Biliginual People Share Times They've Overheard People Trash Talking Them And Clapped Back
Even if you think the other person can't understand you.....they probably can. And then that's very embarrassing for you. So just don't do it or you might end up like these people.
Here are some of the stories.
I'm white but reasonably fluent in Korean. When I went to an orthopedist in Korea for elbow pain a translator was provided by the hospital and I figured I might as well talk through him in case there was any specific medical terminology I didn't know. After describing my symptoms and a brief physical exam where I was visibly in pain, the translator told the doctor that he thought I was only pretending.
The thing was, he was doing an absolutely terrible job of translating even prior to that, so I quickly responded 'and you're only pretending to know English' (in Korean). The doc actually cracked a smile and the translator spent the rest of my visit sitting in his seat without saying a single word.
Funny, But Whoops!
Kinda the reverse, was visiting Hiroshima in Japan and walking around alone. Then i see a caucasian guy walk up to me, and in fluent Japanese asked me to take a photo of him in front of one of the monuments. For context, I'm Asian but I don't speak a word of Japanese. So after a couple of seconds i said "Uh.... do you speak English?".
Awkward silence ensues. He goes "uhhh... yeah". Easily made my day. We did make small talk after (oh hey where are you visiting from, etc) but went our separate ways.
Almost been on the other side once. I live near german border. Once, together with my wife and daughter we decided to go to nearby german town for shopping. While we are entering a mall, my daughter (`13-14yo) tells me how cool is that nobody really can understand what we're talking about and we can practically say everything we want. In the same moment, security guard standing next to entrance grins and greets her with perfect polish "Dzie? Dobry". (Good Morning)
I didn't realize that her skin tone could get that red. I just thanked that man for mild but practical lesson.
First time I visited Montreal was on a school trip. I'm from Alberta, and our hotel receptionist knew this. I guess she had assumed we couldn't speak French, which, looking back, was pretty stupid of her. What kind of school would send non-French speaking kids to the only French province? Anyway. One of my friends was having an asthma attack, and the receptionist muttered under her breath, "étouffé, s'il te plaît." (suffocate, please) To which I responded, "Madame, parlez-vous à tous vos clients de cette manière?" (Madam, do you speak to all of your customers this way?) Not super clever on my part, but it shut her up.
Was sitting on the London tube on the way back from a long day at work, and overheard two older Irish ladies who had moved to London a good 40+ years ago speaking to each other in broken Irish.
They had just come from a Irish meetup event and were lamenting the fact that the Irish language was slowly dying off.
I was dressed in my suit like all the rest of the other city drones so there was nothing to single me out as Irish. (p.s I'm not ginger :) )
I leant over casually with a smile and said "Níl an teanga marbh fós" which translates to "The language isn't dead yet."
The surprise on their faces, and the smiles that followed were priceless, will never forget it! ?? ????
I've got two cases of this. One is me, one is an old co-worker. I was on a train in the UK recently and it was pretty full. There was a French couple stood near me who ended up trash talking the people around them. As soon as they got to me, I interrupted and said "Stop. I understand you." They eyed each other and shut up.
The other one is the flip side! Ex-colleague's friend is on a train in France, drunk and trash talking (in English) one particular woman sat a couple of seats behind. The woman doesn't interrupt and sits listening to it all. When it's time for her to get off, she walks by the ex-colleague's friend and says "I understood every word you said." The ex-colleague's friend almost died of embarrassment and shut up for the rest of the journey.
Trash Talking Their Own Country
I was on vacation in Turkey in 2016. On the first day I was at the beach like everybody would do. Of course I didn't know my way around the hotel so I just left my towel on the beach chair and went to my room to go on the toilet instead of aimlessly looking around the place for one. When I came back to my spot there was an older russian couple taking the chairs next to me. I laid back in my chair, put my hat on my face and just tried to snooze for some time in the shade.
A couple minutes later I hear the woman next to me saying "Look at those germans! Sleeping until until noon but always having to reserve the best spots early in the morning! F-ing nazis!" (in russian of course).
Some time later I woke up and had to pee again. I put my hat on the table next to me and asked them in russian "Do you undertand russian? Do you know where the nearest toilet is?".
