Speaking multiple languages can bring about many opportunities and come in very handy in life, especially when people don't realize you know their language.
Reddit user u/Trumpstered asked:
Here are some of Reddit's best 'Surprise I know your language,' stories:
Was on both ends as a deaf person myself.
on one side: This one time the cashiers at a store realized I was deaf, and so started talking to each other about me when they thought I wasn't looking... they also didn't know I had my hearing aids and could lipread. Their comments weren't anything too negative, it was mostly the typical comments about deaf people by people who were completely clueless about how deafness worked.
When I brought my stuff to the checkout I kindly reminded them that it's a pretty bad idea to talk about somebody thinking that they can't understand what you're talking about... because the chances are that they do in fact understand what you're talking about. The look on their faces were completely classic.
on the other side: One time my best friend and I were people watching at the mall, and we randomly started rating the men around us. In sign language, of course. There was this one dude sitting near us and we start rating his looks and his body. I said that he looked like he had a nice butt, and that his eyes were really beautiful, with the color of the deep ocean. so I rated him a 10/10.
Then he came over to us, and then told us in sign language: "Thanks for the compliments, ladies. you really made my day, haha." We were both so shocked and embarrassed. heh.
This happened to my brother and father while they were traveling. Some dude walks up to my brother, thinking he is a local, and starts talking to him in Farsi. When he realized my brother didn't understand, started saying really rude things, about him and my dad being stupid.
My dad (fluent in Farsi) comes over, and rips this *sshole a second one. The dude feigned being apologetic, and made excuses for his attitude. As he was walking away, he started muttering more foul things about them, but in Turkish this time. Dad speaks Turkish as well, and proceeds to rip him a third *sshole.
The people at the Chinese food place on my campus spoke Chinese to the door exchange students. But even tho I spoke Chinese I just always spoke English to them since I have an accent when I speak Chinese. But one day I got all meat no rice since I had a rice maker at home.
And when I was paying the lady says to the person beside her "fat one wants meat no rice". And I responded in Chinese, "actually I have rice at home". They didn't charge me for the order and started giving me a bit extra whenever I go there.
I was on a tour bus with my grandmother going to a luau in Hawaii, my grandmother spoke fluent Italian as both her parents were Italian immigrants. Two young women behind us were speaking to each other in Italian, probably assuming none of the other tourists could understand them. My grandmother told me (I don't speak but a few words in Italian) that they were insulting everyone on the bus.
She let it go on a while but just kept getting angrier and angrier as the ride went on. Finally she turned around and told them off, telling them they should be ashamed of themselves for being so rude. They looked so embarrassed and apologized to her profusely. Getting told off by a grandmother on a tour bus was not what they expected.
I'm fluent in Spanish and was in a bank line in Lima and these two early middle aged women were in front of me have a mostly quiet chat. One was telling the other about this new young guy at work she was banging and describing all the crazy sex they were having, going into detail about all sorts of stuff.
The other wanted to know what he looked like and she was kind of describing him badly, and she kinda did a sly look around the bank, waited a few seconds and said in Spanish: "he looks like this guy behind us, but with blonde hair, much better looking and a much better dresser." She did a good job of not gesturing towards me when she said it, but it didn't stop me from hearing it.
So she goes back to discussing details about hooking up with him at work and they don't notice the line has moved, and so without a warning throat clear I just say: "we all love the details back here but can you move forward?"
She went white as a ghost and they didn't really talk for the rest of the wait, it was hilarious.
Was in Germany, and a middle school teacher asked me to come in as a guest for one of her English classes. The teacher introduced me, I said hello and that I was from the U.S. and happy to be in their class.
The teacher said "So do you have any questions in English for an American? What do you think an American is like?"
One of the kids near the front says in German, kind of under his breath but definitely loud enough that most of the class can hear, "fat and stupid!"
The kids laugh, the teacher turns bright red. I don't know what to do, so I just say "Of course, many Americans can speak German" in German.
The kid almost pooped himself. He looked like a baby deer that had wandered onstage at a Beyonce concert.
I thought he was just being a jerk and had intended me to understand what he was saying. Apparently though he actually hadn't thought through that an American in Germany in their language class might actually speak their language.
I went to a psychiatric emergency ward once and asked for help and if they were comfortable to speak English.
I understand Danish but have a hard time making myself understandable in it and didn't really feel like an idiot at a crucial time of my life.
I stayed there for 4 days without anyone realizing I knew what they were saying about me right in front of me.
2 of the nurses thought I was cute.
1 doctor thought I was lying all the time.
A patient thought I was a spy for the staff.
A lot happened in those 4 days
It made my stay way more enjoyable then it should have been.
