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Feb 4, 2014 02:21 PM

English-speaking chowhounders in non-English-speaking countries

I'm not sure what board is appropriate for this discussion topic, so I'll post to site talk. And maybe there has been a similar thread already.

Last month I was doing research for restaurants in Paris. I got a good deal of feedback and advice from posting on the France Chowhound board. But it occurred to me that a large number of active posters on that board seemed to be US transplants to France, and seemed to know each other (not to imply that they do not have food knowledge about France --I discovered quite the contrary, and greatly appreciated their suggestions many of which I followed). Yet, I couldn't help but wonder if I would have gotten different ideas/suggestions/recommendations from a similar sort of site but that is French-language.

Similarly I read a post from someone asking about where Italians like to eat when visiting NYC. The poster posted to the Manhattan site. I thought, why not post to the Italy site and ask the Italians? Someone else had made that suggestion, and the response was that the Italy site is mainly English-speaking tourists looking for recommendations in Italy.

In general, in non-English-speaking countries, posters to CH will be a much more "selected" sample, limited to English speakers, mainly with experience with US restaurants and dining habits.

This has made me think about CH are a source for restaurant recommendations: I'm much more likely to exclusively rely of CH for trips within the US, but much less likely to rely on it exclusively for trips to other countries, but rather would treat it as one of many sources.

Interestingly, I found a couple of restaurants in Paris with comments on TripAdvisor in both French and English. In my highly unscientific sample of 2 restaurants I happened to be looking at, English speakers gave more "stars" to these restaurants and more positive comments compared with French speakers. Not unexpected, I suppose, but suggestive of a possible differential in what gets recommended and what doesn't depending on who does the recommending.

Is there a French language CH or equivalent? (La Fourchette, but that is not quite the same thing.) An Italian language CH or equivalent? Perhaps the nature of the restaurant and dining habits in these countries (and others) limit the utility of such a site: in the US, restaurant comings and goings are probably much more frequent, leading to a more vibrant basis for discussions/recommendations.

Just my musings. Now I suppose I should get back to work :-)

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  1. For the kind of resources and reviews you are talking about beyond the value CH's offer, I have found food and/or travel bloggers to be very helpful via email.

    1. There is no equivalent to Chowhound in France. There are food websites, but they are not well attended to and probably are of little value to the visiting Chowhound. They don't really give you the 'big picture' but they can be interesting to peruse. A lot of outdated info.... thy seem to be thrilled with finding a restaurant that is 'sympa' (short for sympathetique: welcome feeling from the staff).

      1. The France board has quite a few English-speaking ex-pats in residence and English-speaking visitors but there are also many native French folks. You might consider posing your questions in French and maybe you'll draw them out to assist you. I'll add that you'll probably find more differences from individual to individual than can be measured from one language group to the other. As with other parts of this site, you'll quickly ascertain whose tastes are close to your own and whose are not, regardless of native language.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Melanie Wong

          To be sure, language is an imperfect proxy. And as I mentioned I got some great ideas/feedback/recommendations from the CH community on the France site, from people who I think were both ex-pats and English-speaking French natives.
          Actually it might be interesting to post for recommendations in the native language and see if responses are different or broader.

          Don't get me wrong, I'm not judging or criticizing, it just got me thinking about who is active where on CH and the implications for information/viewpoints found on the site.

          1. re: MagicMarkR

            Our position has traditionally been that Chowhound is an English language site, because we couldn't moderate content in other languages. At this point, we'd probably be fine with people posting questions in French, but realistically, the chances that there's anyone reading our site that is strictly a Francophone is vanishingly small.

            You might attract an answer from the occasional person who reads a bit of English but isn't confident enough in their language skills to answer in English, but otherwise, it's just not likely that it will help. If anything, you're likely to get fewer answers, because some of the tourists and ex-patriates who otherwise might have contributed may not have the confidence in their own French language skills to respond en fran├žais.

            1. re: MagicMarkR

              There is no basis to think you would get a different answer asking in French on the France board. The folks do not have one opinion in English and another in French. But you would get fewer responses.

          2. Interesting stuff to think about!

            I agree that when I travel outside of the US and Canada, I almost never rely on Chowhound exclusively. The main reason for this is that the coverage is a lot thinner outside of N. America. This is probably because people post less about food on the internet in some parts of the world, and also probably because they sometimes use other sites to do so (whether in English or a different language).

            When I was in China a few years back, I looked at a few different websites (openrice is one that comes to mind) to do restaurant research, and I also spoke to friends, and also looked at blogs of ex-pats and other English speakers living in China. I also used Chowhound.

            Even if the Chowhound posting community is smaller and limited to English-speakers, I have personally found it to be a special community, which generally has recommendations that are much better than what I can find elsewhere. It may not be as expansive, but it's trustworthy. On a recent trip to Puerto Rico, there wasn't very much info on Chowhound about casual Puerto Rican restaurants in San Juan. I really only read reports about 3 or 4 places, even though there are other options that simply haven't been covered (which I know since sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor list them).But the two Chowhound-recommended places I tried were the two best meals of the trip, and I've had similar results all over the world.

            I don't think that the average Chowhound poster living in non-English speaking areas is someone who judges their experiences based on what they'd find in the US. If anything, I think the opposite is true, especially compared to other sources of information about restaurants (TripAdvisor, guidebooks, newspapers), where the people might have way less expertise or a different agenda.

            1. I use Chowhound as my first source when I travel. But like Dave MP, I try to use it in conjunction with other sources when I travel outside of the US and Canada (I also use other sources when I travel in the US/Canada). I haven't found it as helpful in some regions. In fact, I remember reading a local's post on one CH forum (Mexico perhaps?) that many of the CH suggestions were not very good and the foodie locals are on this Spanish-speaking food board.

              When I traveled to Japan, I found Chowhound helpful to a certain point. I used google translator to access tabelog, Japan's version of a reliable yelp (I was shocked to find there is actually a tabelog for NYC though!). While it was a bit difficult (and hilarious) to read the translated reviews, I found it opened me up to a plethora of restaurants that weren't discussed on Chowhound or any English-written blogs. It was especially helpful in regions of Japan where there weren't as many CH posts.