When I was in college, my best friend and I lived in a triple with a girl we didn’t know. We tried to be nice and welcoming, asking her to join us whenever we went anywhere, trying to find out what we had in common, and asking her about her day.
She smiled and while she rarely accompanied us anywhere, she talked to us normally and we figured we were becoming friends. We were wrong.
A couple weeks into our freshman year, we found out our third roommate was complaining about us to her family in Spanish, thinking neither of us would understand. This time, she was wrong.
This is not a rare occurrence. There are lots of instances in which bilingual people overhear people saying crazy or mean things about them in a language they think the others around them can’t understand.
Curious to hear the stories, Redditor KayJayJetLee03 asked:
“People who speak a second language - what have you overheard people saying about you when they thought you couldn't understand them?”
Flattery Will You Everywhere
"I was working as a server and a man came in who I used to work with. We chatted briefly. He was Hispanic and with his family. My Spanish is spotty at best, but his mom said something along the lines of “She could be your girlfriend” and I replied with the fact that I was married. She froze for a second and then whooped this kind of contagious laughter cackle. Poor guy was embarrassed but I was flattered!"
"My spanish is passable. I heard a little old lady saying how cute I was to her younger female companion. I assume it was her daughter. She was trying to get her to talk to me. I looked right at her and held up my hamd with my wedding ring. The daughter got beat red and granny started laughing."
"Grandma is all "He is cute and he understands spanish of course he is taken.""
"I was flattered. I love that there are people in the US that think spanish can be a secret language. There are a lot of us that have had to learn."
When You Assume
"So it was actually one of my first languages. Anyway, I was working at a pizza joint. A group of 3 Indian guys came in. They were having a conversation. Nothing about me but they were using a lot of explicit words in Hindi. [The following conversation is all in Hindi] As they were talking one of them said "Dude. Calm down. He might understand you." And the guy said "Him? Nah. He looks like he was born here (Ohio)." And then turned to me and said "You don't understand me right?" And I responded "I'm from Mumbai, dude."
"The other two freaked the fu*k out like I just made a shot from half court."
"One of the physicians I work with is lily white but speaks perfect Spanish. My favorite story is he had a pediatric patient to round on and the family all spoke Spanish only. So he calls for an interpreter as our hospital policy dictates and while waiting he greets them, he’s smiling and playing with the baby, little Spanish words here and there. The family starts talking about his hair, his clothing, how he’s probably an inept doctor, etc. He very pleasantly explains that he’s waiting for the interpreter to arrive due to our policy but is more than happy to converse in Spanish - all in perfect Spanish. The faces!"
As If Waiting In Line Doesn't Suck Enough
"We lived in Spain. I was in line to pay my electric bill when a woman began complaining about me being in line. She thought I should be at the end of the line or something. I don't remember exactly what she said but she was not a fan of me or Americans in general. At one point she was pointing at me and she jabbed me with her finger. I gave her a look but didn't say anything."
"When it was my turn in line, I paid my bill, got my receipt, turned to the women in line behind me and said, "I hope you all have a blessed day, except for this rude one." And I pointed at Senora Jabby Finger."
"Ohmygosh, her eyes got so big. She was shocked and embarrassed and I kind of feel bad about shaming her but you really shouldn't assume people don't know what you are saying when you are talking about them right in front of them no matter what language you are speaking."
"I understand Spanish better than I speak it. For reference I'm dark haired and tan, I get asked if I'm Hispanic or Latina all the time and politely tell them no I'm not."
"Over my 22 years in the service industry, I've worked with a lot of people from Spanish speaking countries, Ecuador, el Salvador, Mexico etc. My last place of employment I walked through the kitchen for the first time and all of the cooks started at me for a sec and then began talking amongst themselves. A lot of it was what they did over the weekend or who wants to grab a beer after work, nothing really nefarious."
"For weeks I listened to their conversations. When certain servers would come to the window they would b*tch about the girls they didn't like. My name was brought up one day about how one of the cooks had a crush on me and they kept picking on him for it. I pretended I didn't understand them until one busy night the cooks were all angry."
"I was angry, the bartender was angry, everyone was fuming over one thing or another. I walked over to the food window (expo window) and politely asked for a ranch dressing missing from my order. All of the cooks looked at me like I had 3 heads. I asked again but a bit more direct. After they started talking sh*t I finally yelled at them, in Spanish, that I needed a f**king ranch and I'm not waiting anymore."
"Everyone went silent, apologized and they all had an epiphany. I heard EVERYTHING they had said for the past 3 weeks about me and the other people who worked there. They all ended up showing super mad respect to me afterward and I grew a good rapport with all of them, so much so, I never had to beg or yell for ranch again"
Being Bilingual Saved My Life
"I live in the UK. I was walking through London alone late one night in 2019, when I noticed two men appear out of nowhere and walk by in total silence, while both giving me a side eye. I watched their reflections in a shop window as they double-backed and started walking behind me. Nothing too nefarious, until they started speaking in German between themselves. Their conversation started with comments about me being short - generally taking the piss at first. Then they started plotting how they would pull me into the upcoming alley about 50ft further up the road. I thought I was about to be in big trouble when I looked ahead and noticed someone else waiting at the alley."
