Knowing multiple languages is a great skill set to have. This can open up a new world of possibilities, from traveling to job opportunities to being able to communicate and understand people all around the world. Although, sometimes those interactions aren’t the nicest. Just ask these people.
Bilinguals on Reddit share the time when they heard someone talking about them in another language. Content has been edited for clarity.
Little Did This Woman Know
“I was working downtown (in the US) in a part of the city that is mainly tourists and waited on a Chinese family one day. The restaurant is the equivalent of a sit-down chain like Olive Garden. I greeted them in English and they responded in English, so I figured this would be the best method of communication since they did not ask if I spoke Cantonese.
Once I moved on to my next table, I heard the mother tell the father that it is such a shame that my parents worked so hard for me to not speak Cantonese and work at a restaurant.
I went through the whole meal speaking in English, and at the end, as I was handing them the bill, I said in Cantonese, ‘It was a pleasure serving you and I hope you come again soon.’
The mother’s face dropped and she thanked me profusely and left a decent tip. I might speak English well, but I also know how to work the Chinese guilt.”
Her Dad Was Ready
“At 17, just after I got my driver’s license, my dad allowed me to take his car. I was on my way to pick up my friend so we could go see a movie.
I had a green light, was moving through the intersection, and was hit by a car running a red light. I hit my head, was confused and scared, and was incapable of moving. The accident took place less than five minutes from a hospital, so I was packed up in an ambulance before I could think straight.
I was in the same ambulance as the woman who hit me who was screaming about the pain in her knee. In the hospital, we were wheeled into the same room and separated by a curtain. She called her family, speaking in Spanish, and told them to come to the hospital. A nurse gave me my phone and told me to call a parent. So I called my dad to come.
Her family arrived first. I only took one year of Spanish and, while I couldn’t follow the conversation, I could tell they were talking about me. My dad arrived then. He’s completely fluent in Spanish. And, after hearing the other family’s conversation, he began recording it on his phone.
The gist of the conversation was this. The woman who ran the red light knew she was in the wrong but didn’t have insurance. I was a young girl ‘rich enough’ to have a car. The police would believe her, the middle-aged woman if she claimed I ran the red light.
When the police arrived to take statements, they went to the woman first as the medical staff had already finished with her. In between the plan hatching, she’d been screaming about how her knee hurt, and the pain pills the nurses tried to give her were too big to swallow. I’d just been quiet and undemanding and simply answered questions asked of me and complied with any requests.
Then they came to talk to me. My dad asked if either officer could speak Spanish. One did, so my dad played the recording.
She got the ticket. The report stated she was at fault and I was not. And yet she still tried to sue me for her medical bills and the damage to her car. My mom was a secretary at a law office, and her boss was kind enough to write her a letter full of legalese saying I’d counter sue if she continued to harass me and I had the police reports stating she was at fault.
It was an interesting few months.”
A Bit Of A Mix-Up
“I’m decently western-fluent in Japanese. My ex-manager is full Japanese, but something like 3rd or 4th generation American. She doesn’t speak Japanese.
We hosted a bunch of Japanese students and teachers. One of the teachers approached me, and I asked politely if everything was alright, in Japanese.
She stared at my manager in absolute, horrified shock. My manager had no idea what I had said, so she said in English, ‘Please let her know if you need anything.’
The lady didn’t speak much English, so I repeated, in Japanese. Cue more horrified looks. She finally managed to ask my manager something along the lines of ‘How much Japanese do you speak?’
My manager frantically waved her hands and said to speak with me (in English). I told the lady that she (manager) doesn’t speak Japanese, but I was happy to help her if she needed anything (in Japanese).
Every time I spoke, she stared, petrified, at my manager. Finally, I got it; she thought my manager was somehow speaking Japanese without moving her mouth. All while my manager was simultaneously saying she doesn’t speak Japanese, in English.”
But He Did Explain It
“So once when I used to work at GameStop, this lady and her older mother walked in. They started to speak Spanish to each other, looking for a game that the lady’s son wanted for Christmas. They eventually found it, and then they came to the register. This is where the fun begins.
Now I do speak fluent Spanish, but I don’t speak Spanish to people unless they asked me to. So this lady and her mother were trying to gather their money together. While they were gathering the money, I asked them if they wanted to add insurance to their game for a few extra dollars.
The lady looked up, and said, ‘Yes.’
And then resumed looking for more money. Then they finally got together the original $11 that it cost to buy the game, but were surprised when it said $14 on the screen.
The mother of the child asked why it went up to $14, and I said because of the insurance for the game.
The lady then said, ‘I don’t want the insurance.’
The lady’s mother then asked why it jumped up and her daughter said, ‘He added insurance without telling me’ in Spanish.
Then her mother proceeded to say, ‘Wow, he’s just trying to take advantage of people for not speaking his language.’
This is where I lost it, and went full Spanish-speaking mode. I explained to both of them what was going on, and they both apologized and they paid for the insurance and didn’t say a word for the rest of the transaction.”
An Awkward Encounter
“I am half English and half French. When I was 19, I used to run a football class for a summer school in my hometown in England.
My dad was the modern language teacher of the private school, which lead me to be pretty knowledgeable about how things worked. When walking through the street at the end of the school term, some French exchange students asked me for a smoke. I didn’t smoke so I told them as much and I carried on. I got meters down the street before one called me a dog in French.
I turned back and asked them to repeat themselves. They apologized and were really surprised and also extremely embarrassed.
Not nearly as shocked as when they turned up to gym class for their first summer class and I was their teacher.”
“I grew up in Thailand and can speak fluent Thai. This happened when I was about 14, and wearing red lipstick for the first time. I was coming home on the sky train. This older lady turned to her husband and basically questioned what I was wearing while shaking her head.
Luckily, my Thai mom called to ask which station I had gotten to so. I was just talking to her in perfect Thai. The woman’s face was priceless. I kinda wish I had some witty retort before I got off the train, but I was really shy and didn’t really stand up for myself at that age.”
The Waitress Had No Idea
“I was on a date with a new girlfriend at the time. She chose the restaurant, and we went to a popular Mexican restaurant in the area. The waitress recognized her and began speaking in Spanish.
My girlfriend at the time knew that I spoke Spanish, but didn’t know to what degree (at the time I was nearly fluent). The waitress then began talking about how nervous I looked and commenting on my appearance. She was dead quiet and turned a shade of pink I had never seen before on her.
After the waitress left, she asked, ‘How much of that did you catch?’
I responded, ‘All of it.’
She buried her face in her hands with embarrassment. From then on, she warned all of her family members that I could in fact understand them if they decided to talk about me in Spanish. It never stopped her grandparents from bad-mouthing me in Spanish, even when I was there, they completely despised me from day one.”