"My grandma could speak Arabic fluently. One time, we were out and some women behind us in line were mocking her, calling her tacky, and making fun of her bad dye job (she had fire engine red hair).
She turned around and said in Arabic: 'I may be tacky, but at least I'm not stupid enough to assume nobody can understand me.' They were so mortified.
My grandma was something else. She loved men, even to the point where she married nine different men throughout her life, and as a result, she could speak English, Arabic, Vietnamese, and French."
"I was in prison in the United States where a lot of people speak Spanish. Fortunately, I kept it to myself that I did as well.
I was at the table playing poker to make a little money and to pass the time, and a few Latinos were playing as well. They would tell each other their cards in Spanish then laughed like they weren't talking about cards. Needless to say, this gave me quite the advantage.
Things got a little more interesting when they started talking about my win streak. One mentioned to the other that he thought I was cheating and suggested that they don't pay me what they owed (which is a good way to get into a fight in prison). So I calmly said to them in Spanish, 'Si no me quieres dinero, tal vez no me digas cuáles son tus cartas (If you don't wanna owe me money then you shouldn't tell me your cards).'
It was such an epic moment, I'll never forget the look on their faces as they paid me."
"My mom's friend and her aunt were on a bus in Boston when a very sickly looking woman sat down in the seat in front of them.
They were speaking Polish and just started talking between themselves and said something along the lines of 'that lady looks like death'.
The sickly looking woman turned around, and in Polish said, 'I have cancer.'"
"I was touring some old dungeons in Germany. It was just me and my family, and an older German couple. They were dissing my country the whole time because they thought we couldn't understand them.
We got to a room where they locked people by their feet, and the German man said to his wife and the tour guide in German: 'This is where you should go if you can't speak German.'
I turned to him, and in perfect German replied: 'Then it's a good thing I can speak German.' The look on his face was priceless."
"I'm an American, but my dad and his family are from Switzerland, so I've had to learn some languages other than English if I want to keep up with my grandparents and cousins during conversations. I've got pretty poor with my French but good enough that I can still listen in on other people's conversations. But, I was never expecting to be able to use this skill or surprise anybody's secret conversation since I live in Texas.
But lo and behold, one day, I was out shopping with a couple friends - one who also speaks French and German. I'm disabled from an accident that deformed my left leg - it's pretty obvious and people do tend to stare but that doesn't mean I'm going to go around covered up in pants all the time. It's too hot here! At lunch we overheard a mom talking with her son at the table next to us. The boy was about 7 or 8 years old and was totally fixated on my leg and the leg brace I wear - just typical kid curiosity and I was probably one of the few disabled people he's seen.
The little boy was asking his mom what happened, why that girl's leg all messed up, why does she have to wear that brace. The Mom then starts talking smack about American's and tells the boy I probably lost it in the war while killing a bunch of helpless people. She then goes on about how American's are unhealthy, dumb, and should stay out of other people's business.
My friend had gotten up to go to the restroom and came back and just casually asked how the meal was - in French. I answered her back and the mom looked mortified as it dawned on her I had heard the whole conversation. I wasn't rude but I did take the opportunity to tell the boy - who was legitimately concerned. I explained that I was injured in an accident but I'd be okay. So, I got to surprise someone being a prick and got to show a little boy that disabled people are just regular people, so win-win."
"I'm Mexican, but I studied my college degrees in the United States. When I was studying abroad in Germany, I only spoke English to my German classmates.
Four months in, we were waiting for a train at a station one night and a group of young South American tourists were being loud and just waiting beside us. I could understand every word they're saying (except for some slang), and they suddenly started talking smack about our group. I don't blame them at all, they were just bored at the train station trying to pass time, but I smiled and looked at them.
One of the guys looked back and said in Spanish: 'Do you not like what I'm saying?'
I responded in Spanish: 'It's been a long time since someone insulted me in my language.'
The guy had a speechless look on his face and all of his friends looked at me. We had a laugh and soon after that both our groups sat together and had a nice time talking. Their English was good enough to carry a conversation, so it was a good time."
"I was a freshman in college, meeting my new boyfriend's grandparents for the first time. They were very Italian. He told them I was also Italian. You'd think they would have used some common sense. Anyways, we were all at the dinner table when the grandparents started speaking to each other in Italian about how I am the devil that is going to ruin his college football career, and how they need to tell his mom to force him to get rid of me. How can I be Italian with my hair color? I must come from a terrible background if my parents are allowing me to spend the night in his parent's house for the weekend. The family looked uncomfortable (all aunts/uncles/cousins/BF's parents) They didn't speak a ton of Italian, but they knew it was all about me.
There was an awkward pause where the grandma smiled nicely at me and 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 that 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. You didn't teach your family? Surprising.'
I smiled nicely and went back to eating. The look on their faces was PRICELESS.
We vocally despised each other after that. It really chapped their rears that we were together for three years and that I ultimately left him."
