Just because you use your native tongue in a foreign country doesn't necessarily mean others cannot understand you and your comments. The people in the following stories share their experiences of catching others being caught saying things that should never come out of someone's mouth.
(Content has been edited for clarity.)
I Don’t Think That Was The Best Thing To Say
“I was sitting at a communal lunch table for a big international event with Chinese coworkers who didn’t know me or that we were colleagues.
Throughout the meal, I listened to them trash talk all sorts of people including my supervisor, his direct supervisor, and the unknown professional translator with the unbelievably stupid sounding name Yuemeigui.
As they got up to leave, one of the English speakers apologized to me for spending the whole lunch chatting in Chinese with her coworkers and asked me what I was doing at the event.
She presumably assumed I was media or an early arrival who for some reason was in the staff dining room.
‘I’m the translator in the race office. My name is Yuemeigui.’
She got very quiet and very pale and avoided me for the rest of that year’s event, the next year’s event, and every single event I worked at for the next five years.”
It Was One Of The Worst Moments Of Her Life
“I can speak Chinese, and at one point I was dating a Chinese guy. We were serious and had been together for about three years when we ran into a family friend of his mother’s at a restaurant and her daughter. My then-boyfriend introduced me to them, they seemed pretty nice, and we sat at a table close enough to hear them. Suddenly this family friend started ranting to her daughter in Chinese, saying how disgusting it was that we were together, that I had no right being with someone like my boyfriend, and that my boyfriend should have been ashamed of himself for being out in public with me. Her daughter told her that she didn’t have anything to worry about and that she wouldn’t do anything as embarrassing.
It hit right to my core, but I got through eating, and when we left, we said goodbye to them, and I said goodbye in Chinese. As we walked away, this friend had the nerve to say, ‘I don’t care if she understands, at least now we won’t have to hide how unwelcome she is around here.’ It was one of the worst moments of my life, and I will never forget it.”
And Then He Went Full Mandarin
“I used to work with this guy who was an average white American who was married to a smoking hot dutch lady. One evening they went out for Chinese food, and after being seated, he noticed the entire male waitstaff started cycling by their table to get an eyeful of his wife. Okay fine, it kept his water glass topped off, and it’s not like he wasn’t used to it.
He noticed the guys all congregated at the bar talking and laughing. After a few minutes, he motioned for his waiter and asked to speak with the manager. The waiter asked if everything was okay, but my friend just repeated that he wanted to see the manager. Their waiter left and returned shortly with a guy from the group at the bar that said he was the head waiter. My friend told him that he didn’t want to talk to any of them, he wanted to speak with the manager. The head waiter assured him that wasn’t necessary as he could take care of any problem. Through gritted teeth, my friend looked at him and said, in perfect Mandarin, get the manager right now. He told me the color drained from both waiters’ faces as they stumbled backward like they were trying to get away from an evil spirit.
The head waiter dashed off to the back and returned a short time later with the manager. Speaking in English, my friend told the manager that the waitstaff had said some pretty nasty things about him and his wife. Figuring his ‘get the manager’ comment was something picked up from Google translate, the manager sought to assure my friend that Mandarin was a challenging language for foreigners to master, so he was likely mistaken with anything he thought he might have heard.
At that point, my friend lost his cool and switched to full-on Mandarin. He very loudly repeated what he’d overheard the waiters joking about throughout the meal, like how he must be rich because there was no way he was satisfying his wife with his tiny package. The group at the bar suddenly stopped smiling and became interested in their shoes. The manager stood open-mouthed and speechless as my friend pointed to each of the waiters, and, using the proper slang, recounted what each said they’d do to his wife.”
A Plan Executed To Perfection
“I was at a Las Vegas buffet with my parents and aunt and uncle when I perpetrated a perfect cross-cultural verbal beatdown on an older Japanese couple sitting at the table next to us. My aunt and uncle are pretty large, and had appropriately large piles of food on their plates, as did the rest of us. We’re all whitebread Americans, and I’m sure the couple had no idea that I had been studying Japanese for three years, and my Dad had taken enough Japanese to pronounce certain phrases.
