"No Thank you" to Plastic in 9 Languages

In this post we've got you covered for nine of the world's most spoken languages. If you're in a rush, scroll to the bottom for our nifty infographics. If you've got a few minutes to scan, we're sharing the best travel guides to the world's most popular destinations where some of the most popular languages are spoken!

world's most spoken global languages

image courtesy mentalfloss.com


So, you've adopted an eco friendly lifestyle!
These days when you go out to eat at a restaurant or grab a drink you remember to say “thanks, I don’t need a straw”. You have your tote bags tucked in your car trunk or your bike panniers.

And you’ve revamped your home with eco-friendly products!
You’ve got natural and home-made products and managed to fit your plastic waste into a mason jar. You’ve even started a compost pile in your back yard (or fire escape, shhh).

And you’re ready for a holiday, and secured all your supplies!
Your Yeti Tumbler is packed, stuffed with rolled socks for efficiency (you’ll wash it out when you get to your destination) and the long drinking straw are packed. You’ve got bamboo utensils (obviously the airline won’t let you onboard with metal ones), your ‘definitely doesn’t leak’ bento box and all your toiletries fit into a nice linen bag.

Oh, and your itinerary is totally set and booked, your phrase book is handy, and you've even downloaded your destination’s language onto your phone on Google translate.

There’s just one thing missing.

You’re missing two key phrases. And neither Google Translate nor your “[insert language here] Common Phrase Book” can help you.

You might be wondering to yourself:

How can I say, in the most polite and gracious way possible, “I don’t need a plastic bag” or “I don’t need a plastic straw?” If you’re like us, you love street food and browsing open air markets. You love digging deep in the culture and getting lost amongst the streets to find that perfect off the beaten road cafe or farmer’s market.

Why is Google Translate Limited?

Google translate is great for phrases but it has two limitations and we’ve run into both repeatedly.

The first limitation is that Google Translate doesn’t quite grasp the context. Some languages like Arabic, Thai or Korean have different modes of address depending on your relationship to the listener. The phrase could change if there’s a difference in age or gender, and it also might affect how formal or casual the phrasing is.

So Google Translate is limited when it comes to human interaction and when you’re in another culture it’s important to be sensitive to their cultural practices and customs.

The other issue is, even if you have the text written out on Google Translate on your phone, the text may be too small for the vendor or waiter to read. We’ve been in this situation before.

The market or coffeeshop is busy, and other customers are lining up for their pomelos or their Thai iced coffee, and the kind vendor is searching for the glasses she left somewhere in the back.  You dropped your phone earlier and the audio isn’t working anymore, so you can’t even use that function, and even if the speaker did work, there’s too much noise in the market to hear. Not that you’d want to pull out your earphones, you’d barely let a close friend share those earphones!

So you see the dilemma? Suddenly a small moment turns into an ordeal and, hey maybe it’ll be more convenient to just avoid this whole interaction, take the straw, take the bag (you can always re-use it!) and you’ll just make up for it at home.

No, don't do that! We’ve got the solution for you.

We’ve crowdsourced dozens of native speakers from dozens of the world’s languages. The countries we highlighted are often featured as popular luxury travel destinations and popular backpacker destinations.

We asked our translators if there was anything a traveler should know when speaking the phrase, and in some cases it doesn’t matter, while in other (sometimes unexpected) cases it matters a great deal! Take the example of Denmark:

When referring to a plastic bag, Danes use "pose" which is of flimsier quality than a bag (and thus not the literal translation of bag which would be "taske"). Furthermore, Danish people are extremely polite in any forced social context (I.e. when talking to the cashier when grocery shopping).
So it is important to remember the "thank you" ("tak") otherwise the speaker will sound very grumpy and judgmental.


Yikes! You definitely don’t want to leave a negative impression in a country that’s treating you so hospitably.

We’ve got you covered with the language assistance below. Doubly luckily: Many countries are bilingual with English, so this is just a safety net for you. Triply luckily? Many countries have already banned plastic bags, or single use plastics. [Read about it in another blog post here]. These countries include:

At the end of the day many top travel destinations around the world do have people speaking in multiple languages. If you go off the beaten path or to a more traditional market, if you like to avoid the tourist traps, this will be very handy.

In addition to 9 of the world's most spoken languages, we are doing a follow up post highlighting phrases in many of the world's top backpacking destinations. Connect with us on Instagram or Facebook if you're interested in knowing when it comes out!

We’ve also collected some of our favorite travel blogs, chock full of travel tips for some of the most popular destinations and top languages spoken around the world.

Another thought: many of these places are so popular with tourists and backpackers that locals do speak English, but it helps to know if you’re on an excursion to a more remote part, or if you’re not in one of the metropolitan hubs most frequented by tourists.



Arabic is spoken by 280 million native speakers worldwide. In the Middle East popular destinations include Lebanon, Jordan, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. As far as Africa is concerned, Arabic is an official language in Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania, Libya, Eritrea, among many others.

Traveling in Oman can run the gamut from luxury to adventures off the beaten path with local experts. Jordan is particularly popular for its history and natural beauty, while Lebanon adds vibrant contemporary art and fashion to the mix of natural wonders and historical sites. The United Arab Emirates, in particular Sharjah, Abu Dhabi, and Dubai have each solidified their status as art and cultural hubs.