The woman was turning so red you could mistake her for a tomato. Her husband told me where to go and so I went after I said thank you - in russian again. When I came back they were gone. I haven't seen them again until one week later on the flight back. To Germany. In the seats next to me.
I said I had hoped that they have enjoyed their vacation and asked if they mind me taking the seat next to the window so they wouldn't have to wake me mid flight to get up. While I didn't get any sleep on the flight they also haven't said a single word. Turns out they are living just a couple streets away from me since we all took the same subway and tram back home after landing at the airport.
I live in Finland and every summer we get some obnoxious middle aged tourists who feel free to comment on people's appearances in plain English. FYI: everyone here understands you from age 10 to 60 at least.
Little Snap Judgements
My family is Georgian (the country) and I speak Georgian. This December, I went to visit family with an American friend. I stand out a bit but usually I'm not a dead giveaway, however she was. We (or I guess just I) overheard more than a couple of pretty rude, but honestly kinda funny comments in the streets, mostly from older people commenting on us being American and "dressing weird."
I'm one of the palest people I know, add to that blonde hair and a thick, northern (UK) accent I look like the last person on the planet to speak a middleastern language. We married into an Egyptian family and we spend plenty of time there, my Arabic isn't amazing but I can get by. I live for the horrified look on people's faces when I switch to Arabic. I used to do debt collection for a utility company and had a gentleman who refused to pay his bill. He called me all kinds of horrific names, I quickly told him in Arabic that I absolutely wouldn't tolerate language like that, that I was trying to help him and that he was bringing shame on his family. He stuttered for a good few minutes, apologized and ended up paying. However I got into trouble at work because all calls are recorded at the call centre and management were unable to review my call because they couldn't understand what I was saying. They were worried I could have said something offensive etc. So from then on we were forced to use professional translation services only on three way calls, which was an absolute pain.
Mountains Of Embarrassment
Mine is a pretty general story. Nothing too exciting but it still makes me grin when I think back on it.
Was traveling in Austria, getting on a shuttle to go from Innsbruck to a small little town higher in the mountains. I was chatting and laughing with a few friends as I got on, my American accent on full display. There were two older women who gave us weird looks as we boarded, and we sat down across the aisle and just behind them. Almost as soon as we sat down, one turned to the other and said in German, "Stupid American tourists are always so loud." I was sitting nearest to them on the aisle, so I leaned forward and said in my far less perfect (but still understandable) German, "and you're not as quiet as you think."
It was a looooooonnggg ride of pleasant silence up through the mountains.
I look quite not italian, but certainly European, long dark hair and quite pale skin. At the time I was on vacation with my family, including my old grandpa suffering from Parkinson's and dementia and I was in the best shape of my life. We were visiting Italy and looking at all the old stuff my grandmother remembered while I pushed her around in a wheelchair in the hilly cities around the Garda Lake.
One day while my family and I were taking a stroll, I notice two ladies in their 40s discussing me in German, a language I don't speak, but definitely understand. The conversation sounded a bit like:
"Look at that handsome young lad. Pushing around his grandmother, he is so nice"
"And good looking too!"
Bad news my father and stepmother I was travelling with also understand German and I haven't seen my dad with that kind of s*-eating-grin for ages. So now I get teased about pulling old German ladies at family dinners.
Just recently when I was in Malta. My friend is Bulgarian and she has friends from all over the place there too, so we all speak English. However I'm dutch and when were eating at this restaurant, there was this one old dutch couple relatively close to our table. The guy kept swearing because he thought we were too loud, but we really weren't, it just seemed they were a bit bitter and sour because they had nothing to say to one another. Swearing in dutch is a bit special too since compared to most languages it's incredibly harsh. It's basically wishing diseases like Cancer and Typhus to one another.
At some point he was just kind of mumbling swear words one after the other pretending to look outside the window, when even his wife was telling him to stop. So I turned and I asked in dutch "everything alright, nice weather out isn't it?" They replied back in kind and I didn't hear him swear for the rest of the evening.
I know a decent amount of ASL (American Sign Language) and was in my second college course learning ASL when this happened.
