Writing by Peter Hilton

European Phrase Book

The most essential phrases in various European languages.

If you're travelling in Europe then save yourself the hassle of language courses: everything you need is in the table below. Remember: the more obscure the language you learn, and the more widespread your own native tongue, the more brownie points you get  WHY? .

hi

hola

olá

salut

guten tag

ciao

merhaba

cześć

hoi

szia

γεια σου

Здрасти

ahoj

hola

hej

moi

hei

bok

hej

ćao

ola

làbas

Dia duit

moien

Deth da

živjo

tsau

salut

The most important phrases

Imagine: you are in a bar, so you say Hi, a beer please to the waiter or barman. You drink the beer, life is good. Someone else buys you a drink, so you say thanks and they say you're welcome. You both say cheers and drink more beer.

English 470 hi a beer please thank you you're welcome cheers!
Bosnian 4 ćao pivo molim hvala nema na čemu źivjeli!
Bulgarian 9 Здрасти Бира Моля благодаря Моля Наздраве!
Catalan 9 hola una cervesa si us plau mercés de res salut
Cornish 0 Deth da coref mar plek mur ras
Croatian 5 bok pivo molim hvala molim zivili!
Czech 11 ahoj pivo prosím díky není zač na zdraví
Danish 5 hej en øl tak mange tak velbekomme skål!
Dutch 21 hoi een bier alsjeblieft bedankt graag gedaan proost!
Estonian 1 tsau üks õlu palun aitäh tänan terviseks!
Finnish 6 (moi) bisse - kiitos ole hyvä kippis!
French 124 salut une bière s'il vous plaît merci je vous en prie santé!
Galician 4 ola una cervexa por favor grácias de nada saúde!
German 121 guten tag ein Bier bitte danke bitte sehr prost!
Greek 12 γεια σου μια μπιρα παρακαλω ευχαριστω παρακαλω γειά μας!
Hungarian 14 szia egy sört kérek köszi szivesen egeszsegedre!
Irish 1 Dia duit Beoir le do thoil go raibh maith agat tá fáilte romhat sláinte!
Italian 62 ciao una birra per favore grazie prego cin cin!
Lithuanian 3 làbas alus prašau ačiû prašau I sveikatą!
Luxemb. 0.4 moien ee béier wanechgelift merci wanechgelift prost!
Norwegian 5 hei en halvliter - takk versågod skål!
Polish 44 cześć jedno pivo prosze dziçki - na zdrowie!
Portuguese 182 olá cerveja por favor obrigado de nada saúde
Romanian 23 bunǎ o bere mulțumesc vǎ rog cu plǎcere noroc
Slovenian 2 živjo pivo prosim hvala prosim na zdravje!
Spanish 381 hola una cerveza por favor gracias de nada salud!
Swedish 9 hej en öl tack tack så mycket var så god skål!
Turkish 59 merhaba bir bira lütfen tesekkürler bïr sey degil

Working out the correct pronunciation is left as an exercise for the reader, with the Greek and Irish phrases being the most challenging.

Note that if you are in a proper pub, then asking for 'a beer' is not nearly specific enough. Please try all of the locally-brewed beers, learn their names and pronunciations, and send these to us by e-mail, along with tasting notes.

I tried to get all the accented characters right in Unicode, so please let me know if any the accents are wrong or missing in your language. The numbers in the table's second column are the numbers of speakers, in millions (source).

Country-specific phrases

Languages Of The World - the book by Kenneth KatznerThere are some phrases that only apply to a certain country or nationality:

  • In the United Kingdom and Ireland 'Whose round is it?' is appropriate, because we buy rounds of drinks for each other in pubs.
  • In Sweden you can usually have a free coffee refill so you need to know how to ask kan jag få en påtår tack?.
  • In France you can ask où se trouve la section non-fumeurs, s'il vous plaît?, because restaurants are now legally obliged to set aside a proportion of seating for non-smokers.
  • If you meet any Italians anywhere further north than Italy they will probably agree with you if you say Che freddo!, because it will always be too cold.

Peculiarities

For obscure linguistic reasons, some of the phrases don't translate easily into some languages:

  • Irish and Cornish do not have single words for 'yes' and 'no'; you have to use a statement that includes a negated verb
  • in Finnish you can say hölökyn kölökyn instead of 'cheers', despite it not meaning anything more than 'bla bla bla'.
  • in Norwegian it is less polite to use the word for 'please' (takk) when asking for something; you should use a construction like 'may I...' instead.
  • Romanian has different works for ‘hi’, depending on whether you’re speaking to a man or a woman.

Historical note: the antique European phrase book

A while ago I was looking through my grandmother's attic and found an old dusty copy of The Automobile Association Conversation Handbook for Tourists, published by l'Alliance Internationale de Tourisme, Genève. This old-fashioned phrasebook has the most bizarrely anglocentric phrases (I didn't make them up, so don't send me corrections), typified by the following.

  • English. I would like to visit a tea-room.
  • French. Je voudrais visiter un salon de thé.
  • Dutch. Ik wil een theeschenkerij bezoeken.
  • German. Ich möchte eine 'Teestube' besuchen.
  • Italian. Io vorrei visitare in una sala da tè.
  • Spanish. Quisiera visitar un salón de té.
  • Swedish. Jag skulle vilja besöka ett te-rum.
  • Portuguese. Eu queria visitar ao salão de chá.

Of course, if you’re English and visiting Continental friends, then you have an obligation to perpetuate certain stereotypes that are prevalent in Continental Europe, so these phrases might turn out to be useful after all.