Cable Guy here. Being a white guy, most people don't realize that I know how to speak and write in Spanish. I run into so many situations where I can run under the radar and just do my job without someone knowing that I can understand them completely. Every once in a while I subtly let them know that I can understand them.
I was doing an instillation at a house where the family 'only spoke Spanish' and the order requested for a Spanish speaking tech. I showed up to the door, the husband opened the door, and automatically assumed that I couldn't speak Spanish. His English was near perfect and he greeted me, showed me around and where he wanted everything. He let me do my work as he walked into the other room where his buddy was an automatically started talking crap about me.
'I can't believe they sent a f***ing white guy who can't speak Spanish. I specifically told them to send someone who can speak Spanish so I didn't have to deal with this bullsh*t. He's going to be lazy as f**k and not do the job right. I bet the a-hole is going to expect a tip after doing a crappy job and I'll have to fix it myself' -the dude went on and on the entire time I was there, talking crap the entire time.
At the end of the appointment, I was pissed. I didn't show it, but he thought it was funny to talk crap in front of me, smile on his face while acting like he wasn't saying anything about me.. so I looked at him, told him in Spanish 'your instillation is done. If you have any questions you can call the company yourself and they'll be able to get someone who speaks Spanish to help you.'
He looked at me with a shocked expression, so I continued, 'next time you should ask if the person can speak Spanish before talking crap.' His buddy hit the floor laughing as I left the customer standing there feeling like a jack*ss.
42. Make Them Think You Don't UnderstandGiphy
When I was teaching kids in Japan, I would only respond with "English only" to their Japanese, I did this for a few reasons:
- To make them think I didn't speak Japanese.
- To make them use English more.
- So I could scare the crap out of them once I decided to speak Japanese.
Some kid in English school didn't do his homework, when I asked him for it, he told me in English that he "forgot" his book. He then turns to his classmate and says in Japanese that his book is in his bag and he didn't do his homework because he couldn't be bothered. I said nothing.
Come the end of the class, his mother is waiting in the reception, along with my Japanese manager, so I tell the manager in English that he didn't do his homework, I hear the conversation between kid and mom - with him giving the same "forgot" bullcrap.
So, I just say in perfect Japanese "Why are you saying you forgot the book? When I asked you in the class, you told the other student that it's in your bag and you didn't do the homework, because you couldn't be bothered. I'm sorry, didn't you know that I could understand Japanese?"
Mom opens the bag, finds the book, smacks the kid in the head with the book and tells him to sit in the reception doing his homework. Kid cries. All is good.
Nice Story: I am 100% white and look very European and was traveling in South Korea with my also very European looking Spanish friend but we both speak conversational level Korean. As we were walking around a park in Daegu (fairly large city south of Seoul), a bunch of seniors in the park were talking about how pretty we were.
We turned around and thanked them in Korean, and they were very taken aback and then asked us where we were from. After telling them they said: "If everyone is as pretty you two, I want to go there." Made our day as they were so sweet.
Funny story: I went to an Asian dollar store in Jeju, South Korea. All my friends checked out first, but they were all East Asian looking. The cashiers dealt with them as normal. When I get to the till, the guy noticeably pales and then turns to his coworker in panic.
"Dude, I don't speak English, What do I do?" Coworker: "Just deal with it." Guy: "I don't speak English, but I can speak Chinese" Coworker: "you speak Chinese?! I didn't know that" Guy: "hey (3rd person opposite the tills) do you speak English, help me!!" Guy 3: "dude just deal with it!" Me: ".....it's okay... I speak Korean" The look on his face was hilarious.
I also have a lot of stories of Koreans badmouthing me, but weirdly enough most of them are from here in Canada.
40. You Want To Say That Again?Giphy
I was in an elevator going back up to my apartment after working out some two years ago and I had a man bun at that time. There were 6 other guys in the elevator speaking Arabic so I just listened as I usually do. Then, one of the guys goes, "Haha. Look at this guys hair. It's ridiculous."
I turn around and respond, "You want to say that again?"
The five other dudes proceed to die of laughter with one of them screaming, "I knew you were Arab! I knew you were Arab!"
I ended up laughing along side them to their one friend who felt super awkward.
39. What Big Fat Guy?
My family and I went to Sri Lanka for two weeks to see where my mom grew up and general beach stuff. For some reason we were like the only people in the hotel we were staying at aside from a wedding party that left a day after we got there.
A few days in there was another family staying there, I believe from Suriname and we were all chilling at the pool and decided to play a game of water polo against each other. Things got exciting and one of the daughters yelled out something in Dutch like "go for the big fat guy!", my Dutch dad replied "what big fat guy?", And everybody laughed.
Just a simple story but it was pretty sweet.
