstublieft is a mouthful. It should be said as “All-stu-bleeft.” Like the French S’il vous plait, the translation means “if it pleases you.”
Need to thank somebody who helped you find your way throughout the streets of Budapest? Say Kerem. You can use it at the beginning or end of a sentence, depending on the situation. It sounds like “Kair-em.”