"I was working at a front desk with two co-workers who were related. They were speaking Spanish and one of them was talking about how she thought I was weird/acted too professional all the time.
She then asked, 'Where is the stapler?' in Spanish. I picked up the stapler and without looking at her, I extended my arm to pass it. She then asked if I spoke Spanish and understood the whole conversation. I told her I spoke fluent Italian and took Spanish classes in school.
Another time, I was at the mall eating McDonald's when I was a teenager. A group of old Italian guys was hanging around the food court, and one asked, 'How can he eat that,' in Italian while looking at me.
I looked up and stared at him. I said, 'Because I'm really hungry' in Italian.
All his buddies started laughing."
"I was in South America and had made friends with a guy who was living in Paraguay but was originally from Jordan. He spoke at least five different languages, so I asked him if he could help me out buying a cell phone.
We are shopping around and stopped at one place with two Middle Eastern guys selling cell phones. They said some things in Spanish, then some things in Arabic, and then my friend just said, 'Let's go.'
I asked him what happened, and he said the guys said something in Arabic along the lines of 'Oh, we'll pull a fast one on these guys.'
To which my friend responded, in Arabic: 'Is that right? You're going to pull a fast one on us?' My friend said he had no idea why they would assume he didn't speak Arabic."
"I (African American teenager) went to a Chinese restaurant and, immediately, the lady behind the counter looked up and back at her husband and shouted in Mandarin: 'One ape in the door! Go serve it.'
It took me a minute to realize I hadn't translated that incorrectly. When the husband asked what I wanted, I responded in Chinese, '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 on their faces."
"I am Canadian, so I can speak French pretty well. One time, I was with an English group in a very French town in Northern Quebec. The waitress was talking smack about us, just being an anglophobe, the whole night to her coworkers and the bartender. She was doing it fairly loudly, which I found weird in a bilingual country.
When she came around with the bills, I put on my best Québécois accent and said in French: 'I hope you aren't expecting a tip from these stupid English people, because you sure aren't getting one,' and told the group we were leaving.
She chased us out of the restaurant screaming at us in French, I flipped her off, and we left."
"Two English teens on holiday in France started calling people wankers and many other interesting words. I asked them to start respecting people, and they turned red.
In Prague, I asked a lady something in English and her English was too poor for her to understand. I can't speak Russian but have learned a bit of it and Czech is pretty close. Her gran was with her and the lady I was talking to said I was an idiot asking stupid questions, so I said in rough Russian: 'I'm not an idiot, I'm sorry I cannot speak Czech.' She went red, too.
In Catalunya, in a market, a seller spotted us as tourists and immediately tried to sell us his dried sausages more expensive than to the Catalan person before. I told him in Catalan that it is not fair to ask French people to pay more."
"My grandparents were Romanian Jews living in Europe during World War II. Following the war, they fled to Italy, where they stayed for a few years before coming to America.
They primarily spoke Romanian, but my grandpa could understand Italian as well. My grandma had a variety of serious health issues throughout her life, and at this point (they were probably in their 20s), she had to be taken to an Italian doctor. Thinking they spoke only Romanian, the doctor told his nurse (about my grandma), 'She's a Jew, let her die.' Well, my grandpa understood this and was able to seek out a more underground doctor to save my grandma's life.
She lived into her 80s."
"I speak fluent Hungarian and the thing about the language is it's so obscure that Hungarians will always assume when abroad that no one else can understand them. As you can imagine, this can backfire spectacularly. I grew up in the USA and I've heard marital spats at Walmart that frankly never should have left the living room, serious goodbyes between lovers that were awkward to hear, all sorts of things like that.
The best story though is my mother's when she and my dad were enjoying their first Christmas together. They were in a small village in Austria in the early '80s, and for Christmas Eve when they went out to dinner, there was a man in the restaurant with a dog sitting at the table. My mom proceeded to spend a lot of time telling my dad how disgusting and unsanitary this was of the guy to do, and when guy and dog finished their meal, he just went up to my parents' table, said 'Kellemes karacsonyi unnepeket kivanok,' and left. In Hungarian, this is the polite way of telling a stranger you wish them a Merry Christmas."
"My friend's mom is from Vietnam, but her dad is from the States and is white. For whatever reason, my friend looks like a typical white brunette girl but speaks Vietnamese with her mom's side of the family all the time.
One day, we got out of school and walked over to a nail salon a few blocks away to get our nails done. The ladies running the salon were speaking Vietnamese and according to my friend, they were talking bad about us the entire time we were there. They were talking about how rich we must be and how 'These little white girls can probably sleep with whoever they want and get ahead.'
I was completely oblivious to this the entire time, but as we were about to pay, my friend told me all the terrible things they were saying, so we didn't tip them.
We started to leave and one of the workers said something about how the rich white girls couldn't even afford to tip. My friend turned around and yelled at them in perfect Vietnamese about how if they expected their business to stay open, they shouldn't talk badly about their customers in front of their face.