Most of these stories are a bit negative, here's a lighter one.
My mum's a linguist and speaks about 15 languages fluently and as such, I picked up a couple along the way. Most of my childhood was spent in Germany so I have a firm grasp of the language...which doesn't really seem to match my appearance. I'm a 6'3, 220lbs, black man, who speaks German.
Now this isn't too uncommon a sight in Germany, but in North America, I'm a frigging unicorn.
So I was standing at the bus stop one day in the heart of downtown Toronto and there were these two 60-something year old German ladies who were not having a good time. They were trying to find the Art Gallery and were fed up with the fact that they were having such a horribly time navigating because their english-speaking children had left them alone for the day.
I didn't have anything particularly important planned for that day, so I turned to them and said something to the effect of "You know, our city has a lot to offer if you know where to look. Would you two like me to show you where the Gallery is, and a couple places you can get lunch along the way"
They nearly fainted. They were sooooo happy that they found someone who spoke German and couldn't stop taking pictures with me to show their family 'the guy that saved their day'. I walked them to the Gallery and gave them a bit of an impromptu walking/bus tour along the way. That was the day I gained two Omas.
EDIT: Thank you so much for the gold kind stranger! And remember, help those you can! :)
I once interviewed for a part-time school holiday job, together with a good friend of mine. My friend is Chinese, the majority race of the country I live in. I, however, am quite clearly not.
The first thing the HR manager says when he sees me is "We need someone who speaks Mandarin", a criterion not stated anywhere in the employment ad, and which subtly translates to "Chinese candidates preferred".
My friend, while ethnically Chinese, speaks little to no Mandarin. I, on the other hand, speak it rather fluently.
Probably as a test, the HR manager decides to field us questions in Mandarin, clearly intent on cutting me out of the interview.
My friend turns pale, as he stumbles along to answer the question posed in whatever halting Mandarin he can scrape together.
The manager then turns to me, rather arrogantly, waiting for my reply.
It gave me great joy to tell him straight to his face "Thank you for the opportunity, but clearly I am not the right candidate you are looking for to fill this position since I am not Chinese" in crisp fluent Mandarin.
The look of bewilderment of his face was priceless.
My family and I were flying to Greece from Houston to visit family, and two groups are also on this 10hr flight: student ambassador middle/high schoolers, mostly girls, from the US, and a youth male Greek soccer team. And of course, they were all sitting by us with their chaperones at the other end of the plane.
The boys are hitting on and flirting with these girls about 2-4 yrs younger than them, all over each other. They moved seats so they can sit with the girls, and they were so loud and obnoxious the whole plane was pissed off (except the crew who did f**k all about it apparently).
The boys were also talking amongst themselves in Greek. My mother speaks fluently from years of Greek school and many a summer raised in the Peloponnese hillside.
At some point, while all 3 of us are just sitting there reading, sleeping, trying to watch the tiny tv at the front of the plane and listen over this kids constantly talking, my mother jumps up and goes over to the group and says:
"These boys are calling you fat and stupid. They also think American girls are so easy. By the way he (she points at the one guy who was the most all over this one girl) is 18. They have girlfriends waiting for them in the terminal. Now shut up so I can sleep"
They all shuffled back to their appropriate seats, silent. Best flight ever after that.
I love my mom.
Edit: Thanks everyone for the kind comments! My mom is so happy, but still really pissed off about the flight attendants who did nothing. She's ready to adopt all of you (she adopts everybody, don't get too excited)!
Back in 2010, I was at the Hmong New Year in St. Paul/Minneapolis with my family where this happened. This event is pretty big and there used to be literally thousands of Hmong people there, it's an event where we basically celebrate our heritage. I am Hmong (Southeast Asian), but I look like I'm Hispanic just to give you some background.
Anyways, I had to go to the bathroom because y'know, I'm only human and all. When I went to go wash my hands, these two older guys (probably about 35-40) come in and as soon as they see me, they say something (in Hmong) along the lines of, "These damn Mexicans thinking they can come to our New Year. Maybe we should call the cops to take him back home to Mexico, hahahahahaha."
Well, in comes my cousin by sheer luck so I ask him in Hmong, "Hey, where did you guys go? Last time I saw you guys was at the ball tossing area (it's this weird courting activity that involves throwing a tennis ball/softball while flirting)." We end our very short conversation and then as I was exiting the bathroom, I made absolutely sure that I gave the most judgmental look ever to those two men. It worked like a charm and you could tell by their facial expressions that they knew they messed up.
My family is Cuban, but we look white AF. In 2007, I was on a cruise with my parents, and we were sitting next to a Venezuelan couple on the open-air deck ordering food. The woman was looking at my parents, and loudly said in Spanish
"He's so OLD! Why would a young woman like her marry him? Do you think the child is theirs?"
