Whenever I travel abroad, the first words I learn in the language of the country I'm visiting are:
I've found that when I say these words to complete strangers in their native tongue, they almost invariably open right up. Why?
First, they're surprised that an aging white guy is trying to talk to them in their own language.
Second, they're amazed that a foreigner is directly asking them such a personal question.
And third, they think it's really funny. And then it's possible to have a little dialog with them.
For example, I was just in Russia. My magic words there were: "Tay shahs leaf" (my phonetic spelling). When the person would say, "Da," (yes), I'd follow that up with: "Ya oychen shas leaf." (I'm really happy). Then they try to teach me a few more words. It seemed to open a few doors.
I was also just in Sweden. It's a national law there that Swedes aren't allowed to say that they are really happy (their joke), so it was fun to tease that out of them: "Are du yetta glad?" (again, my phonetic spelling). Lots of fun all around!
For example, on a boat to Vaxholm, one man responded to my question with a discussion of his sex life since the birth of his first child ("my wife is now more interested in the result of the sex, i.e, the child, than in what created it"). What was curious was that he explained this (in English) to me as well as to the ten Swedish women standing around me, and they all laughed.
Question: What are your special words to connect with people when you travel?