 No Plastic Bag Pleaseno plastic bag Arabic phrase
No Plastic Straw Pleaseno plastic straw please in Arabic


got its name from the Persian word Hind, meaning 'land of the Indus River'. Nearly 425 million people speak Hindi as a first language and around 120 million as a second language. It's the official language of India, with English being the other official language so unless you trek off the beaten path, you’ll likely find many shopkeepers and restaurants pretty bilingual. Hindi is also spoken in some countries outside India, such as in Mauritius, Fiji, Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago and Nepal.

Traveling solo can be nerve-racking, and a number of thoughtful and intrepid travelers have documented their experiences traveling solo as a woman in India.  In fact, India is not all grit and grime! You can delve into more luxurious parts as well.

 No Plastic Bag Pleaseno plastic bag please in Hindi
No Plastic Straw Pleaseno plastic straw please in Hindi


Portuguese is an official language in ten countries, including Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, Portugal, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Macau, Cape Verde, and São Tomé and Príncipe.

But just like there are differences between American English and British English (or Australian English for that matter!), there are differences in vocabulary and pronunciation between Brazilian Portuguese, and the Portuguese spoken in Portugal. Despite these two very popular destinations on traveler itineraries, only about 5% of Brazilians say that they can speak English fluently. There’s so much to do and see, we’ll just leave it to some experts to share their journeys with you. From 12 days in Portugal to practical tips for female travelers in Brazil, there are plenty of resources out there for perfect travel experiences.

 No Plastic Bag Pleaseno plastic bag please in Portuguese
No Plastic Straw Pleaseno plastic straw please in Portuguese


Chinese is a “macrolanguage,” a sort of umbrella for dozens of forms and dialects that together have about 1.2 billion native speakers. By far the most widely spoken variety of Chinese, however, is Mandarin, with 848 million speakers alone—or roughly 70 percent of China’s entire population.

Whether it’s exploring the not so-Forbidden City or a techno club, you can put your phrases to use. Even if you never make it to China, you may find yourself deep in some of the best Chinatowns around the world.

 No Plastic Bag Pleaseno plastic bag please in Chinese

No Plastic Straw Pleaseno plastic straw please in Chinese


French is spoken in plenty of popular travel and backpacking destinations across the world, including 51 countries and territories. In addition to the usual suspects like Quebec in Canada or Belgium or France, there are plenty of countries in Africa that use French. With their beautiful beaches, the Seychelles  and Mauritius are popular travel destination, while countries like Morocco boast their own special flair for backpackers and luxury travelers.

 No Plastic Bag Pleaseno plastic bag please in French
No Plastic Straw Pleaseno plastic straw please in French


The majority of German speakers actually live in Germany, while the remainder live in places like Austria, Switzerland, Belgium and Luxembourg. Traveling those countries doesn't have to break the bank, and the guides we found are excellent starting points for the budget or luxury traveler. Although Germany doesn't cover as much of the globe as French or Spanish, those spots are still very popular travel destinations. As far as learning to speak German, Mark Twain famously said that German was too hard to learn in one lifetime, but its popularity belies this claim, and a study by a German professor ranks it fourth in terms of non-native speakers who have learnt the language. 

 No Plastic Bag Pleaseno plastic bag please in German
 No Plastic Straw Pleaseno plastic straw please in German


Russian is spoken by nearly 170 million people, with about forty million of them residing in Russia. The remaining countries include popular backpacking destinations like the Ukraine. From the Top 7 Parks in Moscow to a cinematic trip on the trans-Siberian railroad there’s no shortage of unique experiences that test your limits as an adventurous traveler. It's popular with sports fans as well, since it most recently hosted two major world sporting events, the 2018 World Cup and the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

 No Plastic Bag Pleaseno plastic bag please in Russian

No Plastic Straw Pleaseno plastic straw please in Russian


The main Japanese speaking population does live in Japan, but with such density and a range of experiences to explore, you could spend a lifetime digging into the culture. Whether you’re into spas or finding the ideal spot for Autumn beauty there’s so much to gain from immersing yourself here. How you present yourself, and the way you address people is important, as different words and expressions are used when talking to an unknown person or a superior, as opposed to when talking to a child, family member or a close friend. For example, there are more than five different words for the word "I", each used differently based on context.

 No Plastic Bag Pleaseno plastic bag please in Japanese
No Plastic Straw Pleaseno plastic straw please in Japanese


 ranks as the world's second most spoken and it enjoys official language status in 21 countries across Europe, Africa, Central, South and North America. It's a phonetic language, which means if you can read it, you can speak it, making it a relatively easy language. Whether it's visiting five famous cities in Spain or having Central and South American adventures our phrases will definitely help you out.

 No Plastic Bag Pleaseno plastic bag please in Spanish
No Plastic Straw Pleaseno plastic straw please in Spanish



Click on the images below for the pdf infographics.
Super helpful to up your eco tourism game!
 eco tourism no plastic bag please in 9 world languages
 eco tourism no plastic bag please in 9 world languages


organic bamboo drinking straw


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