Her husband replies "No, probably he is the father's. He's too old to be the woman's. Too ugly too."
My mother got very upset and just said "Excuse me" in Spanish. The woman's face turned white and she started apologizing profusely. While my mother was telling them off, my dad was laughing his butt off.
For the record, my parents are ~3 years apart. My dad is only three years older, he just looks ancient. At the time, my mother was 47 and my father was 50.
I'm Brazilian and was flying to Rio from Atlanta. There were these two very attractive girls with their mother speaking English very fluently and one of them had their seat right next to mine. We exchanged some courtesy in English as I just assumed they were American and so did they. They were Brazilian-Americans and so did not have an accent and I started speaking English from a young age so as long as I don't talk too much I can go unnoticed.
So they start putting their carry on luggage in the bin overhead and the mother says to her daughters, in Portuguese:
"Coitado, tá achando que vou deixar uma de vocês sentar do lado dele."
"Poor thing, he thinks I'll let one of you sit next to him."
So I just turn to her and say, in Portuguese:
"Don't worry, ma'am, I'm just being polite. I do have a girlfriend and it'll be a pleasure to share this flight with you."
She just went: "oh"
And then she sat there in silence for the whole flight.
Some guys on the subway started talking about their 백마타는꿈 (Dream of Riding the White Horse aka fantasy about doing a white girl) right next to me (mixed Korean/American but totally white looking). I waited until I was about to exit, then tapped their shoulder and suggested a few clubs for them to go to and try out next time. Told them they better be good at English though because everyone knows, white girls can't speak Korean. I might have heard an old man laugh behind me as I exited the train.
My cousin is a big white guy who studied for 2 years in Japan during college. He worked for one of the head of Honda America for a few years. When the head guy learned that he spoke Japanese, he would make sure my cousin was in all the meetings and phone conferences with the Japanese branch.
My cousin would listen to everything the Japanese would be saying to each other and report it to his boss during breaks. As such the boss looked like a psychic to the Japanese because after break he would address their concerns without being prompted. The boss made mad bonuses every quarter and always funneled a bunch of that to my cousin.
Here's one where everyone felt good at the end.
When I was living in China, I used to run in this giant park. One morning on one of my runs, I see these three young men hanging out by the path. Not too many foreigners in the area, not too many joggers either, so they immediately notice and start talking about me.
One guy says, "Is she Russian?" There was a small but significant Russian population in the city, so, not a bad guess.
Another guy: "Talk to her!"
First guy: "Nah, she wouldn't understand."
By this time I'm right next to these guys, and I yelled over my shoulder "Yes, I do!" as I ran past.
They absolutely lost their minds. I could still hear them laughing after I went around the bend.
I recently went to Japan for my first ever international trip and was totally prepared to have to struggle through all my day-to-day interactions in Japanese but was surprised at how widespread even a basic understanding of English is over there. Everyone assumes you won't speak any Japanese at all so they stick to as much English as they're comfortable with or you basically just play charades.
At a restaurant in Kobe, the waitress was practically fluent in English so we chatted a while and it came up that I'm studying Japanese so we had a little small talk and she was impressed. Then the owner came over to talk but wasn't as confident in his English so he had the waitress translate.
He was asking all these questions about where we'd been so far, where we were staying, how we liked everything, if we'd been down to Kobe Port yet, etc. It was simple enough that I understood 100% without her translation, and the waitress could tell. Finally, she says to him, in Japanese "By the way, he understands what you're saying." His eyes practically bugged out of his head and he got SUPER excited and asked if we wouldn't mind waiting 30 minutes for him to close up and send everyone home.
So, I wait, he closes everything up and we all end up hanging out that night. He drove us around the city, bought us drinks, even drove back to the AirBNB. Japan is amazing.
I forget my handle on here is still Zhongguo, I am actually a 6'2 bald white dude - so very noticeably foreign in Japan. I've always loved Asian cultures and in high school people called me Zhongguo because I was the only one in my history class who kept acing the Chinese exams.
For anyone thinking about going to Japan, even if you don't speak any Japanese, DO IT. It's the most beautiful country filled with the nicest people.
The restaurant's name was Hanasato in Kobe. It's a short walk from one of the JR stations. The food was amazing as well.
I'm from the US and when I was 11 my family went to France for a couple weeks. My dad was a very smart man. He graduated college when he was 18 and had a love for languages. He was fluent in French, Spanish, and German and he lived in France for a year or two. He came back to the US and taught French for a few years before getting his JD and PharmD, He was constantly trying to teach us French whenever he could when we were little.