My younger sister's friend was going to buy a puppy and wanted me to go so she wasn't meeting strangers alone. The group of people we are meeting get out of the car and we realize they are Deaf.
The girl selling the puppy to my sister's friend starts talking to her and I'm just chilling off to the side.
Another girl and a guy were off to the side also. The girl was signing stuff about me and my sister's friend being 'hearing' and just rude stuff in general. I don't remember much, but the guy noticed I was watching the conversation. He told the trash talker to quit because he thought I could understand what she was saying. She blew him off and continued.
Eventually my sister's friend buys the puppy and as we are saying 'goodbyes' I sign, "Thanks for meeting us. Have a great day and have a safe drive home." I swear to god the dude that was telling the trash talker to be quiet earlier about pissed his pants laughing at her. It made my day.
My Glasses Can Hear, Too
I went on a vacation to the keys like a year ago and I walk into the bathroom at my hotel and as I'm going to go into the stall this Cuban janitor lady sees me and tells me in broken english that I can't come in.
I say okay and as I'm leaving she says "Tiene espejuelos por gusto, No ve ni pinga"
Pretty much saying I have glasses for no reason and that I see f-ck all.
Now I'm a 6"1 white-skinned dude with light brown hair and green eyes, Far from a typical Cuban.
I walk back inside the bathroom when I hear her say that and tell her
"Miss, I'm Cuban too, I heard what you said"
She gets red like a tomato and denies ever saying anything.
And An Insult, Too
I am fluent in Spanish because I lived in a Spanish speaking country and my wife and her family are all native Spanish speakers. But as I am fairly pale most dont expect me to speak Spanish.
One day when I was working retail I was helping this Latino family: abuela (grandmother), husband wife and kids; who all spoke English very well, buy a computer.
Since they all spoke English I didn't mention me being able to speak Spanish. However when I recommended a more expensive computer that they were looking at (the one they wanted sucked and wouldn't have been good for what they wanted to do). The abuela spoke to the husband in Spanish saying "this gringo doesn't know what he's talking about get the cheaper one".
I looked her dead in the eye and responding in Spanish said "I actually know exactly what I'm talking about as I have been doing this for many years." I then turned walked away to check and see if we had the one I was recommending in stock. The abuela didnt say another word the entire time they were there and they bought the computer I recommended.
Another story is my wife and I went to the Mexican consulate and when I asked a security guard where the bathroom was, he responded to me in broken English that it was down the hall to the left. it happens constantly.
Learn Your Lesson
I was living in Jersey and got into a taxi. The driver was on the phone and started talking in Spanish to the other end about me; how he just picked up some white girl and then must've answered the "What does she look like?", saying I was cute for a white girl. I'm very light-skinned because I take after my dad, who's Cuban. My mom, who is Puerto Rican has very dark olive skin.
Once he got off the phone, I said to him in Spanish that he shouldn't always assume someone is a "gringa" just because he thinks they look it. His eyes about bugged out of his head and I laughed. He started apologizing and told him it was ok, because he didn't say anything too badly, but that I hope he learned a lesson.
Not me but my friend. Arabic is her second language (her dad is Jordanian, mom is american). At the grocery store the two young guys in line behind her at check out were going on and on in arabic about her large breasts and what they would do to her. Finally she's had enough and turns around let's them know she understood everything they just said. They were obviously shocked, embarrassed, and said nothing.
Turned Out Great
Somewhat related. I was on the bus in Chicago and there was a bunch of Chinese students on the bus. This old -ss white guy comes back there asking if it's the "Chinese section of the bus?" People are looking up slowly like WTF is this going? Old guy busts out some perfect Chinese. He'd traveled all over China with his brother after WW2.
We were visiting the Grand Canyon, and found ourselves on the same tour bus as a group of Germans. At the time, my mom was particularly heavy, which I guess one of the Germans took personal offense to, and loudly told her friends as much. Several laughed.
So my dad speaks German, and had a big issue with this, so he starts laughing with them and says in German, "that's hilarious! I like to tell jokes too. Want to hear one? It's about some very stupid Germans."
Needless to say, they did their best to avoid us after that.
He actually only recently told my mom what actually happened on that bus (at the time, he told her he accidentally offended them). She thought it was hilarious.