While we were chowing down, I overheard the couple saying things like ‘It’s so disgusting how much they eat,’ and ‘No wonder those people are fat,’ while casting furtive glances at us. I discreetly passed my dad a note telling him that I was going to say in Japanese, ‘This food is so delicious and plentiful,’ and that he should respond, ‘Yes, it is delicious,’ loud enough that our neighbors would hear.
We executed our plan to perfection, and the couple instantly turned white as sheets, dropped their forks and simultaneously bolted from the restaurant without saying a word. If I had wanted to be more of a jerk, I would have asked them to pass the salt, but our technique worked so well that they probably were embarrassed for the rest of the week.”
Don’t Call Me An Ape
“I (African American teenager) went to a Chinese restaurant, and immediately the lady behind the counter looked up, and back at her husband and shouted in Mandarin, ‘One ape in the door! Go serve it.’
It took me a minute to realize I hadn’t translated that incorrectly. When the husband asked what I wanted, I responded in Mandarin, ‘This ape doesn’t want to give any money to your establishment,’ and left. I will never forget the look of terror, shock, and stupidity that left on her face.”
Their Coworkers Were A Little More Careful After This One
“I was sitting in the break room eating lunch when out of the blue my table was commandeered by my Hispanic coworkers gossiping about other coworkers to themselves in Spanish.
After 15 minutes of awkwardly listening to them sling dirt, I got up to leave, and they asked (still in Spanish), ‘How awkward would it be if the gringo could understand what we’ve been saying?’
I responded (also in Spanish), ‘You don’t know I speak Spanish?’
They were mortified, and one of them let out a high pitched cackle of a laugh. I got respect from all the Latinos at that job after word got out that I was a Spanish speaker.”
That’s One Way To Get Fresh Sushi
“My mom stopped at a local sushi restaurant late one night. While she was waiting for her takeout order, she noticed that the chefs were saying, ‘Give her the old fish; we need to get rid of it. No fresh fish for this witch,’ in Japanese. My mom overheard this and told them in fluent Japanese, ‘You should think twice about what you say. Give me fresh fish, and I want it free.’ The chefs were dumbfounded and bowed their heads in shame and apologized profusely. Needless to say, my mom walked out with some delicious Sushi.”
A Customer’s Nasty Comments Paid Off
“I am caucasian, but I speak Spanish fluently. When I was waiting tables, a huge Mexican family had way too much to drink and was making fun of me for a solid hour. They didn’t say anything specifically about me, but they were talking about my mother being easy and other similar things. When I presented them with the check, I wished them a pleasant rest of their evening in SPANISH. I was met by a hushed silence and a $300 tip, so I guess it worked out in the end.”
Don’t Get Mad, Get Even
“During my friend’s bachelorette party, we went for dinner at a nice restaurant. About 20 of us ladies were sitting around a long table, drinking and eating away when I overheard the future mother-in-law and sister-in-law talking in Hebrew about one of my other friends. They were saying how unflattering her dress was, how she didn’t have the shape/size for it, and that she shouldn’t wear it if she was not a model. I’m Israeli, and unbeknownst to them, I heard and understood it all.
My friend was skinny and pretty, and her dress was lovely and fit her well. They, on the other hand, were a very rude and snobbish pair who, incidentally, looked nothing like models and had no right to judge. I also can’t tolerate bullying.
I pulled some friends aside for a group bathroom break at which point I told them what the MIL and SIL were saying. They were all as shocked as I was.
I didn’t want to spoil the party, and I didn’t want to upset my friend further, so we left it, until the MIL and SIL were about to leave, upon which time I said, ‘Have a good evening; it was lovely to meet you,’ in perfectly accented Hebrew. They were left with the most awkward expressions on their faces.”