He kept in touch with his French professor from college and when we were in France we stayed with them in St. Hilaire de Riez. They had a small party with some of their friends and everyone sat around talking and drinking wine. As much as he tried to teach us French, we could only do as much as ordering food and reading restaurant menus and such, so everyone was talking in English except for one man's wife that was there and didn't speak English. The hosts were translating most things for her.
At one point, the man says something in French like "Americans don't value things like learning foreign languages." Not knowing my dad spoke French. My dad looks at him and in French replies something along the lines of "You're right, lots of Americans aren't introduced to foreign languages until they are older and already out of the prime time of their life to start learning."
And that this was why he started teaching his kids French as early as possible and even why he brought his kids to France, hoping that we'd gain an appreciation for another language and culture. I didn't know what the guy had said or what my dad had said until after we left, but I remember the look on the guys face and how he was clearly apologizing repeatedly. The host laughed too and explained my dads history with French and his education. To say the man was embarrassed would be an understatement.
Friday will be 13 years since my dad passed away at 55 years old. He was such an awesome person and loved by everyone he met. He would never take offense to something even like that guy. He was from a tiny southern town in the middle of nowhere and grew up with nothing and worked his butt off to get where he was in life. Cancer is a bitch. :(
When I started working at McDonald's at 16, none of the other employees realized I could speak a fair amount of Spanish. A few of my coworkers would talk crap about me in Spanish and I pretended for a few weeks that I didn't know what they were saying.
Then one day a manager told me she was worth me than me because she was bilingual. So I told her (in Spanish) that I was actually trilingual. The looks on their faces when they realized I spoke Spanish all along was priceless.
I lived in South Korea for three years, but I never learned too much of the language. A friend of mine is 100% Korean but is very tall and was educated in America and New Zealand so she has an American accent. Her co-teachers at her school all assumed she couldn't speak Korean so they would talk crap about her constantly while she would listen on and feel terrible. She said nothing for a whole year until she had to speak at the end of year ceremony.
The school offered her someone to translate but she refused and in front of 800 or so students and faculty members she delivered her address in perfect Korean. She subtly called out the coworkers that had spent an entire year calling her a foreign pig. Apparently one started crying from the shame of it. I wish I had got to see that.
Oh I LOVE this one: So I was working at a dental clinic in Germany, and these 2 guys walk in and start speaking in Arabic, not knowing that both I and my supervisor can understand it. The first guy (actual patient) is nervously telling his friend and this would never work, and his friend is telling him to shut up and play along, so the supervisor and I try to figure out what kinda game they're trying to play.
Apparently, they were trying to lie about the patient's age to get his dental treatment done for free; (I don't know how that worked, I was just an intern) unlucky for him, his teeth told the truth (you cant fake being 16 when your wisdom teeth are ALL THE WAY out)
So me and my supervisor shut up about it, and I'm in actual pain trying to hold back from laughing as the friend is convincing the patient that we're idiots who don't speak Arabic and cant understand their trick. Of course until i cant anymore and decide to discuss the case with my supervisor. Right there in front of them. In Arabic.
I have never seen someone turn so many different colors so fast.
EDIT apparently all you people are weird and got wisdom teeth at weird ages; asked my professors and they said at around 12 is the lowest they've seen, and even that is because of precocious puberty (from what they've seen). This is super interesting though so if you have any x-rays pm me what age you were when you took them and you can be my special case project of the year :)
Said something like "You need to be careful when talking crap about someone in your native language, there might always be someone who understands you" in German while I was in Italy. A woman who was walking by responded "Like me for example".
My grandmother, who grew up in a Yiddish speaking household, but does not look particularly Jewish, lives in an area near a large Hasidic community. She has many stories of people saying all sorts of things in Yiddish assuming that she can't understand but I have one particular favorite.
She was in the supermarket and a little Hasidic boy of about 3 or 4 is wandering around, clearly lost. He sort of nuzzles up against her skirt and says "Mama mama," in Yiddish. She replies in Yiddish that she's not his mom but he can come with her and they'll find her together. The little kid looks up at her with a look of horror and runs away screaming "Mama Mama! The shikse speaks Yiddish!"
I used to work at gun store. Two guys come in, speaking Spanish to one another, with one guy translating for the other. I'm a 6'5" goofy looking Irish dude, so they had no way of knowing I lived in Mexico for two years as a teen.
So the whole time I hear the guy describing the gun he wants, how much her likes it, etc to the translator. Translator tells me everything like he is the one who wants to buy the gun.
He says he brought the other guy because he "knows guns" Finally I hear the Spanish only guy say that this is the one he wants, translator then tells me he has decided which gun he wants.
I let them know, in Spanish, that I wouldn't be selling them any guns. What they were trying is called a Straw purchase and is very illegal.
