Czech Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself
“My girlfriend’s 90-year-old Czech grandpa was at a library in Florida once a few years ago. He was waiting in line to check out a book when a Czech couple comes up behind him. Hardly anyone speaks Czech, let alone in Florida, so they thought they could say whatever they wanted.
They’re talking about how the guy wants to do her right there, and that they can’t wait to get home to have super naughty time, all the while describing everything they’re going to do to each other.
Once my girlfriend’s grandpa checks out, he turns around to the couple and says, ‘Have a good day!’ in Czech. Their faces drop and turn white as the 90-year-old man struts out of the public library.”
“My brother (we’re white guys) speaks Mandarin Chinese fluently—he had already lived in Taiwan for seven years when this little episode happened. This was many years ago, when it was very unusual for a Westerner to speak Chinese.
He and I were in a taxi in Beijing one night. We gave our instructions to the driver in English and chatted together only in English, so the driver naturally assumed neither of us spoke Chinese.
A few minutes into the ride the driver offered us a smoke. We waved him off politely. He then said—according to my brother—‘Only weaklings and women don’t smoke.’
Along the way the driver would point out places, saying, in a mock-friendly voice, things like, ‘That’s where foreign idiots are given the bad and spoiled food they deserve.’ My brother would report all of this to me with bemusement.
At the end of the ride, the driver tried to overcharge us. My brother for the first time spoke Mandarin, pointing out the correct amount on the meter and telling the driver he was making note of his name and taxi license number.
The driver’s eyes got huge with fear, and he literally jumped out of the taxi and ran to open my brother’s door, apologizing in a desperate voice and bowing over and over, trembling (and no, bowing is not part of Chinese culture).
My brother said the driver probably figured any white guy who spoke Mandarin would have the connections to make his life a misery. We just shrugged it off, and had a good laugh.”
Hungry Hungry Americans
“When we were nineteen, my two best friends and I were studying in Spain and decided to take a side trip to France. We were travelling light and trying to save money, as poor college students tend to do, so we’d stuffed our carry on bags with lots of granola bars and snack foods to sustain us for the weekend.
Apparently, we were also obviously American, because at the security check the conversation between the workers went something like this: ‘Look at this bag! Fat Americans, always eating! Can they not even make a flight without food? I think if Americans stop eating, they die! Why else would they be so fat?’
The best part was the looks on their faces when my friend looked at them and said, in perfect Spanish, ‘Thank you, can you tell us where our gate is? And where we can find a McDonald’s? I’m so hungry!'”
“I’m Pakistani, but I look white/Arab. I have very pale skin, light colored eyes, etc. Most other brown people (those who speak Urdu, Hindi, or Punjabi) assume I don’t understand.
One time I was in a mobile shop looking for a charger, and I overheard one of the brown guys working say in Punjabi, ‘Just charge her £10 extra. She won’t know.’ I told him quite calmly in Punjabi that I’d like it for £10 off, thank you.”
Tourists, Tea, And Thieves
“While hiking in Guatemala, a group of three men with machetes were walking down the trail in the opposite direction. They stopped and talked to the guide. In Spanish, ‘We don’t want trouble, but if you don’t want trouble, it’s 20 Quetzals for each tourist.’
Guide: ‘That is crap, the going rate is 10 and you know it. I will give you ten.’
Robbers: ‘Okay that works. When you’re done with your hike, we are making tea. If you are tired, we will share our tea with you.’
Guide [in English to the group]: ‘They say they want to share some tea with you guys on our way back down.’
Tourists: ‘Okay that sounds lovely!’
I ended up talking to them for a while about their lives in rural Guatemala. I am not surprised they were robbing because of how difficult it is to make a living there. They were actually pretty nice and normal other than the robbing thing.”
Tales From Tijuana
“I once went to Tijuana just to see what it was all about…interesting place. We went with a bus full of tourists, and were explicitly told, ‘DO NOT leave this area, it’s a safe place, and outside is dangerous. Do not leave here.’ So my bestie and I went out to explore some of Mexico.
