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 got sweet revenge of strangers who spoke smack about them or their culture in another language they actually knew. Speaking multiple languages definitely comes in handy at times like these!
All content was edited for clarity.
“You Should Be Careful”
“A friend’s sister was working in a jewelry store years ago, and had a Greek couple come in, looking to buy an engagement ring.
Her family is half Greek, and she had attended weekend language school with her siblings, but she went by an abbreviation of her given Greek name, spelt in an odd way, which is what was on her name tag, so gave no hint as to her background.
She spent a fair amount of time asking what they were looking for, their budget, and getting sizing. She was completely professional. All the while the woman was making snide and nasty comments in Greek about her appearance, her voice, etc.
Once they had picked the ring they wanted, and it was all packaged up, with the transaction completed, she handed the couple the bag, and wished them good luck and a lovely day, in Greek. The woman’s face fell, and her partner went grey.
She asked: ‘I don’t look Greek, do I? You should be careful, you never know who understands what you’re saying.'”
“The Driver Was Shook”
“I was in Quebec on a ski trip when a bus hit my dad’s car while trying to park.
My dad got onto the bus and started talking to the driver. The driver was quite apologetic, but when my dad started asking for his insurance information, he all of a sudden ‘couldn’t speak English.’
Without skipping a beat dad switches to interrogating the driver in French, the language he did all of his education until university. The driver was completely shook.”
“She Looked At Me Like I Had Puke All Over Myself”
“I speak English and French and I live in Quebec. Everyone knows how some French Quebec-ers don’t take too kindly to the English spoken in the area. So I’m at a café ordering in English because I’m in between classes and it’s 7:30 AM and a latte is pretty much the same in both languages.
The cashier looks at me like I had puke all over myself and walks over to her manager and says in French: ‘Take care of that Anglo, when will they understand that it’s French in this province?’
At which point, I turned bright red and I said in French, ‘Pardon? Can I not order a coffee without having to have a political debate? Would you not serve travelers or immigrants?’
You can guess who got free coffee for a year.”
“I Documented Every Single Thing”
“This one is my favorite, of all the multilingual escapades I’ve had.
Years ago, I was running a kitchen for one of those typical Lebanese American style diners. Seriously, more often than not, it was just me back there. It sucked.
But, I needed the job.
The owners thought I was going to be easy to mess with. And they’d talk all kinds of smack to each other, apparently not remembering that I had explicitly said I’m proficient in Arabic when they hired me. So, I recorded these conversations (my state is single-party consent) that often bled into them trying to make me cover for them on major health-code violations.
Seriously. They expected me to cover for them while they talked poorly about me, with me right in front of them.
So. I quickly began searching for a new job, and continued to document everything. Every single thing. I had pictures, timestamps, temp logs. All of it.
I was willing to just walk away and leave it at that, but then they messed with my pay! Everything that I had been gathering as my ‘just in case’ plan became the weapon I needed it to be.
I confronted them about the very obvious wage-theft. They denied it. Even in the face of the major discrepancies in hours-worked, set wage, and amount withheld in taxes.
That night, I got a call from another place I’d applied to asking if I was still interested in the position. Obviously, I was. Told them I could start in about 3 days.
I walked in for my next shift with prints of everything in a file. Put everything on the table and told him: ‘You’ve been stealing from me. I have all of this in proof of that, and all of this ready to go to the Health Department, Labor Department, and IRS. Pay me what you owe, and this doesn’t see the light of day.’
He was very quick to pay me, in cash, the amount that I had recorded missing from my checks, and took the files and started shredding them. As I turned to leave his office, I turned back around and told him (in Arabic), ‘I could understand you the whole time, you pig.’ And I walked out. Quit on the spot.
Of course, he didn’t have the only copies of those files. When I got home, I sent everything off to the relevant departments. He was shut down about a month later.”
“I Completely Lost It”
“I’m Asian and I live in France so my French is pretty fluent, spoken at least. I was visiting some friends in London last summer and on the tube, there was a group of 5 French tourists standing around and pretty much complaining about EVERYONE else in the tube.. saying that Brits are so ugly, dissing how they dressed, really petty obnoxious stuff. I was already side-eyeing theheck outta this group but pretty much kept to myself and my friends.
