Allergens and Language Barriers

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            So you have food allergies and you’re thinking about going on vacation to a foreign country…but the only hiccup in your plans is the language barrier! Well you’ve come to the right place.

A few summers ago I went on a trip to an island in Mexico named Cozumel. I was taking a summer course there so I was surrounded by my peers (aka: no parents!!) This meant that I had to take the necessary precautions before leaving so that my parents felt confident enough to let me travel on my own. Since my Spanish fluency encompassed not much more than “hello, goodbye, and thank you,” I was going to have to do some research on how to communicate to the locals about my food allergies to peanuts and tree nuts.

I decided to purchase a handheld Spanish-English digital translator. You can find them online for less than $30 so it is not a huge investment. Or there is always the good old translation dictionary if you like taking your time. Another option is to bring along your phone and download a translation app before you go. That said, you have to be 100% sure that the Internet will work on your phone in another country, and that you are prepared to pay for international data charges. I most definitely wasn’t prepared to do that!

The only problem with translation devices is that they often don’t include many allergen words. And you can’t always rely on a computer to get your point across with something that is potentially life threatening. I did some research on google was able to find a company that actually makes allergy translation cards that can fit in your pocket! I was lucky enough to have a close family friend who was fluent in Spanish. I sent her a few sentences explaining my condition and she translated them for me. Next I found a “nut-free” symbol on the web and pasted it beside the text. I printed out a bunch of copies and laminated them at my local office supplies store. I am not going to lie, they looked pretty snazzy! So whether it be a website or a relative, there are plenty of ways to get a comprehensive translation that you can rely on. Just a word of caution though, don’t use a translation website because the final product often won’t make sense. For something as serious as food allergies, I would always invest a little bit more time and money.

My parents turned out to be thrilled with my idea and luckily they agreed to let me travel. While in Cozumel, I carried my auto-injector and translation cards everywhere I went.  Whenever at a restaurant, I would hand the server a card and tell him to show it to the chef as well. Best of all, I didn’t have a single reaction while away!


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