If you're planning your Continental tour, or just heading Europewards and letting the winds of fate waft you this way and that, you'll want some language assistance, preferably in a form that doesn't require an extra set of luggage. Rick Steves, noted Europe expert and writer of candid, accurate, and entertaining guide books, has a phrase book and dictionary that contains the three major languages you're likely to encounter in ramble around Europe or a trek in the Alps.
For each of the three languages, there are chapters on basic survival phrases, numbers, money, and time, transportation, sleeping, and eating, plus activities such as sightseeing, shopping, and nightlife. There are also sections on phoning and mailing, health and emergencies, and making small talk--including the essential section on animal noises (because what's woof woof to you is ouah ouah to the French, bau bau to Italians, and wuff wuff in German). There are also lists of the animal noises made by humans (also known as profanity) so you can enjoy the linguistic color as the man next to you drops his fragile souvenir, or swear like a Roman when you stub your toe in the Coliseum.
The menu decoders are quite useful, and, despite the book's small size, it covers most contingencies--from bartering over hotel-room prices to rental-car considerations, interpreting train schedules to discussing medical conditions such as constipation and diarrhea, hemorrhoids and indigestion, body odor and the giggles. The dictionary in the back shows the English, French, Italian, and German for each of 1,200 words, and there's an appendix of useful information, including the European phone numbers for various calling-card operators as well as their international access codes and country codes, a chart of monthly temperatures for each country and a metric conversion table, as well as tongue twisters in French, German, and Italian, to while away the train-travel hours and impress your compartment mates with your willingness to launch into their language and dare to sound like a fool. --Stephanie Gold [via]