No matter where you are in the world, it's not a given that the people around you only speak one language. In fact, some multilingual people really get themselves into trouble by assuming no one around them can speak another language.
People from Reddit shared the time they overheard something they weren't supposed to in another language they actually knew. Speaking multiple languages definitely comes in handy at times like these!
All content was edited for clarity.
“The 15-Year-Old Innocent Me Was Mortified.”
“I was a high school student in Toronto, but I speak Slovak, which is similar to Czech and Polish.
I was going to school on the subway in the morning and two good looking women started to talk in polish right next to me.
I usually like to strike up conversations with fellow central/Eastern Europeans. Unfortunately they started talking about how one of them has had a burning pee problem.
With nowhere to move on the packed subway and no headphones, it was an awkward thing for a 15 year old to hear from two older ladies. It got a little worse later when they started to talk about ‘female’ problems. Now I have no issues with that conversation nowadays of course, but 15 year old innocent me was a bit mortified.
The subway ride was a long 45 minutes.”
I Scared Them Once I Decided To Speak Japanese
“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 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’ bull.
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.”
“I’ve Never Seen Someone Turn So Many Different Colours So Fast.”
“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.”
“I Felt A Sense Of Glee At Having Ruined Their Evening.”
“I was on a subway car in Toronto when a French couple were chatting about innocuous stuff when the husband starts chatting to his wife about what he wants to do to her. It’s graphic. He’s going into details about moves, holes, smells. She had a toque in her hand, but unknowingly dropped it. So, I saw my chance. I pick up her hat and tell her that she lost it. Both of their faces went white. She just meekly thanked me. I stood up, got off the subway and felt a sense of glee at having ruined their evening.”
“I Can Almost See It Coming Out!”
“I was in a hotel elevator with my wife in Osaka Japan. The Miyako Mariott to exact. It is a popular hotel for tourists. We were going up the elevator to our room on the 54th floor and 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 need to go to the bathroom.
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 faces were priceless.”
“They Started Begging Her”
“My stepsister speaks both Spanish and English. We were in a very small, packed nail salon getting our nails done, when a couple behind us started speaking in Spanish. I had no clue what they were saying, but my stepsister had the “what in the world am I hearing?” look on her face. (She wasn’t trying to listen in, but they were literally right behind us and speaking rather loudly.)
This went on for a few minutes, my stepsister’s face getting more and more shocked. She’d had pulled out her phone and dialed 911 at one point, but she was speaking softly and I couldn’t hear her for sure over the Spanish-speaking duo.
Few more minutes passed, when the female of this duo asked something to the male of the duo, which he answered in a “I dunno.” My stepsister answered, in Spanish, and the looks on their face were priceless. Duo started begging for something in Spanish to my stepsister, when the cops walked in…
Duo were arrested and when I finally got the chance to ask what happened, my stepsister told me they were talking about how they robbed the local drugstore a few nights ago. It was big news in our little town at the time, as there were no leads or anything. It was extremely bizarre.”
“I Have To Poop Real Bad!”
“My family speaks (among other languages) English and Norwegian. We were in Italy, eating in a fairly nice restaurant. At the table across from us, there was another family with a small child (5-6 years old). We can tell they’re from Norway, but not exactly what they’re talking about.
Suddenly, small child bellows in Norwegian, “I have to poop! I have to poop real bad!”
The mom, who is attending to a very small baby, tells her child to be quiet, she’s finishing up, but makes no real effort to shut the kid up entirely. Her reasoning, apparently, was that nobody else in the restaurant could speak Norwegian, so she wasn’t too concerned about her kid loudly and repeatedly announcing that he needs to poop.
Unbeknownst to her, my entire family is stuck in that zone between cracking up and dying from second-hand embarrassment.”
She Tried To Pull One Over On Him
“I’m white, and I speak Chinese. I moved into a place where the landlord and landlady were Chinese, and several things in the house needed replacing and fixing (walls painted, deck fixed, etc). They didn’t know I spoke Mandarin. The landlady came in the day after move in with the fix it man, who was also Chinese, but spoke not a word of English.
She showed him around the house, and told him in Chinese what he should fix, but also what he should NOT fix. Like, “Let this be, that’s not that important, this doesn’t have to be done, etc.” I followed them around at hearing distance until she left.Then as soon as she was gone, I went up to the guy and told him in Chinese that I didn’t care what she had said, and everything that she said not to do, I wanted done, and I wanted it done today. Guy was speechless and I got my way. I don’t often have a win, but that was definitely one.”
“Spit In This Guy’s Food For Me!”
“I’m caucasian, but I grew up in China, and speak mandarin fluently.
There’s a hole in the wall Chinese restaurant behind my apartment that I like to go to. I went there one night and there was a particular dbag of an individual in front of me being terrible to the lady taking his order. She was smiling and staying nice to him the whole time, and then casually walked back into the kitchen to give the chefs the man’s order.
When she walks back outside of the swinging door towards the register to take my order, I see her poke her head back in the kitchen and over hear, “Oh yeah, and spit in this guy’s food for me!”
Then without skipping a beat smiles and comes up and takes my order.”
“Go! Go! Go!”
“I don’t speak my second language very well but on this particular day I got into a cab to go to my boyfriend’s house. My boyfriend lives in a fairly empty neighborhood slightly out of the city. A lot of the roads there lead to empty plots of land. I got into an auto rickshaw (I’m indian. That’s fairly common) The guy wasn’t really listening to me while trying to give him directions in English but for some reason (thank god) I didn’t tell him anything in Urdu.