I didn't understand a word of it, but the workers were in utter shock and sheepishly apologized to the both of us."
"I was waiting in line with my sister to take a boat tour in California and ahead of us was a group of German-speaking people. The wait to board the boat was long, and they got to talking.
At first, it was about how nice the weather was, and then it turned to how annoying Americans can be, especially fat, dumb, tourist Americans. They cracked a couple of jokes having to do with American stereotypes. While this was happening, the line started moving and people started boarding the boat. But the group was too wrapped up in their own jokes to realize it.
In fluent German, I asked if they were part of the tour and if they were getting on the boat. They stopped dead in their joking tracks and said yes. I replied that they had better get a move on because the dumb, fat, American tourist standing right behind them wanted to get on the boat too.
They all looked really embarrassed."
"I'm an American traveling abroad in the Middle East. I recently went on a date with an Arabic guy. He asked me if I spoke Arabic, but since I'm not comfortable speaking it, I just said no. I can understand most things, though, and can speak if pressed.
Dinner was great, we got along well, and then went to smoke shisha at a local cafe. The owner, who was my date's buddy, asked who I was in Arabic.
He smiled at me sweetly, squeezed my hand, and told his friend in Arabic, 'An American harlot who I'm going to hook up with later.'
I kept a stupid, docile smile on my face. When the owner took my order, I told him in Arabic, 'And one tea for the American harlot who he will not sleep with later.'
The look on both of their faces was priceless. Needless to say, I ended up taking a cab home."
"I was at a party a couple years ago and there were these two really good looking Asian girls. I started chatting one of them up and we seemed to be having a good time. The party kept going and we split momentarily. I heard them speaking in Korean and the one I was talking to was explaining how she thought I was really cute. Her friend started talking in Korean: 'That's not a good idea. Don't go after him. He's not that good looking. He just wants to sleep with you.'
I was OK with that and I just tried to enjoy the party. However, later on, I overheard the same girl again speaking in Korean how much of a lowlife I was and I was a horrible person with some added vulgar swear words. She was basically describing me as if I was the enemy of all women, how I lived in poverty and trying to label me with as many negative things she could think of.
Obviously, the girl I was talking to was listening to her friend and was clearly no longer looking at me with interest. Before leaving the party, I walked over to them and I tried asking for her number (just for laughs), which she politely refused. I turned to her friend and spoke in perfect Korean, 'Thanks so much for telling your friend about me. It was really nice getting to know you and I'm glad you know so much about me, even though we've never met before.'
The look on her face was worth not getting laid."
"I'm Japanese and live in Japan, but I went to college and law school in the States so I'd like to think I speak fluent English. It's always pretty funny when foreigners realize I speak English because there are so many bilinguals in Tokyo that you'd think they'd learn by now that trash talking in English isn't going to be as discrete as they think.
First is when I was drinking in a pretty small town in Niigata prefecture. It's not known to get too many foreign visitors except in the winters when ski/snowboard season picks up. This was in the spring, so I was actually quite surprised when I walked into an Izakaya and a foreign couple was sitting at one of the tables. I was alone, so they seated me at the counter and I ordered a couple of yakitori and a sake. As I was waiting, I could hear the couple behind talking about how none of the things that came were what they ordered/expected and that it was so difficult since no one seemed to speak English. The Izakaya we were at was like a hole in the wall, no pictures and the menu was handwritten in Japanese, so I could understand how difficult it would have been. I walked over and to their delight, I translated the menu for them and helped them with their order. I ended up sitting and drinking with them that night.
Another time, I was in a small city outside the 23 ward which has a pretty prominent language school, so there are a lot of foreigners in the area. I used to bartend when I was younger, and one of my coworkers from that time had opened a small bbq restaurant in the area, so I decided to stop by and congratulate him. There was a couple of American guys, probably in their early 20s just completely trashing this place saying it was not authentic and that they did it better in Texas or wherever they were from. After I had finished talking with my ex-coworker, I turned around and told the two American men that if they wanted authentic bbq they should just go back home to America, no one was subjecting you to this restaurant."
"I'm Brazilian but extremely white and I do look like an American when traveling abroad. I speak Portuguese, English, Spanish, and I can understand some French.
The most memorable moment of understanding what people are saying when they believe you don't, happened to me in Portland, Oregon, when I lived there.
With all that rain, I had become even more white, and I was wearing my Pittsburgh Steelers cap. There were these two Brazilian girls speaking Portuguese in front of me in a line of a Blazers game, and they were being extremely rude to everyone, saying that everyone in America was fat, ugly, and full of themselves.
One of them looked at me and said to the other one: 'Bom, esse aqui não é gordo nem feio, mas aposto que se acha com esse boné (Well, this one is not fat or ugly, but probably is full of himself with this cap).'
I just replied: 'Obrigado pelos elogios, e cuidado com o que vocês falam (Thank you for your compliments, and watch what you're saying).'
They apologized and got out of the line."