Is it considered courteous (or pointless?) to try speaking Spanish in the touristy areas of Mexico?

Traveling to Cozumel next month, and I’m interested in whether it’s worth it to try speaking Spanish while visiting bars / restaurants / shops, etc.

I have a slight recollection from 7th grade Spanish (30 years ago) of how to ask where the bathroom is, what time it is, etc. Anything beyond that will take a little bit of effort to communicate.

I’m sure most of the touristy places are English-friendly, but what if you put forth the effort to stumble your way through ordering in Spanish or asking questions in Spanish?

For example, instead of asking the server “I’ll have another beer and my girlfriend would like a side of pineapple”, what if I tried hitting them with “Tomaré otra cerveza y mi novia querrá un lado de la piña” (after consulting Google translate in the moments beforehand, of course)?

Is it considered respectful / courteous, or is it a waste of time? Any personal experiences or opinions on this? Thanks.

I don’t know about Mexico, but if you visit Montreal, people will appreciate that you at least tried if you attempt to speak French to them. If it is poor French, they will likely come back in English. But they will still appreciate the gesture.

This kind of reminds me of an old Steve Martin routine started out something like “When you’re on vacation in country where they don’t have the *courtesy * to speak English…”

But anyway, if you speak the local language well enough to communicate I’d think it would depend on whether your Spanish is better than the other person’s English. In some cases it might be better for both parties to use their own native tongue. It’s often easier to understand than to speak a different language.

It’s not going to hurt, but–depending on where you go–you’ll find that some people working in tourism in Mexico are completely bilingual, because they’ve lived some time in the States, (or maybe even grew up there). So for them, in a busy context, it’s just easier to use English to make sure that everything is clear.

Especially if you’re using Google translate. I’d be careful about getting literal translations from Google translate for highly context-dependent situations.

Sadly, I’m almost completely mono-lingual but my personal experience from 2 trips to Mexico and a trip to Europe was that people at least appreciated the attempt. I can at least say Good Morning in Spanish and French and then sometimes ask how they say something. Generally the conversation switched to English as others said but I prefer starting out in (terrible but humble) Spanish.

I don’t know specifically about Mexico but I speak some French and Italian and have this experience consistently while traveling. One of these will happen:

They will continue the conversation in Spanish, appreciative of your efforts. If it goes much farther then you may get in over your head and sheepishly switch back to English, but no harm done.

They will answer you in English, either because they have decided that their English is better than your Spanish, or they are eager to show off how well they speak English. Then you continue in English, no harm done.

If you are in tourist areas everyone will speak enough English to conduct whatever transaction you are doing, but you can never go wrong by speaking Spanish if you have at least a rudimentary command of the language. (People who have no clue about Spanish but read a phrase out of a phrase book or Google Translate are going to get a response in English.)

Having spent some time down there, a few phrases and a lot of “por favor” and “gracias” will go a long way.

dónde está el baño
dos cervezas por favor

and so forth.

I am basically monolingual. I try to learn “hello”, “thank you”, "please’, and “excuse me” in the local language. It’s pretty much the best I can do, and I think it is generally appreciated. (And if you say “thank you” with a horrible accent, everyone will figure out what you are trying to say.)

I have conducted ordinary tourist transactions with a person I did not share a language with, and it goes surprisingly okay, so I would think you could do it in broken Spanish, too. (Unless the other party gets fed up and switches to English.) If you are trying to do anything at all complicated (buy the right phone plan, say) you should use whichever language the two of you collectively speak best. But if you just want an item on the dinner menu, or a place to leave your luggage at the hotel after you’ve checked out, you should be able to stumble along in a language you don’t really know. Will people appreciate that you made the effort? If they don’t, they will switch to English and no harm done.

Just remember that “fucking gringo” isn’t Spanish for “really swell person” …

When I am in tourist places here, I appreciate it when I hear Americans speaking Spanish. Even if it is poor Spanish. It means you are attempting to speak the local language. And it does away with the notion that Americans only speak English.

So, yes, speak Spanish. If nothing else it will be fun. And latinos like to laugh.

Enjoy the island.

We’ve been to Cozumel twice, it’s nice, but very touristy, in our experience people appreciate Spanish greetings, but there is a very good chance the vast majority of the people you will interact with - taxi drivers, wait staff, store clerks, bartenders, front office people, tour guides, etc. - all speak English just fine. And if you get a good taxi driver, they will tell you where to go, and what to avoid…

China is a different story, I traveled there for business numerous time over a twenty-year period, I tried to always learn snippets of the local dialect, my colleagues were very willing to teach me and appreciated the effort, but I generally was not in tourist areas (other than downtown Shanghai and Hong Kong), but in industrial areas…

IMHO a good rule of thumb is to try speak the local language. BUT don’t torture the locals. If they reply back in English, then switch back to English. It is torture or at least rough to have to try parse out someone speaking in a broken attempt if there is a common fluent language and you’re not up for giving a language lesson.

They may also be “bilingual in English for tourism”, that being a type of course that’s heavily offered in countries with big tourist industries. If you run into someone who can’t answer “boy, it sure is hot today!” but knows how to give directions to every tourist attraction and beach within 500 miles, they took one of those courses.

+1 to everything guizot said.

Yeah, it’s not even Spanish :stuck_out_tongue: In Cozumel the Spanish would most likely be gringo pendejo… and still not polite.

Aside, just as a language curiosity: gringo started meaning “American”, it eventually came to mean “not-Hispanic (mainly but not limited to English speakers)”, later “outsider who gets mad that people ‘away’ do things differently”. In this latest meaning it can even refer to someone who is in their own country but who is indignant at anything from the local cuisine to the local accents to people daring speak a language they do not.

As someone who is fluent in a foreign language, I found it annoying when a Japanese who continue to attempt to speak broken English to me after I made it clear that I speak Japanese.

A lot depends on the delivery and taking the lead from the person you are talking to. If the server speaks excellent English and is rushed at that particular moment, they may actually prefer that you talk to them in 'Merican, as they are much more likely to get it right.

However, it’s fun to be able to speak even limited conversations in a foreign language. I learned how to ask for coffee in Tagalog and got very good reactions from that.

Personally, I think you should ALWAYS at least learn the phrase “Do you speak English?” in the local language of the country you’re visiting. Anything less than that is rude. You shouldn’t go up to someone in a non-English speaking country and just start blabbing away in English.*
*The one possible exception I’ve found to this is the Netherlands, where if you say “Spreekt u Engels?” to someone they look at you as though you’ve just seriously insulted their intelligence. But so firmly ingrained in me is the rule lusted above that I still ask first when I’m in the Netherlands.

They definitely appreciate it.

I’ve been to Mexico numerous times, and I always get a smile back when I speak to them in Spanish.

It’s a thing the world over. Locals love it when you speak in their language. Except in France, they’re very arrogant about their language.

It’s a little insulting if you do it in England as well :wink:

Indeed, my wife speaks fluent Quebec French, and they were fairly rude to her.

It’s been a while, but while this is very strictly true of Paris, I seem to recall the locals becoming much more ‘normal’ the further away from Paris you get. Paris–just go to English and take your lumps. They’ll despise you, but not nearly so much as if you besmirch their beloved tongue with your imbecilic accent. But if you’re out by Normandy, they are much more patient.