The simple act of dining in a foreign country can be a stressful experience if you’re not familiar with the language or customs. Getting a table should always be fairly easy (all you need to do is walk in and say hello to the greeter), but what about when it comes time to get the attention of your server?
Whenever you’re going to visit a foreign country, it’s important to read up on the customs, especially the ways in which you can inadvertently offend a local. As mentioned, getting a table should be easy, but there are ways to shoot yourself in the foot within seconds of stepping into a restaurant. If you’re a party of two at a restaurant in Italy, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, or Australia and you put two fingers up with the back of your hand facing the greeter, for example, it’ll be taken as an insult. And any display of an open palm (which could also be how you might indicate a party of five) may be taken as a grave offense in Greece, Pakistan, and parts of Africa.
If you’re trying to get the attention of your server in a restaurant anywhere in the world, the best thing to do is simply make eye contact with them and nod. But that’s occasionally easier said than done. A simple “excuse me” will usually work (unless the server is actively ignoring you — in that case, nothing will help).
So read on to learn how to best flag down your server in 10 different languages. In some, the words to say “excuse me” to get someone’s attention are different than those you might use to, for example, squeeze by someone on the sidewalk, so there are nuances to keep in mind (the kind that simple translation dictionaries don’t always outline thoroughly). After getting the attention of your server, if you realize that you have no idea how to actually place your order, just point to the item on the menu. And that “check, please” hand gesture? That’s also universal. Don’t worry, it won’t offend anyone… unless you only order water, that is.
In Arab nations, “Min fadlak” will get the attention of male servers, but be sure to use the feminine “Min fadlik” when addressing a female server.
The folks at Transparent.com write that the best way to hail a server at a restaurant in China — upscale or downscale — is to say “Fú wù yuán! Diǎn cài!,” which translates to simply “Waiter! Order food!” “Don’t worry about offending your waiter,” they advise, “because this is just the way it is.”