I speak Spanish pretty well and used to be fluent. Listening to conversations (while keeping my stupidly naive friend safe) was taxing, but it was a good time. Amongst the donkeys painted to look like Zebras, and some hotels and restaurants, there were about 300 small stores, kiosks, stalls, and other places to sell all kinds of things to the tourists.
So we’re walking and there are not many tourists, as this was right after 9/11. Lots of people selling silver, watches, blankets, and other touristy things. Three men started discussing my butt and my friend’s curly hair with the guys at the next stores, speculating on our relationship and what they thought we did at night.
I’d like to point out that they were cheerfully and lasciviously detailed (a couple of the words I didn’t know, but the context was clear), but there wasn’t any malice. When I corrected them (explained in Spanish that we weren’t lesbians, we were just friends), all of a sudden I’m getting offers. Lots, very quickly, in rapid-fire Spanish.
‘Want a Mexican boyfriend?’
‘I can eat you out for hours!’
‘I’m hung better than that donkey!’
‘Hey, we have store credit!’
I lost it with the last one. Completely lost it, and couldn’t translate for my friend until I caught my breath. Frickin’ store credit.”
‘I Made Them Feel Stupid Without Even Trying’
“I am a tall white American that lived in Guatemala for four years. My Spanish is not perfect but I am nearly fluent and have no trouble communicating or understanding.
One weekend I was on a tourist minibus riding home from a weekend beach trip. Minibusses hold about 12 people and the vehicle was full. There were 8 Americans on-board, 2 Spaniards, and 2 Argentinians.
The Spaniards and Argentinians were in the front row of the bus and my girlfriend and I were in the row behind them. They started conversing in Spanish and quickly started America bashing. Typical stuff at first: CIA, colonialism, McDonald’s, etc. The bus was quiet except for them, and they were talking loudly.
After living in Guatemala, you get used to travellers, Americans included, bashing the US. There is a lot to bash and I agree with some of it, but it would get annoying sometimes. I usually just ignored it.
This group just kept going and going through, and it was starting to bother me. I’m probably the least patriotic American you’ll ever meet, but something about living abroad makes you more sensitive about people talking crap about your country.
My girlfriend, who was also American and also spoke Spanish, was giving me the, ‘If you start an argument I will never sleep with you again,’ look. It was getting worse by the minute and was becoming genuinely insulting. ‘All Americans are ignorant, I hate that there are so many American tourists,’ blah blah blah.
I was about to explode when one of them said, ‘As proof that they are so stupid, none of these gringo pricks even speak the language of this country to be able to understand what we are saying and defend themselves.’ They all laughed.
As they laughed, my girlfriend grabbed my leg and whispered, ‘Don’t worry, we’re almost home.’ At that exact moment, a Guatemalan friend I worked with called me to ask me about a network password at the office.
The call should have taken 2 seconds, but I made sure to extend the conversation as long as possible, asking him about his family and our plans to go to a soccer match later in the week. I affected my best Guate accent and used as much complicated vocabulary and verb tenses as I could.
I wanted those jerks to hear me and know that I understood everything they had said. After I hung up, the biggest prick of them all made the slowest head turn I’d ever seen and looked at me. I stared right back at him and smirked. The bus was quiet for the rest of the ride.
In retrospect, what happened was better than starting an argument. I made them all feel really stupid and embarrassed without even trying.”
“I was in a random fast food place several years ago. I got my food and sat down to eat and read a bit. There were two Latino guys behind the counter who started making fun of each other in Spanish.
A few minutes later, I hear them start getting louder, and realized they were now saying things directed at me. ‘What a rich looking guy! What a wuss! Do you see me, wuss? What are you eating you sissy?’ and a few other rude things.