Then the tube started getting really crowded, and we had to move in nearer to said French group. I accidentally bumped shoulders with one of the guys in the group and he proceeded to groan loudly then turn to his friends and say, ‘All these freaking Asians, they’re everywhere… Go back to China, what a loser.’
His group started laughing and looking at me. At that point I saw white and COMPLETELY LOST IT.
I turned around and addressed his whole group calling them out on their ignorance and prejudice behavior, telling them off for being the exact stereotype of French tourists that ruin the reputations of the decent French people out there, and assuming that no one else can speak their language while traveling around in EUROPE. I ended by saying if you don’t want to see any other races or ethnicities, you should probably stay in that hole you call a home and not travel abroad if you’re gonna act like a massive monster.
Everyone was looking at me at this point and my friends were like trying to get me to stop. I just said loudly in English to everyone else that this group of French people were making prejudice statements and deserved to be called out. They all pretty much turned red and one of the other people in the group mumbled a quick apology and they got off the tube at the next stop.”
“I Had My Plan Set In Motion”
“I was on a plane besides two Hispanic men who made a comment about how much of a nerd I looked like and how dorky white folks are. I proceeded to spend the next 4 hours listening to these two beef heads complaining about everything under the sun. This included no small amount of mean-spirited comments on how I was so overdressed and it was a good thing that I couldn’t understand them.
I didn’t make as much as a single peep.
No sir, I stayed as silent as a an awkward giraffe trying to blend into the wall at a party for elephants because I knew it wasn’t my place. I would play the long game, even if it meant staring out the window for 4 hours straight. I had my plan set in motion.
As we began to exit the plane, I asked my clueless neighbors (in crystal clear Spanish, of course) if they could pass me my bag from the overhead bin and also casually mentioned that I am a translator.
The color slowly drained from their faces as they realized that every time they had made snide comments about everyone on the plane, or talked about their STD problems and a variety of other topics, I had understood it all.
If I could only bottle that expression and sell it, if only. I could put the horror movie industry out of business if I could only sell pure vials of the concentrated dread those fellows showed on their faces in that moment, I tell you!
But, in all seriousness, there are so many people in the US that are fluent in both English and Spanish that one should never assume one can speak in Spanish to keep their discussion private.”
“You Should Have Seen The Look On Their Faces”
“I’m a US citizen but I’ve lived in Georgia for two years (the country, not the state), so I have a rudimentary grasp on Georgian.
I was at a hostel in Istanbul a few months ago and fell deathly ill within a few hours of arrival. I’m the only person in my 4-bed room. I proceed to spend the entire next day in bed—never left the room. Day three, I’m both still deathly ill and starving. I have a transatlantic flight the next day.
For the first time, the cleaning staff come in to the room—two women. I want to somehow get them the message that I’m sick and need an English-speaking staff member to come to the room. Unfortunately, I don’t speak a word of Turkish.
But then, in my half-conscious state, I hear some chatter that sounds like ‘smells bad.’ I see the other worker glance my way. Then I hear what I’m absolutely certain is ‘yes, he smells bad.’
Praise jeebus, they’re Georgian! And you should have seen the look on their faces when I rolled over and blabbed ‘I’m extremely sick, I need medicine from a pharmacy.’
I had exactly what I needed an hour later, soup on a regular basis, and fresh hot tea every 30 minutes until I left. They were awesome. Good times.”
“There Is Something Wrong With You”
“I speak both English and Dari and you’d be amazed at the places that you see Afghan people at.
One time I was at Macy’s trying to grab a pair of Levi 508s but they didn’t have my size in the color. So, in the Levi’s area there were 2 women that had the Macy’s nametags on that were speaking to each other. As I got closer, I noticed that it was Dari but didn’t want to say anything.
I came up to them and said, ‘Excuse me, but can you check if you have this in this size?’
One of the ladies turned to the other and said (in dari) ‘Wait a second while I show this idiot we don’t have what he wants.’ I didn’t say anything and turns out they did have it in my size but it was in another spot.
Once I grabbed them, I turned to her and said in Dari ‘Thank you very much for the help.’ Her and her friend both turned bright red and asked if I was Afghan and apologized multiple times; in the end they hooked it up with some secret 40% off code so it all worked out.
