Both Sides Now
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.
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.
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 ass 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.
Don't Insult My Style
I'm fluent in Spanish and was in a bank line in Lima _a_nd 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 sh*t himself. He looked like a baby deer that had wandered onstage at a Beyonce concert.
I thought he was just being a d*ck 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.
No Extra Charge For Being Offensive
We had a large family reunion dinner at a restaurant and we were all sharing stories. My funny Uncle was telling us how he used to pretend he was deaf and his sister would translate. To prove it, he asked the waitress to get the manager. When he came over, my Uncle started signing to him...with made up and exaggerated gestures. My Aunt told him that the food was good and the server was excellent...all the while the manager just smiled and nodded. When they were done "talking", the manager said in sign language, he spoke ASL and knew it was bullshit. We blew up laughing and my Uncles face turned beet red.
Who Wins Here?
I was in a hotel elevator with my wife in Osaka Japan. The Miyako Mariott to exact. It is a popular hotel for tourists. Were we going up the elevator to our room on the 54th floor? It's a high hotel. In the elevator with us is a Chinese family that speaks Cantonese. They must have assumed we were Japanese or some other type of Asian because they started to tease their pre-teen daughter about how badly she needed to take a st. They were laughing and the mother was teasing her about how "I can almost see it coming out!" our floor came first and when it did I turned to them and said "goodnight" in Cantonese. Their face was priceless and we got out of the elevator. My wife called me a jacka while laughing her asoff. Then we got back to our rooms and took a st too.
It's Greek To Me
A lady on the bus was being a b_*_h and slagging people off in Greek until she got to me. She was being excessively nasty about my chipped nail varnish, I don't know either maybe she was having a bad day. As soon as I clocked it I turned around and looked her dead in the eye with my very Greek face and she stopped. She then sat in the seat in front of me where I sat and called my mom, also Greek, who I had a conversation with for the duration of the bus journey about the rude lady who slagged my nails off because she thought I couldn't understand, in Greek. It was delicious.
My Little Soldier Boy
When I was stationed in Korea, I was getting a haircut and the hairdresser had like an assistant or a new person helping her get me seated and prepared. She says to the main girl "He looks like a baby!" (I have a baby face and was like 22 at the time). I responded in Korean with, "I look like a baby?"
She was really startled and embarrassed and noped out of there for the rest of the haircut. The main hairdresser took advantage of being able to talk with me in Korean, though.
La Vie En Rose
My girlfriend and I live in Ottawa, Canada. I grew up speaking French my whole life, and she knows enough to understand others speaking. We were in a restaurant, which was relatively empty except for us and another very French couple at a table nearby (close enough to hear their conversation). Eventually the other girl started talking about my girlfriend's clothing, saying things like 'mauvais choix' (bad choice). I suspect they were visiting from Quebec and just didn't realize that most people here speak a bit of French, but as we were leaving, I turned to them and said 'bonne journée!' ('good day!'). The look on her face still pops into my head occasionally and it makes everything feel right in the world.
A Tale Of Two Stories
Nice Story: I am 100% white and look very European and was travelling 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.
Man Bun Drama
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.
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.
The Unicorn Savior
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 f**king 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 shitty 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.
Oh No, No, No
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 judgemental 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.
I Ain't Bothered
When I was teaching kids in Japan, I would only respond with "English only" to their Japanese, I did this for a few reasons: 1. To make them think I didn't speak Japanese. 2. To make them use English more. 3. 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" bullsh**.
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.
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 amd obnoxious the whole plane was pissed off (except the crew who did fuck 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 Peloponese 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.
It Pays To Listen
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.
A Sticky Situation
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 ass 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.
Note: Comments have been edited for clarity.