"I don’t know what came over me but I saw a light flick on in one of the houses nearby and I figured at least one person on this sleepy street was awake. So I spun around and started shouting in German and English that I understood everything they said, that I’d been on the phone to the police the whole time and that they were a minute away. Saw a fair few more lights on the street flick on - I genuinely felt bad for waking so many people. The two guys legged it. The alley way guy did too."
"I did actually report it to the police. Grateful that I did A-level German for two years."
Not A Secret Language
"I was on public transportation in Switzerland and was asked for my passport by who I think were local police. I don't normally carry my passport and told them (in English) I didn't have it on me. They got pretty pushy and then started saying to each other (in German) how stupid I was. I just looked at them and said (in German) "I speak German. If you want to see my passport you'll have to ride the tram with me to where I have it.""
"Shut them up quick"
Their Faces Was The Best Piece Of Art
"My dad was born and raised in Paris, France til about the age of 10, and then his family moved back to the states. Because of this, my dad was fluent in French and retained the native accent."
"Fast forward several years, my family is on vacation in Paris. One of our days was spent at the Louvre, which was going well until my disabled mother needed accommodations, which we had asked about weeks beforehand and were assured that they would be provided. On the day of our visit the accommodations weren’t given to my mom, and my dad was livid."
"We were sitting in one of the customer service offices while my dad and one of the staff members argued in English. The mistake they made was assuming my dad didn’t know French - which is something I absolutely can’t blame them for thinking. My dad was one of the most American-looking tourists of all time - imagine every American stereotype rolled into one: super loud voice, a predisposition to smiling at strangers, very overweight, and dressed in New England sports T-shirts that were likely stained."
"Well, one of the staff members then looked at the other one incredulously and said something snarky in French, assuming that none of us would be able go understand what he was saying. Apparently he’d said something along the lines of “Let’s tell them there’s nothing we can do to help, maybe that will get them to leave.” My dad responds, in his perfect Parisian accent, “You can do something, you’re just choosing not to.” Those staff members’ heads swung around so fast I thought they’d broken their necks."
"We ended up leaving on our own accord after that; the looks on their faces as they realized what had happened was absolutely priceless."
"The Orsay had better art to see anyway!"
Just So Rude!
"I am not deaf but know American sign language fluently."
"I was at work and a woman came up with her husband. She signed to her husband "ask her where the hair dye is". I said that I was sorry but I was new so I wasn't sure but I could get my manager."
"She's signed back to him "of course this dumb bi*ch doesn't know, I'm not surprised.""
"I signed to her "this dumb bi*ch has only been working here for two days. Have some respect for people.""
"She went beet red and immediately left."
Now He's Saying...
"MY wife is from Taiwan, I am from the Netherlands. We were one time in a Chinese Restaurant in Paris. There was a Dutch couple in there not too happy about the food, service etc. and discussing in Dutch. At the same time the Chinese owners were talking about the Dutch couple in Chinse. My wife and I were translating to each other what was said in Chinese and Dutch, and we had a blast since we could follow both sides."
"I'm Puerto Rican but I've been told I look more Italian. Anyway, when I was 15, I stepped into an elevator in Miami and these two girls start talking about me saying I'm cute in Spanish."
"Unfortunately for them, they didn't realize that Spanish was actually my first language so I understood everything they were saying even though they were speaking rapid fire."
"I was really shy at that age so I really didn't say much until the door opened on my floor. Then I thanked them for the compliments in Spanish and walked away slowly. I could hear them giggling all the way down the hall."
"I had a friend who was at a bar in my small town USA. This group of six white guys were speaking Russian next to her while she was with one other girlfriend. They paid no attention."
"Luckily the bartender spoke Russian and heard them all plotting to kidnap my friend and that there was a white van waiting outside for them. The bartender didn’t let my friend leave and had the bouncer kick them out. Called the cops shortly after. There was a Russian human trafficking ring in my area at that time."
"I used to be a tour guide and families would hire me to show them the sites, sometimes for a set amount of time and other times it was more open-ended. This family had hired me for an open-ended day. The mother and kids would speak to me in English, but each other in French. I also speak French but the family wasn’t aware. The mom kept telling the kids to pretend that they were going to keep me hired into the evening, but that they were really only going to stay until right after lunch. She told them this many times like it was some weird secret. I have no idea to this day what she thought she would get by tricking me."
I don’t think I’ll ever stop laughing at that story!
Do you have similar experiences to share? Let us know in the comments below.