I sometimes volunteer in a local charity shop and although I don't speak much Welsh, I understand a lot. So I know if people are dissing the special needs volunteers in Welsh, or assume that I have special needs. If they buy something, I respond in Welsh. That usually shuts them up. And because I have Swedish family and know the odd phrase, any Swedish tourists we get coming in are quite impressed that I can identify them as such and say thank you in their language.
I have a reverse story. Deep in the night I leave work, small road on a small city in rural China so no public lightning . I go by the side of the road until a taxi comes by. Finally find one, we spend the next 15min speaking about all and nothing (weather, road repairs and so on). We arrive at my residence, the driver open the front light to help count the cash
Blood curdling scream.
The driver start « you're not Chinese !» Me: Not last time I checked.
Nota: i am not the scary type, 75kg white nerd wearing pants and dress shirt.
Went to a tradeshow in Prague and I went out for dinner and drinks with a client and my boss. As we were waiting for a cab, I stepped away for a moment to snap a picture.
When I walked back, my boss and client were talking to about half a dozen tipsy blonde girls, danish blonde girl I realised as I get close enough to hear them speak. As it turns out, I speak Danish (ex wife's Danish).
I listened for a bit to what they were saying. Typical drunk people stuff: let's go out with them, this one's cute, not me I'm tired etc.
I finally opened up and started chatting in (crude-ish) Danish with them. Minds were blown. The Danes were surprised that some random dude actually spoke their language but also my boss and client, who had no idea. The look on their faces were priceless.
Flemish guy here. Working as safari guide in Kruger area, South Africa.
One time, my boss asks me to go pick a family of 4 up at the Klaserie reserve gate, do an afternoon game drive with them, and drop them off again afterwards. This was very uncommon; normally we only do game drives with people that book a room in our own lodge on the reserve.
So I pick them up, introduce myself and go over the rules, all in English. They reply in English, or at least: the dad does, and normally I can pick up straight away if it's someone from France, Belgium, Holland or Germany. But his English was Oxford English. So I thought; English people. Off we went!
10 minutes into the game drive I hear them speak in Flemish, and not only that, IN MY OWN DIALECT. Side note; every Flemish town has a dialect, we can hear what region/province other Flemish people are from, and if from the same region, we can often even pinpoint the exact little town or community they are from.
Oooh I was going to have fun with these folks! Found a few nice animal sightings, spoke English all the time, but then one sentence to the next, switched to their exact dialect. I thought; now they're going to be surprised! But nope... we all kept chatting in Flemish now. Only 20 minutes later, the daughter, maybe 10 years old, goes "wait a minute; he speaks Flemish!"
After all had a good laugh, I asked them where they were from. They literally lived one street away from me. It's a small world, folks!
I'm American, but can read and speak Russian on an intermediate level. A few years ago while visiting St. Petersburg, I was buying tickets for the hydrofoil to Peterhof. All the signs at the ticket booth were in Russian, and I could read the ticket prices. The ticket agent assumed I didn't know Russian, and tried to tell me the ticket cost three times more than the stated price. I looked her right in the eye and said in Russian, "I see on the board here that the ticket I want is (x) rubles." Her jaw dropped, and the ticket agent sitting next to her started laughing her butt off.
So I don't speak Spanish fluently, but I understand it just fine. I used to sell cars in Houston and as you can imagine, we had a lot of bilingual Spanish speakers come to buy cars from us. They never asked if my super clean cut white guy self spoke Spanish, so I never told them I did.
It was fun to have a couple that would speak English to me and Spanish to each other. They would literally tell each other everything like how much they wanted to pay and their negotiating tactics... They would say things like, "if he offers to take $500 off lets do it, but I'm going to ask for $1000".
So once they said yes, inevitability one would ask the other a product question in Spanish and I'd jump in and answer in English. The looks on their faces when they have that "a-ha" moment were priceless.
Side note: I used my powers for good too... Like me (only the other way around), many Spanish speakers understand English just fine but don't speak it well. I've done entire car deals where I spoke English and they spoke Spanish with no issues and they became happy customers.
Im swiss and peruvian and live in peru, so i don't look at all like a swiss guy.
There were two swiss girls sitting behind me on a bus talking about latino guys. Then one of them asked the other if she found me attractive. I turned around and said that I would love to know that too. The look of confusion and shame was priceless. Then we just all laughed. Now I've got two new friends!
They were speaking swiss german (schwiizerdütsch). They both later confessed that they found me attractive.
I was riding the metro in Montreal and my car was pretty quiet except for a family presumably on vacation from the States. They were having a very loud conversation (in English) about how they were a bit lost. The wife was demanding that the husband ask someone on the train for help but he was refusing because he only knew a couple French words and no one would understand him.