I’m a white dude and my Spanish isn’t that great, but I have a clue (plus it’s true that you always learn the bad words first). As I was leaving, I walked up to the counter and motioned one of them over and said, ‘Gerente favor?’ (manager please)
He suddenly looked a little sick and walked back to get the manager. His buddy heard me and also started to look sick to his stomach. The manager walked up and I said quietly, ‘Do those guys speak English?’ and he said, ‘No, not really. Why?’
So, I pointed at them and said, angrily in English, ‘The food was fine! I enjoyed my lunch! GOOD DAY.’ They flinched visibly and I walked out. Seemed the fair thing to do.”
Not Proud To Be An American
“I’m from the U.S., and about 30 years ago I went on a trip to Germany with some classmates (German class) after graduating high school. My best friend at the time and I went to visit the memorial and museum at Dachau, outside Munich.
In line, we were behind a group of people from the U.S. I remember every detail and no exaggeration here. A few had cowboy hats on, and they all had matching red t-shirts with lone-star logos and longhorns or something.
They also had cowboy boots, big belt buckles, and they were somehow taller and beefier than everyone else. Stereotypically ‘American’. No lie, one of them says, full voice, ‘Let’s go see where they burned the Jews,’ and laughs.
We were mortified. How could someone be so unbelievably ignorant? My buddy looked at me and said (in German), ‘Um, let’s just speak German, shall we?’ and we spoke nothing but German in line until we got out of earshot of everyone. We were ashamed to be American at that point. We wanted to tell everyone that we’re not all ignorant cowboy cartoon simpleton rednecks.”
Getting Frisky In France
“On a high school class trip to France, a buddy and I went to the beach in Nice. We were 16 or 17, and were quite interested in learning more about French culture (specifically, French women going topless at the beach).
A young American couple put a towel down near us. The girl, who was gorgeous, was arguing with her boyfriend. She wanted to go topless, but he didn’t want her to (something about not wanting creepy guys looking at her chest).
Her argument, God love her, was that they’re in France, where it’s customary to go topless, and since everyone there was French, no one is going to give her spectacular assets (my words, not hers) a second thought.
They continued to discuss the pros and cons, while my friend and I had the most flawless discussion about cheese our 3 years of French class would allow. Never in my life had I worked so hard on proper inflection and correct verb conjugation. Don’t mind us, just a couple of French dudes who have no interest in seeing you topless.
Eventually her boyfriend left, and the top came off. We’d passed as French and were well rewarded for our efforts (remember kids, study hard and stay in school). After a while, the boyfriend came back.
We had to get back to the hotel, so we reluctantly gathered up our stuff, and as we started to walk away, my friend turned and told them to enjoy the rest of their vacation in English. The looks on their faces were priceless.”
“I was in a bar in New Orleans a few years back and there were a couple of older Russian men next to me. They kept going on about pigs and talking about getting together, and I kept hearing them reference pigs, but it was loud and they were just out of earshot.
I thought they were talking about the women at the bar and being insulting. So I asked them where they were from in Russian and they were really excited to talk to me (I am an American and I speak Russian too).
It turned out that they were pork distributors, and were here to negotiate pricing and distribution with other companies. We had a great time talking and drinking before I moved on to another bar. I remember that fondly.”
Pretty Persuasive Persian
“I speak Persian, and I was running around on the beach trying to sell beach photos (the little telescopes you can look inside and see pictures of yourself). It’s a really sales-y job, and it requires a lot of convincing, persuading, and fast-talking to work.
Well, I came upon one Persian family and asked them (obviously in English) if they wanted their pictures taken. They started discussing in Persian whether they wanted to actually buy the photos, but every time one of them voiced a concern about buying the photos in Persian (like it’s too expensive, they might not come out good, etc), I would tell them in English why their concern wasn’t a big deal.
They ended up buying the photos, and they never realized that I was understanding what they were saying and responding to them accordingly.”
“I did a study abroad program in Tokyo back in undergrad. I was on the subway one day with these two salary men sitting across from me. From the moment I sat down, they started discussing me in Japanese: how big my chest was, the color of my hair, the width of my hips, etc.