What He Said Made Her Move Out
“My friend in college spoke German and once had a German exchange student living in his student house. Every so often, the student’s German friend would come over, and they’d complain about various people, including those living in the house. My friend never informed her that he spoke German and often when they discussed the other housemates, he’d be around watching tv or making food.
One night, he came home from a bar, and the exchange student was up making food. He proceeded to have a full-blown conversation with her in German. She moved out three days later without telling anyone.”
Quite The Convo At The Company Dinner
“I’m working in Korea, and while my Korean co-workers are aware of the fact that I speak Korean, because I never do it at work, they don’t know that I can understand most of their conversations. There are two funny stories.
Once at a company dinner, the Koreans were sitting on one side, and the foreigners were sitting on the other. Most of the Koreans don’t speak English, so there isn’t a lot of fraternizing going on between the groups. I sat right in the middle so I could listen in from time to time. I overheard them say one of my co-workers’ names, so I started listening. They were talking about how jealous they were of her being so ‘well-endowed.’ I got excited and just blurted out, ‘Hey, Abby, they’re talking about your chest over here!’ They were mortified.”
Don’t Be Racist
“I once witnessed some serious racism go down. A black family was eating dinner in a restaurant. They kept looking two tables over at a Spanish table. The black mom looked more and more annoyed. Finally, she walked over, got down on one knee and in a stern tone started going off a mile a minute in perfect Spanish. She didn’t stop for a solid minute. The look on the Spanish family’s faces was of absolute shock and horror.
Afterwards, nothing was said, and she went back to her table with a slight grin. Come to find out she was a college professor who taught Spanish, and the Spanish family kept making racist comments about their black sever, as well as the black family in question.”
Playing The Long Burn
“I work at a cafe in a language building on my university’s campus. This one Spanish teacher would always talk trash and would say stuff like, ‘This moron could be making my coffee faster if she’d shut up,’ and things like that. She would then smile and take her latte.
Little did she know that another girl and I on the shift were both bilingual. So we let her keep being nasty for a few weeks, then staged an incredibly loud conversation in Spanish. The look on her face was priceless.”
Got Off On The Wrong Foot
“I was meeting my new boyfriend’s grandparents for the first time during our freshman year of college. They were very Italian. He told them I was also Italian, so you’d think they would have used some common sense.
We were all at the dinner table when the grandparents started speaking to each other in Italian about how I was the devil that was going to ruin his college football career and how they need to tell his mom to force him to get rid of me. They then went on to question my ethnicity because of my hair color. The worst part came when they said I must have come from a terrible background if my parents were allowing me to spend the weekend at my boyfriend’s parents’ house.
The rest of the extended family looked uncomfortable. They didn’t speak a ton of Italian, but they knew the grandparents were talking bad about me.
There was an awkward pause where the grandma smiled nicely at me, and I said, in perfect Italian, ‘Perhaps you should be sure that the person you are speaking so highly of doesn’t also speak the language you are using. That’s very rude. If you want to speak of my upbringing, I suggest you take a look at yours. By the way, my nonna and papa taught us to speak their language. Didn’t you teach your family?’
I smiled nicely and went back to eating. Their reactions were PRICELESS.”
Their Reaction Was Priceless
“I used to work as a waitress at a small-town Chinese restaurant. The restaurant was situated close to a harbor, so when a cruise ship from Quebec stopped by for a layover, we had a few tables of French speakers. Since we normally didn’t have french customers and I was the only waitress on staff who spoke French, I was called in a for an extra shift.
Around closing time, two couples came in. They were speaking English very well, so I served them in English. I guess they assumed I couldn’t speak French. After they finished their meal, the two women left while the men stayed for a few more drinks. Immediately after the women left, the men started talking about how hot I was. One of the men wanted to lick sweet and sour sauce off my chest, and the other told a not so clever joke about Gai Ding.
I never said anything to them until after they both paid, at which point I thanked them and told them to have a great evening in French. Needless to say, the looks on their faces were priceless.”