These are the 10 phrases you should never use overseas

By Marni Dixit September 8, 2017

We have all tried to use some local phrases when travelling BUT are we using the right term? 

We all know how silly people sound when they say, “Put a shrimp on the barbie,” so if you have ever thought about what phrases might sound bad in other countries, we have you covered! 

With an international team of over 100 linguists, Babbel, an app which can teach you 14 different languages, has compiled a list of expressions and words that travellers commonly use abroad, which can actually be awkward, or even rude.

Coinciding with a Babbel survey that discovered 74% of Aussies have tried to use local phrases while on holiday, the team of multilingual language experts suggests that Aussie tourists avoid using the following cliché words and phrases: 

Bon appetit (French) – this near-universal pre-meal expression is actually taboo in polite French society. It literally invites diners to ‘a good digestion’, suggesting that they are so hungry that they are willing to jump at any food offered. This originates from 19th-century beliefs that conversation concerning body or bodily functions is highly improper for the dinner table, as is talking about and touching food.

Mamma mia! (Italian) – this clichéd Italian exclamation is, in fact, very antiquated, and best used solely for referring to Abba-themed musical films.

Du (German) – don’t get your formal ‘Sie’ (you) mixed up with the informal ‘du’ while speaking to a policeman in Germany; calling a government employee by ‘du’ can actually earn you a fine of upwards of €500.

Garçon (French) – sometimes misinterpreted by diners as the standard way to refer to a French waiter, the term ‘garçon’ is actually considered patronising and snobbish.

Wie geht's? (German) – rather than a casual ‘what’s up’, with many Germans this common expression will result in a lengthy explanation of what is going on in their life.

Zut alors / Sacrebleu (French) – these phrases are outdated, and generally only used in tabloid headlines. A native French person will find them bemusing, at best.

Hasta la vista! (Spanish) – as opposed to a triumphant victory cry while shattering a frozen nemesis into pieces (as popularised by Hollywood here), this is actually a cheery way of telling a Spanish-speaker you’re looking forward to seeing them again.

Ooh la laa! (French) – in France, this is an expression of negative surprise, rather than sexual innuendo. It is thus one to keep away from flirtation in France along with…

Voulez-vous coucher avec moi? (French) – while the inspiration for many English-language songs, jokes, and impressions, ‘Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?’ sounds very strange to the French ear, and should be avoided at all costs. 


68% of Aussies feel they have missed out on something while travelling because they didn’t speak the local language, and that 96% of respondents found that being able to speak a native language abroad meant locals were more welcoming. So it's probably a good idea to download Babbel and get learning today.

Image: Getty/Matteo Colombo