They apparently didn’t expect a little white girl to speak Japanese. They weren’t threatening or anything so I let them go on. When the train finally got to my stop, I stood up and said in Japanese, ‘I speak Japanese, you perverts,’ and calmly walked out.
I turned back to look at them as the doors closed, and both their faces had turned bright red and their mouths were hanging open in surprise. I used to love embarrassing the perverts and grabbers on the trains.”
Things Are Not Always What They Seem…
“For those who are not deaf but speak American Sign Language, they often speak along with signing. One time in a coffee shop, I heard someone talking to their friend aloud, while signing what her friend assumed were the proper signs.
However, I noticed that the woman speaking was signing something completely different. A woman sitting across the room was signing back to her, as they were having a conversation of their own.
Those speaking were discussing the non-signing lady’s work, but those signing were discussing the non-signing lady’s romantic life. I can only hope the two signers knew each other.”
They Knew Exactly Who She Was
“I have a high nose bridge and a strong jawline, so a lot of people assume I’m their own race, except for Koreans. Anyway, I was on the bus when these two Korean girls behind me started talking about my nose and how obviously no girl from East Asia would have a nose like mine naturally, and how it must be fake.
Then they started criticizing how if I were to get a nose job that I should have been a little bit more modest with it. This conversation went on for about 40 minutes. That night, I went to a Korean American Association and there they were, shocked and embarrassed but I figured they didn’t need me to tell them I was bilingual.”
Not Your Average Gringo
“I worked at a pool a while back and I’m extremely white-looking, but also very fluent in Spanish. A family came in at one point asking about memberships and if we had day passes.
I could tell that English wasn’t their first language, but I always feel awkward jumping into Spanish in these situations because of my appearance, and I don’t want to come across as presumptuous.
Anyway, I explained to them very nicely how membership works and that no sorry we didn’t have day passes but I could recommend some pools that do.
At this point, the wife turns and says to the husband, ‘Este gringo quiere hacer las cosas más difíciles, vamos a otra piscina.’ (This whitey’s just trying to make it more difficult, let’s try another pool)
It was incredibly uncomfortable for me, but not as uncomfortable as it was for them when I gave them directions to the pool with day passes and wished them a nice day and good luck in Spanish.”
‘If You’re Looking For Trouble, You Can Get It’
“My friend and I were on a holiday in Spain. We were taking the train back from Barcelona to Malgrat de Mar, when two Spanish guys aged 16-18 were looking for tourists to pick on. Apparently, my friend and I looked like easy targets: two girls, aged 22, wearing skirts, looking pretty nerdy and innocent.
We were just sitting there minding our own business when they started to pick on us and call us names. After a couple of warnings, we’d had enough. We both stood up at the same time (we’re Dutch, and Dutch girls are very tall, much taller than the Spanish guys), went over to them, and told them, ‘If you’re looking for trouble, you can get it. So if you’re smart, you better shut up.”
We literally kicked the guys out of the train when the train stopped at the next station. A group of German people had seen it all go down, and couldn’t stop talking about what had happened. Not knowing that we could understand them, they said, ‘Did you see that?! Did you see that?! It was a foot in his butt! A foot, in his butt!’ Totally made our day.”
They Gave Her A Good Chuckle
“I was on an Amtrak with my boyfriend who was watching West Wing, and as it was 8 AM. I just didn’t have it in me to really enjoy it so I opted to read my book instead. We were sitting at one of the tables with two benches opposite one another, and there were two French ladies in their mid-sixties sitting across from us.
They were having a great conversation in French, and then I heard one of them go, ‘Oh! The boys in every country, they are all the same. You put a pretty girl next to them, a girl they think will stay there, and they’d rather watch a screen. You take the pretty girl away, and they go chasing after her, saying they never want to look at anything else.’
I just started cracking up, and they were really embarrassed. They started apologizing profusely, but I thought it was hilarious. My boyfriend sat there looking confused, smiled awkwardly, and kept watching West Wing. I spent much of the rest of the train ride chatting it up with the French ladies.”