Another time I really remember was back when I worked at the Apple store. This guy came in, clearly spoke very little to no English, and was trying to explain an issue with his phone. Since there was no one else with him at the time, I had no idea what other language he spoke and tried to work with him to figure out what the issue was through the broken English and charades.
Anyways, after about 20 minutes of him telling me ‘why not work’ and me telling him that his phone is too old, he started to get really frustrated, and a bunch of other guys came in and walked up to him. They asked him what was going on and he turned around and said (in Dari of course) ‘These morons working here don’t even know how to fix their own product’ and ranted on a bit about how none of the workers are above a certain age and how we are all spoiled, etc. etc.
So after a little bit of his rant I stopped him and said in Dari, ‘Well I have been trying to tell you for the past 20 minutes that your phone is too old and will not work but apparently you don’t understand English. There is nothing wrong with your phone but there is something wrong with you coming here, not speaking any English, and then getting angry when you don’t understand our response.’
Much redness and apologies ensued.”
“All I Had To Do Was Listen For The Magic Word”
“I’m not actually bilingual, but I learned to say the sentence, ‘I understood what you said, and it was very offensive’ and the word ‘fat (as in, a person)’ in Mandarin and Cantonese.
I used to be very overweight, and loved Chinese food. Anytime I would go to a new place, I’d order a lot of food (typically in those buffet-style to-go places where they scoop your food down a line). And listen for the magic word. If I heard it, I’d throw my one line that I knew at them.
My basic knowledge got me over 20 free meals with complimentary profuse apology over the course of 3 or so years.”
“My Girlfriend Stared At Me Like I Was Some Sort Of Psychopath”
“I was visiting the Netherlands after a 15 year residency there with my girlfriend who is English. Dutch and English people look quite similar as they are both primary white countries and I am a beautiful, big-bearded, hairy Kurdish man.
As we were sitting on the bus and mind you, this guy was eating a kebab of all foods to be prejudice while eating, said the following to the man next to him: ‘It is always a shame when I see our implying any white woman girls date those dirty Turks’ and I went off.
Turned around and I said something along the lines of ‘If we never came to this country you wouldn’t be scourging on that kebab you old idiot.’ I sat back down as if nothing happened, then explained to my girlfriend staring at me like I was some sort of psychopath what the man just said and she burst out laughing.
This was the first time I called out someone being prejudice to me and it felt quite good to say the least even though my insult wasn’t the best, it was good enough for me!”
“She Looked Like She Had Been Caught Confessing To Murder”
“My mom speaks almost exclusively English but can understand a fair amount of Cantonese and can read a few common characters.
We were in an almost deserted but very large Chinese restaurant in a neighborhood we are familiar with but don’t frequent. The food is decent but we don’t finish so my mom asks for some takeout boxes to pack up the food. The waitress comes back with 2 tiny boxes that were obviously not enough for the amount we had leftover. There are giant stacks of these boxes on the back wall near the kitchen so my mom asks for a few of the larger ones. The waitress kinda rolls her eyes, leaves and grabs a few of those and a plastic bag. She puts them on the table and immediately starts squawking to one of the other waitresses sitting a few tables away from us folding won ton.
My mom leans over and says that the one yelling is telling the other to charge us for the boxes. Sure enough, the angry one comes back with the bill and mom sees a 10 cent charge for each box amongst the scribbled out Chinese characters. She then calmly, but firmly says, ‘I heard what you said. I will not be paying you for the boxes, I will not leave a tip, and we will never come back.’ She put cash on the table for the exact amount, minus the charge for the boxes, we got up, and left.
The look on the waitress’ face was priceless, as though she had been caught accidentally confessing to murder. I never thought of my mom as iconic but I definitely thought she was that day.”
“I’ll See You Around”
“I’m a white guy who lived in Senegal for 11 years. As such I learned quite a bit of Wolof, the local language. 99% of white people here don’t because they aren’t there that long.
There were a few times that people were talking about me or to me in Wolof without knowing I understood them. Once there was a group of teens at the beach and one of them greeted me with a Wolof insult for white people—’red ears’—but he said it in a ‘nice’ way, as if I wouldn’t know he was insulting me.
He kept talking to me in Wolof and I responded in French that I don’t understand, while in actuality I understood very well.