During our ride he calls someone and assuming I don’t know the language he tells him loudly and in Urdu that he has got it and to meet him at a spot on the way. Still I didn’t think much off it. We get to the meet up point and this guy doesn’t stop calls his friend and tells him “I’m here, follow us” his friend in another auto rickshaw starts following us. The area is fairly desolate and at this point I’m scared.
Luckily my boyfriend lives in a gated community with 24 hour security so when I told the guy to take a left to enter it, he tells his friend behind us “go! go! go!” and his friend turns around and drives away as we enter the community. My boyfriend’s house was the first turn after the pick up point so it was okay. My assumption is that if there had been another leading somewhere desolate they would have robbed me or worse. Since I understood Urdu, I knew what was happening and had my boyfriend on the phone with me the whole time. Really grateful nothing worse happened.”
There Was Something Waiting In That Cemetary
“I was once driving for uber and picked up two young Spanish guys (25 maybe?). They were clean cut, spoke English very well and were really polite. The first thing that seemed off was that both decided to sit in the back, when typically one of two people would usually ride in the passenger seat. It was quiet for a bit after the usual small talk I made, and then they started speaking to each other in Spanish. I know some Spanish, but I wasn’t really trying to listen in on their conversation, but with how quiet they were speaking I decided they were trying to be secretive, so I started doing my best to eavesdrop. This became kind of easy because they started getting louder and it was obvious they were arguing.
Now my Spanish is poor but I think kept hearing ‘me’, ‘you’, ‘they’, ‘where’, and ‘location’. I’m not sure what the one finally said to the other but they stopped arguing and that’s when I heard “you get out”, and the Spanish form used was a ‘tu command’ which I had learned in Spanish was a very disrespectful way to speak to someone.
Then there was a lot of arguing where I could only really hear “get out” and “I paid” for a short while, the finally they stopped and one of them said very politely “my friend forgot his date tonight, could you please let him out here so he can walk home before we get further away”.
I was conflicted but I complied with his request and decided I must’ve been interpreting their conversation wrong. The one getting out thanked me for the ride, apologized for the inconvenience, said one more thing in Spanish to his friend before he left. After that, I thought I had definitely misunderstood them. But then, the dude asks if I can change the destination, saying his plans have changed now due to his friend’s date. I said of course, now getting very suspicious but trying to tell myself I was overreacting. It was a long drive, longer than the first destination, and we began to leave town. Finally I pull up to this old farm house that looked abandoned but figured it must’ve just been his place and was a bit shabby, but when the guy got out, he didn’t walk toward the house, he just kinda stood there and said bye. Being suspicious, I drove off down the road for a while before turning back around and I saw that the guy was walking along the side of the road toward a small graveyard, a decent ways away from the house. I didn’t slow down because I didn’t want him to think I was snooping, or even notice it was my car. I’m not sure what happened, but I’m pretty sure there was something waiting in that cemetery hidden somewhere, and as soon as his buddy told him where it was, he cut him out of the deal and made him get out, and there was nothing the one getting out could do because he wasn’t the one paying, and I think he may have even been scared of the other guy. Weirdest night of my life.”
“My Friend, Do We Understand?”
“I once drove some well-dressed Russians in between bars on the west side of Chicago. I used to work for a Russian-owned cab company and I understand a little Russian, and I heard two of them talking back and forth about something one of them was very anxious about.
The phrases that jumped out at me were “This is death, this is serious,” “Blood is on me,” and “I’m not a bad man.” The other guy was mainly just telling him to relax a lot, and telling him “There are no fools here,” or something along those lines.
Upon dropping them off, like an idiot, I temporarily blanked that I had just heard parts of a seemingly harrowing conversation, and I said good night in Russian. Only one of them heard me (the older guy telling his colleague to relax) and he just stared at me. Then he came around to my window while reaching into his coat pocket, which scared me.
He then pulled out a $100 and said (in English), “My friend, do we understand?”
I just took it, shook my head in the affirmative, and drove off. I didn’t take any rides for the rest of the night.”
“Her Eyes Got Huge”
“After college, my very white, very dorky looking friend spent about 6 years in Japan and became fluent. Married a Japanese girl, brought her back to the states, etc. He and I swing by a yogurt place after going to a hockey game. We’re standing in line with our cups behind two Japanese guys, when my friend starts getting quiet and listening to them laugh and talk quietly. He then told me to hold his yogurt cup, and he walks over to the girl who’d walked in with the two guys. She was sitting quietly, looking at her phone, at a table behind us. I see my friend start talking to her in Japanese, her eyes get huge, and she freaks out.
The guys have noticed by now, and long story short, I become the referee in a soon to be fight between 4 people yelling in Japanese at each other. The girl is crying and leaves, one guy pushed my friend, but ended up leaving after the girl and when the manager came out. I just looked at my friend like “What was that?!” The one guy was apparently her boyfriend and was talking to the other guy about cheating on the girl, she was an idiot, he was going to dump her, etc. My friend just felt sorry for her and told her what a dbag she was with.”
My Grandma Froze
“My grandma immigrated to Canada from Lebanon in the 50s. She is of the mind that all Canadian (Read: white) women are liars, cheaters, and gold diggers. I also happened to be dating a white woman at the time.
As is the case in multi-ethnic friendships/relationships, I taught my girlfriend non-English curse words, and some non-curses. Among the non-curses was how to say, “excuse me?”
When grandma first met the gf, she politely said hello before immediately ranting in Arabic about greedy white girls taking all the good Lebanese men.
Although my gf did not understand what she said, she quickly replied in Arabic with, “excuse me?”
My grandma froze, thinking she was caught, and quickly changed the subject. I was terribly proud of gf that day.”