Little did they know that probably a third of Montrealers are Anglophone or Allophone and that most of the Francophones on the metro that day would have at least understood a simple request for directions.
Finally the husband walks over to someone on the car to asks for help. Before he can get two words out, the person, who would have heard their entire previous conversation, responded in perfect English: "The next stop is the one you want ... " The whole car snickered a little bit as the realization washed over the family that maybe people in Montreal speak a bit more English than they realized.
My dads best friend came over and started speaking to my dad in Hebrew about some great weed he just got and that he brought my dad some edibles. He assumed i would not understand because he has never seen me speak Hebrew or respond to anyone who spoke it to me. While he is saying all this my dad is looking at me pretty nervously. I just started laughing because who cares.
My dad is old and i know he smokes. After i started laughing my dads friend shut up and was pretty Akward. It was pretty funny for me. I never speak Hebrew even if someone speaks it to me because most people understand english but i understand it perfectly. Really handy to be a fly on the wall when we travel to Israel. 10/10 would not speak again.
I'm asian, but grew up in Australia so i've known english since the beginning of my life. sometimes, I'll be walking and people will either say something to me in the slow tone of voice, or talk about me and not realize that I know english. Once I start talking they will have a double take and revert to their normal speaking tone, or they will shut up about me and walk away all embarrassed that I understood everything they said. the common thing is they will be surprised at my Aussie accent
Not me, but my step mother. She grew up in Japan and speaks fluent Japanese. She looks Italian and white. She has an olive skin tone, and since she is only a quarter Japanese, she doesn't look like she is from any east asain speaking country.
One day her and some friends went to get their nails (both hands and feet) done at a salon for some "girl time". The lady's who were doing the work were speaking fluent Japanese and were mostly gossiping about men and other things until they got to the feet part of said procedure.
My step mother's friend is a little over weight, and she doesn't have runway model style of feet. Well, the ladies who work at the salon are just starting to make fun of her in Japanese. Laughing and giggling; enjoying themselves in someone's else's misfortune and looks.
My step mother said she let this go on for too long. It was about 5 minutes of them talking crap before my step mother replied In Japanese. Her comment to them:
"I didn't realize that we needed to look like princesses to get service here". (Something along those lines).
The ladies stopped, and looked at my step mother with extreme guilt. They apologized in english and were silent the remainder of the time my step mother and her friends were there.
I teach English (to adults) as a summer job and this happens quite a lot to me. Most of my colleagues are monolingual and as a pale ginger guy nobody expects me to speak Spanish.
Most of the time it's pretty boring stuff, but occasionally there's some juicy gossip - a worrying number of them seem completely fine with cheating on their partners back home. Sometimes I'll hear a story or joke from one of the students and then use it in an example or an exercise later in the week, which always confuses them.
I tend to be roughly the same age as most of my students (I'm 22) and despite being an average looking man, a lot of them seem to find me attractive. Guess it's the whole teacher thing or maybe gingers are exotic to them, don't really know. Anyway, on my last day of work at one school, this Spanish girl (she was 21) was talking about me to her friend on the phone while I was setting up the lesson. She was going into quite some detail about what she wanted to do with me, assuming that I would't understand. I carried on with what I was doing without reacting, waited for her to hang up and said, in Spanish, "come and find me after class and we can arrange something".
Me and my friend were sharing a cab with two girls we didn't know. Just decided to share a taxi with them, because it was a long way and we wanted to save some money. They started speaking Swedish not knowing my friend is also Finnish Swede (her mother language is Swedish, she has been in Swedish school, but is Finn and speaks Finnish fluently). I understand Swedish but I was too drunk to care. Suddenly she texts me:
"They are planning to leave us with the bill."
I texted that we should tell the driver so my friend just said:
"These girls will pay half of this, before they leave."
He got the hint and didn't open the doors before they paid.
Also another time I was in an airport with my aunt. She had broken her leg so she was in a wheel chair, but because we were going to a beach holiday, we decided not to cancel it. Now my aunt has lived in Germany and speaks it fluently, I've lived there too so I understand it well, but I'm not fluent. We speak Finnish, something just to pass the time when flight attendant asks us to go on the plain first. This middle aged man turns to her wife and says in German:
"I don't think disabled people should be allowed on planes."
My aunt, who is a true bad*ss, asks me to stop, I was pushing her wheelchair, turns to the man and says in perfect German:
"I'm sorry sir, but I broke my leg and didn't want to cancel my holiday plans. You are being incredibly offensive towards handicapped people and I feel sorry for your wife. Have a nice flight."
He turned red, couldn't even say anything to us and just looked away. His wife looked mortified.
