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Use your words

  •  Make it a priority to memorize a few words and expressions: "hello," "goodbye," "please," "thank you," "help," "I'm lost," "do you speak English?"
  • When you want to find a restroom, try using the word "toilet," which is understood almost everywhere.

Use your face

  • Your facial expression can get your further than you might think. If you look quizzical or confused or worried, but most of all friendly and open, you will usually find help.
  • A smile will be universally understood. But remember that Americans smile more than people of some other nationalities. A smile of greeting is less likely to be returned in Germany, Russia or Japan.
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Use your head

  • Nodding generally means yes, and shaking your head means no. However, do some research just in case. If you happen to be in Bulgaria, nodding and shaking your head mean the opposite.

Use your hands

  • Pointing is useful, but remember: Almost every gesture using fingers is sure to offend someone somewhere, so it's best to avoid using any single-finger gestures — point with your whole hand.
  • Certain American hand signs mean completely different things elsewhere. If you signal a French chef with a thumb-and-forefinger "A-OK" gesture, you'll be assigning a score of zero to the meal. Thumbs-up is a rude gesture in Australia, Greece and the Middle East.
  • If you get yourself in trouble, use the namaste gesture: Press your hands together with your fingers pointing upward and your thumbs close to your chest, and bow your head slightly; almost everywhere this gesture is a sign of peace and respect.

Use your paper

  • Carry a notepad and pen. You'll be surprised how much you can say with sketches. The other person can use your notepad to write or draw a map.

  • Carry a paper map in the local language; it's often more practical than a map on your phone. Hotel front desks typically have maps to give out and will trace your route to any destination. Ask the concierge to write down names and addresses so you can show them to a taxi driver or to a local whom you're asking for directions.

  • Carry your hotel's business card in the local language.

See also: Learning a new language can slow brain aging