Learning a new language is fun, horizon-expanding and increases your chances of getting laid exponentially. Given this, and the fact there are some great free internet based phrase books and language learning sites available, there really are no excuses for not knowing how mumble “thank you” and “charging six euros for a sub-standard ice-cream is day-light robbery, you b*#)rd” in the local lingo.
But for those of us without the time or inclination to learn every language fluently phrase books have long been the crutch on which we lean. Attempting, however, to use a phrasebook to communicate without at least a basic grounding in the language can produce a sound not dissimiliar to a dog trying to swallow its own tail: plenty of stuttering and spluttering but precious little effect. Photo books, on the other hand, operate on the presumption that pictures are universal.
Photos books are, well, a phrasebook in pictures. The idea of a photo book is that you leaf through to find a picture somewhat corresponding with the idea you wish to communicate, point to it and smile. If you want toilet paper, point to the toilet paper, a Crêpe Suzette, point to something vaguely pancake-like. A stroke of minor genius!
However, the photo book is not without its own drawbacks. You point and hope. Hope like hell the local stall-holder doesn’t misinterpret your desperate need to find a toilet with a grave slight on his sausage-in-a-bun. Likewise, pointing to a picture of a syringe doesn’t quite convey the full message that you’d really prefer a clean, hygenic, unused syringe. Pointing to a picture of a condom could be considered, by some, somewhat, well, un-romantic. Finally, I’m not sure how it would hold up for asking that most fundamental of tourist questions: for directions.
Nonetheless, all in all it’s a great idea if you’re off on an extended trip or to a country where the idea of learning even a few “I would like…” phrases is intimidating. For those interested point it, “passport-sized” with “1200 items”, seems to be the most commonly recommended example of the genre, although a quick search of Amazon produces some alternatives.
Who doesn’t yearn for such attractively presented breakfast delights?