I have more stories if someone is interested.
I was at a Puerto Rican restaurant with 3 of my friends getting food. I was explaining to my friends how it all worked, because they're all American and have never been exposed to this kind of food before.
As I'm explaining, it seems the two ladies behind us in line are laughing at us, saying oh look at the "gringas" which is a Hispanic term for white girl basically, and just making fun of the fact that no Spanish is being spoken in this Hispanic restaurant.
As soon as I reach the counter to order, I bust out in my Spanish, it is my native language after all, and I purposefully look back at them and smile. The shock was everything I wanted it to be and more.
I was at a hotel bar in NY and a Russian couple were sitting a few chars down from me talking about what they should do for the evening. So I suggested that they go to Rockefeller center to see the tree (it was a couple days before Christmas) and try and find some carolers/christmas music performances to listen to.
They were shocked an American could speak Russian and they were super pleasant people. They bought me a drink and talked about their impressions of NY for 20 minutes or so before they went out for the night. I was able to give them some advice and they gave me an ego boost by complementing my Russian.
Being Canadian I speak English and French. Years ago I was posted to Germany with the Canadian military. My friend came to visit me and we booked a trip through a German travel agency to France. So we got onto a bus full of Germans and off we went. When we arrived at the hotel in France we were all lined up to check in. My friend and I were near the end of the line.
As the line slowly progressed the two French hotel staff members who were checking us in and speaking German to the tourists started speaking in a lower voice to one another - and they were bad mouthing all of us tourists in French. I could hear speaking and understood every word.
They were saying things about how Germans only drink beer and eat sausages and do not appreciate fine French food and wine or culture. How Germans are loud and other non-complementary things. My friend and I were smiling at each other listening to all of this.
When we got to the front of the line they asked, in German, for our passports. We handed them our Canadian passports and I asked them, in French, if they could recommend a good French restaurant that had a nice wine list. Oh, and could they also recommend a museum nearby. They looked at us, the girl turned red, and then mumbled something about a restaurant around the corner and a museum a few streets over. I thanked them in French, took our key and left them standing there looking flustered.
I once called someone an idiot in Klingon, I didn't think they would speak Klingon since it's a fictional language. Awkward.
Very regularly, while working at GameStop, we would get the non-English speaking Hispanic parents dragged to the store by their kids wanting a new game. I would give the usual spiel in English about the "M" rated game they were buying and read their faces. (I did it in English because I didn't want to assume they didn't speak English) They would then look to the child and asked what I said; wherein the child would lie. The look on their faces after I explain everything in Spanish was just great. Always made my day.
Two guys come into my workplace and ask my coworker to arrange something for them. They sit down near me and wait while she's doing the paperwork for them and they start discussing in Polish about how to scam us to get out of paying for the service they asked for. I understood everything and sent IM's to my coworker to let her know what was going on. We stayed one step ahead of them the whole time and they never found out why their plans failed.
This didn't happen to me but it happened to my multilingual cousin and is a favourite story amongst the family. Said cousin, who speaks a multitude of languages (6+ but not sure which), was visiting family in australia and they all decided to venture out for a meal.
After being seated at their table and getting their starters out of the way my cousin picked up on the table next to them making some very rude comments towards my families table in German. Considering that the cousin had worked for many years as a translator between firms for German and English business operations she politely turned towards the rude individuals and requested that they stop. Ashamed and abashed they apologized profusely and even sent over a bottle of expensive wine to the table as an apology.
Following the arrival of the bottle of wine there was a brief respite where my family were able to carry on with their meal, however the party of rude individuals could not contain themselves and were very much determined to continue to make comments but this time in Spanish. Even going so far as to make comments about how British people rarely speak more than two languages. Unfortunately for them this was another language in which my cousin is fluent and the scenario played out very much in the same way for them.
You would think at this point that perhaps they had learned their lesson and would stop trying to make snarky comments about my family gathering. Especially considering the apologetic bottle of wine and verbal apology. However the routine had to play itself out for the third time, in yet another language, before they would decide to pay for their meal and go elsewhere to complain about my family in peace.
My uncle has a good one. My family are originally from India/Pakistan and speak Urdu, but my mom's family moved to rural Arkansas in the late 70s. It was a really small town, like never seen brown people small, but they ended up living there for over 20 years.
Anyway, when my uncle was in high school, they had a math teacher from Japan. One day the teacher was berating my uncle for something (in English of course) and my uncle got mad and cursed him out in Urdu. The teacher replied very calmly, in Urdu: "don't ever use that sort of language in my class again, understand?" Pretty sure my uncle's jaw hit the floor. He didn't expect a Japanese guy living in a small town in Arkansas to speak Urdu.