"I can speak Chinese and at one point I dated a Chinese man. 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 along with her daughter.
My then-boyfriend introduced me to them and they seemed pretty nice, then we sat at a table close enough to hear their conversation. 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 with her dating. It struck me 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."
"My mom stopped at a local sushi restaurant late one night. While she was waiting for her takeout order, she overheard the chefs saying, 'Give her the old fish, we need to get rid of it. No fresh fish for this witch,' in Japanese.
After pondering how to reply, my mom 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 while they apologized profusely. Needless to say, my mom walked out with some delicious free sushi!"
"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.
Then 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 it 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 very 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."
"I once witnessed some serious racism go down when a black family was eating dinner in a restaurant. They kept looking two tables over at a Spanish family. The mom looked more and more ticked, and finally walked over, got down on one knee, and in a stern tone started going off a mile a minute in perfect Spanish. The look on the Spanish family's faces was of absolute shock and horror.
Afterward, nothing was said, and she went back to her table with a slight grin. I came to find out that she was a college professor who taught Spanish, and the Spanish family kept making racist comments about their black sever as well as the professor's own family."
"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 all look like whitebread Americans so 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 understand 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 committed ritualistic suicide in their hotel room."
"This happened when I was meeting my new boyfriend's grandparents for the first time during our freshman year of college. They were very Italian and 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 needed to tell his mom to force him to get rid of me. Then they went on to question my ethnicity because of my hair color. However, 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 the whole time. They didn't speak a ton of Italian, but they knew the grandparents were talking bad about me. At one point there was an awkward pause where the grandma smiled nicely at me, so 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?' Then I smiled nicely and went back to eating. Their reactions were PRICELESS."
"At one point 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 don't tolerate bullying.
I pulled some friends aside for a group bathroom break at which point I told them what the mother-in-law and sister-in-law 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 didn't say anything.
That is, until the two were getting ready to leave, at which point 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."
"I speak Farsi (Persian) and one time in college I was waiting in line at Subway when I heard two Persian boys behind me complaining about the girl in front of me for taking too long to order.
Then they began to comment on how hot she was and about all of the naughty things they'd both do to her. One of them said something to the effect of, 'I wouldn't mind licking some of that sweet onion sauce off her body.' I was standing there smirking, fully aware that these guys had no idea I knew what they were saying.
She finished her order, paid, and as she left, she turned to the guys behind me and said in Farsi, 'Your mothers would be ashamed to hear how you talk about women.' I was as surprised as they were, but the difference was that they looked mortified while I was trying not to double over with laughter.
I ordered my sandwich, and on my way out I smirked at them and said in Farsi, 'She's right, you know?' I feel like if you're in an area that has a healthy population of people of the same ethnicity, you might want to check what you're saying (in any language). It's like going to California and trash talking people in Spanish."
"One time 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 (me).'
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 probably 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,' I replied. 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."
"I'm white but I speak Spanish fluently. Once 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."
"I used to work as a waitress at a small-town Chinese restaurant. The place was situated close to a harbor, so whenever a cruise ship from Quebec stopped by for a layover, we'd have 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 often called in a for an extra shift during those times.
One night around closing time, two couples came in and they were speaking English very well, so I served them in English. After they finished their meal, the two women left while the men stayed for a few more drinks.
I guess they assumed I couldn't speak French because immediately after the women left, the men started talking about how hot I was. One of the men wanted to lick 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 classic."
"I (African American teenager) once went to a Chinese restaurant and immediately the lady behind the counter looked up, then back at her husband, and shouted in Mandarin, 'One ape in the door! Go serve it.'
It took me a minute to realize that I hadn't translated her 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 was left on her face."
"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 among 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 this 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."
"I'm Italian and even though I can't speak Spanish or Portuguese fluently, I can understand a lot of those languages. When I lived in the US, I dated a Brazilian girl for about two months and never mentioned that I could speak or understand Portuguese because of the language's Latin roots. I assumed she would have at least guessed as much, but alas.
One night she came over to my place and said she needed to use my computer, then went on Skype to talk to one of her friends in Portuguese. I was sitting next to her watching TV and her conversation with her friend was pretty much about me, her, and some other dude she was dating at the same time, and she mentioned that she was gonna spend the night at his place later on. I didn't flinch a bit, I just sat there for the whole conversation.
Once she was done, I looked at her and told her in Portuguese how good the movie I was watching was. It's difficult to describe how priceless it was; her jaw dropped, there was silence for a couple of minutes, and then I said (in Portuguese) that she should get her stuff and leave. She just left and never said a word back to me."
"One day I was taking the bus across town and indulged in my bad habit of listening in on others' conversations. I overheard these two guys talking about their attitudes towards immigration (I live in Australia and there is a lot of xenophobia) and it was all a bunch of bullcrap like, 'Oh, they don't assimilate into our culture, they shouldn't be coming into our country if they're Muslims,' and other ignorant stuff like that.
Eventually, they noticed an Asian couple get on the bus, and the couple started talking in Malay. These two jerks went on in their conversation about how they shouldn't have to learn their language and that they should have to speak English in public because they wouldn't understand it if the couple was talking about them. That annoyed me, and I tried to tune out of their conversation.
Eventually, due to my terrible habit, I starting listening to the couple's conversation. I speak Malay because I learned Indonesian (very similar) in high school plus my stepfamily is from Singapore so they speak a variety of different languages. The couple was talking about general day to day things when one of the guys shouted, 'Speak freaking English, Asian pricks!' That was the last straw for both me and the man from the couple.
The Malaysian guy was built like a tank and ready to knock these jerks teeth out, whereas the guys were puny, skinny, and very unintimidating. He got up to talk to them before I did, but I stood just in time to yell out to the guy, 'Hey, come on man, it's not worth it. Just leave them be.' I mean, I was going to give them an earful about how stupid they were acting, but if a fight broke out, the Malaysian guy would have knocked them out which would've only worsened their racist attitudes towards foreigners.
The Malaysian guy was pretty surprised to hear me speak Malay, then recomposed himself and got off the bus with his girlfriend. It felt pretty awesome telling these buffoons afterward that if they weren't acting the way they were they wouldn't have caused a scene and that if I hadn't learned another language, they would've been bloody and beaten. They thanked me for dialing down the situation, but I told them that I didn't need thanks from racist idiots like them and that if there was a next time maybe I'd let them get their teeth kicked in. It was a great feeling."
"I'm working in Korea and while my Korean coworkers are aware of the fact that I speak Korean to some degree, they assume my understanding is poor and thus don't know that I can understand most of their conversations.
One time 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 wasn't a lot of socializing going on between the groups. I sat right in the middle so I could listen to both groups at the same time.
At one point I overheard them say one of my coworker's 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."
"I used to be an English teacher in a very multiethnic city in China. It was a public university and many of the students had some resentment towards being forced to learn English when there are more Chinese speakers in the world.
On the first day of class, I decided to address this issue as well as the struggle of learning a foreign language. 'I know how hard it is to learn a foreign language,' I explained. 'I have been studying foreign languages since I was 12 and still have trouble learning a new one. Don't hesitate to talk to me if you have an issue. That being said, this is an English class, so I expect you to speak English. Also, I speak five languages and I will not tell you what they are, but I promise you that if you try to use another language in class, I will still understand you.'
Then a wiseacre student stood up and, in the Golok dialect of Amdo Tibetan, said, 'Really? Is that so? Then do you understand what I'm saying?' very smugly.
I then looked up and, in a similar dialect of Amdo Tibetan, responded, 'Oh! Tibetan! So, where is your hometown?' The kid went dead silent and sat back down while rest of the class applauded."