Preparing for a visit to a foreign country can often be overwhelming, with no shortage of things to learn before you go. Where should you eat? Where should you stay? What do you tip? More so than this service information, though, is a sense of cultural understanding that’s hard to put your finger on. With this in mind, language learning app Babbel asked foreign ambassadors to the U.S. to pick the book they believe first-time visitors to their country should read before they arrive. Their answers may surprise you. Note: “H.E.” stands for His or Her Excellency, the official title for ambassadors to the U.S.

Austria

The Tobacconist (translated into English by Charlotte Collins) is set in 1937 just before the German occupation. It follows 17-year-old Franz, who moves to Vienna to become the apprentice in a tobacco shop. Its quiet wisdom and sincerity resonated with me very deeply.” —H.E. Wolfgang A. Waldner

Azerbaijan

H.E. Elin Suleymanov recommends Ali and Nino, written in 1937 by Kurban Said, which tells the love story of a Muslim Azerbaijani boy and Christian Georgian girl in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku from 1918 to 1920.

Belgium

War and Turpentine is a book about three generations of Belgians, focusing on the legacy of WWI and Belgium’s exceptional painters. Long-listed for the 2017 Man Booker Prize, War and Turpentine is the absolute companion book for any art and history lover traveling to Belgium.” —H.E. Dirk Wouters

Bhutan

H.E. Kunzang C. Namgyel recommends Treasures of the Thunder Dragon: A Portrait of Bhutan, which was written by Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck and is a personal memoir combined with folklore, creating a portrait of the Himalayan kingdom.

Canada

 

“On the occasion of Canada’s 150th anniversary, we suggest the newly-released book, With Faith and Goodwill: 150 years of Canada-U.S. Friendship, edited by Arthur Milnes. It is a beautiful collection of speeches, photographs and essays from prime ministers and presidents that express our shared history.” —H.E. David MacNaughton

Chile

Smilla’s Sense of Snow is a fictional mystery set in Copenhagen. It is a book that touches on issues such as Danish culture versus Greenlandic and the related issues of language and identity.” —H.E. Lars Gert Lose

Estonia

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