After a minute I had enough and said in Wolof, ‘Ok I’m going, I’ll see you around, black ears!’
His friends had a big laugh and I moved on.”
“Their Faces Had To Be Seen To Be Believed”
“I knew a policeman in the UK who was half Algerian, and though he really didn’t look it, spoke fluent Arabic. He told me his best story was when he arrested some other sloshed teenagers who were, lo and behold, Algerians from the same community.
They clearly don’t know he can understand their language, and decide it would be funny to use every swearword in the Arabic dictionary about this policeman and 18 generations of his family.
This guy says that the most satisfying moment of his entire career is when he’s got these teenagers to the cells, and looks them straight in the eye and says in fluent Arabic ‘Right, you little morons, I know your mum, and your mum, and your mum, and I’m going to be asking them how you know those words!’
Apparently their faces had to be seen to be believed.”
“The Kid Freaked Out”
“My significant other is a native Russian speaker. He is a big dude with a barrel chest, wide shoulders, a black beard, and he usually wears black and a stoic expression. He looks very intimidating.
So he is in a shoe store and this one kid who is maybe 4-5 years old is running all over the place, knocking shoes off the shelf, causing chaos.
His mom calls after him in Russian, ‘You’d better behave yourself or that man will take you away.’ She was talking about my man.
He looks right at this kid and says in Russian with a deadpan face, ‘I will.’ The kid freaks out and runs over to his mom, who is almost doubled over laughing.
“They Were Making Fascist Comment”
“Apart from English, I natively speak Italian and Slovenian. The first time I brought my girlfriend to Italy to see where I grew up, the main city I showed her was Venice, as I was born there.
There was this one time when we had walked all day in the ‘secret passageways’ of Venice, so we both were naturally tired and a little sweaty.
As we hopped on the train, two guys besides us started oogling us two and making fascist comments about us like: ‘I wish Mussolini was still here, he would show these people to speak their own dirty language.’ My girlfriend doesn’t speak Italian, but she does understand a little of the language.
Blood boiled up until we stepped off the train, as I approached them, and loudly said ‘NEXT TIME, YOU SHOULD PROBABLY KEEP YOUR NEOFASCIST AND PREJUDICE COMMENTS TO YOURSELF!’
The whole car heard me and immediately turned to look at the blushing guy, who just replied with a pathetic ‘Y-yes…’
Needless to say, I triumphantly walked off the train while my girlfriend urned around toward the window these guys were sitting at, with a big smile stamped on her face.”
Her Fake Smile Didn’t Work This Time
“My wife and I have adopted two kids from China on two separate occasions. We had some time to wait before the first one so we learned some basic Mandarin to help with our trip and connect a bit with our daughter’s birth culture.
While there, a day or so after we got her, we were in the Walmart (yes, Walmart) in Zhengzhou, when a younger woman walks by, sees a large American guy with a pale redheaded wife carrying a Chinese toddler in a sling, doubles back and with a fake smile said in Mandarin, ‘You don’t like your mom, do you?’
My wife spins around and, in Mandarin, basically says, ‘Oh yes she does.’
The look on that woman’s face carried me through the day.”
“I’m a pretty generic-looking white guy and I used to live in the Southwest. When this story happened I had just gotten back from studying abroad in Spain, so my Spanish was and still is pretty good. A few of my friends and I (all white dudes) decided to go to Jack in the Box for food one day.
We get there, get our food, and eat it in a relatively normal fashion. We were one of the few tables in there and we weren’t excessively loud or making a big mess. As we all got up to leave, I heard one of the older Hispanic ladies who worked at the restaurant utter something incredibly offensive in Spanish to another employee. All my other friends had pretty much left the building, but since I was the last one out I heard her mutter it.
It infuriated me off more than it probably should. Here I was, a white dude trying to learn Spanish when there was no need for me to do so other than me wanting to. If I am going to take the several years of language courses and travel 5000 miles to a different country to learn Spanish, the least that native speakers can do is not insult me.
I went over to her and motioned for her to come to the counter. I leaned across and said something to the effect of: ‘Be careful, you never know when awhite guy speaks Spanish.’
Her eyes got really big and her jaw dropped open. She didn’t know what to say or do. I just turned and walked out the door.”