As these hilarious stories prove, there is nothing quite like catching an unsuspecting person by surprise when they think you can't understand what they are saying.
(Content has been edited for clarity.)
Out Scamming The Scammers
“I look white but have a little Korean in me.
One day just shooting around at the local park a Korean family comes to have a picnic, and one of the kids asks to use my basketball. I let him use it and take a break. He plays with the ball and then runs off with it back to his family.
No big deal, I’ll just get it back after my ice soap shower.
I walk over to the family and tell them that I need my basketball back, and they say that it’s their son’s ball, in English. Then the whole extended family gathers around to see what is going on.
In Korean: ‘This guy is trying to take our son’s ball,’ ‘What does he think he’s doing?’ ‘How dare he do that? It’s ours,’ ‘Why is he STEALING IT?’ ‘WHAT AN JERK!’ ‘Where did you get a grenade?!’
I look at all of them and say, in Korean, ‘I let your son use my ball, can I please have it back now?’
Silence all around and the ball is rolled over to me.
It felt so good to see their jaws drop.”
Putting The Bagger In Her Place
“I speak Spanish on a conversational level, but I’m not 100% fluent. I was at the grocery store with my mom, the bagger started putting stuff in a plastic bag, and my mom politely asked for paper. The lady called my mom a ‘witch’ in Spanish. I told her, in Spanish, ‘este gringo puede comprender tu lengua, y si tienes algo para decir a mi madre debes hacerlo en ingles,’ which, in less than perfect Spanish grammar translates to, ‘this gringo can speak your language, and if you have anything to say to my mom you should say it in English.’ She became visibly shocked, and she shut the heck up. She was convinced I was gonna get her in trouble, but I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want my mom to flip out or be upset and I also didn’t want to ruin someone’s job just because they might have been having a bad day. I’m sure they get verbally abused by customers all day, and she was probably an okay person. That having been said, I was young and idealistic back then and if anyone called my mom that in front of me in any language nowadays I’d probably lose my temper.”
Yes, She Knows How To Use It
“My friend’s parents are missionaries. She grew up traveling around the world, and knows a few different languages. I met her in Korea where I spent a year teaching English. Friend, who is Korean, speaks English and Korean and has a lot of hobbies, like shooting 35mm film, like many hipster chicks… who have their own developing gear and darkroom. So, she’s on the bus, and two American bros (I sincerely hope they weren’t in the country to teach English, but it’s pretty likely) were on the bus as well.
Bro 1: ‘Look at that chick. I bet she doesn’t even know how to use that camera.’
Bro 2: ‘It’s probably a fashion accessory. Dumb Asian chicks.’
Friend: ‘I know how to use it. I’ve been shooting film since I was seven, and I develop them myself.’
Bro 2: ‘So, uh, you like photography?'”
Old Habits Die Hard. Very Hard.
“I’m not completely bilingual, but I knew more than enough for this one…
I’d been visiting my Dad, who was stationed in Germany. He was still at the army base I’d grown up on. This particular army base was based where a former Nazi army base had been – directly next to/covering part of what had been a notorious concentration camp.
While visiting there, I was run over by a car and spent a week in intensive care. Following that, I was moved down to the next level of care ward – it wasn’t the normal ward, it was for people who are still seriously ill. In the next bed from me was a very elderly German lady. (This ward only had five or six people at any one time).
One day, the old lady’s family came to visit. I’m English, but from growing up there, I know I reasonable amount of conversational German. The lady’s family were asking nice questions about how she was etc., and they got on to ‘had she made any friends in the hospital?’ The old lady gestured towards the other old ladies in the room and said that they were alright, but they didn’t talk very much.
Then she pointed right at me and said (very loudly) ‘But HER! She’s from the JEW CAMP! Why would they put me in with someone like that? Why are they helping her? She’s DISGUSTING! Why isn’t she DEAD?’
I know old people revert to old memories when they’re sick, but I would have preferred to have been in a bed next to an old person who didn’t revert into being a bloody NAZI!!!”
At Least There Was A Good Tip In The End!
“I am Vietnamese, but I used to work at a sushi restaurant run by Japanese/Korean people.
One night, I had a table with a Vietnamese couple. The man was friendly. His girlfriend, however, was extremely rude. When he asked me if I had any suggestions regarding the menu, she would speak in Vietnamese and say things like, ‘Oh he doesn’t know what the heck he’s talking about, babe… who the heck does he think he is? Listen to me instead! He just wants you waste money on the expensive dishes.’ So then the man would smile at me and politely decline my suggestions.
I carried on as if I was completely oblivious. I made my rounds and eventually came back to them. He made small talk by asking me random things about the restaurant. He then asked me what ethnicity most of the staff was. I told him the owner was Japanese and his wife (along with everyone else) was Korean. He looked a bit surprised and asked me where I was from. I smiled and told him I was Vietnamese too (at this point, the girlfriend started shifting around, uneasily). He asked me if I spoke/understood Vietnamese. I told him I was very fluent, and that I can also read/write. He started smiling and laughing, while his girlfriend buried her face in the menu.
In the end, their bill was around $50. He tipped me $35.”
Careful Who You Talk About
“I was in line at a clothing store in Mexico talking to my brother in English, and the man in front of me was talking to his wife about how us Americans have to learn the language if we want to be there, especially if it was in a ‘non-touristy’ part. So when it was his turn to pay I gently said (in Spanish) ‘We’re actually Mexicans, and you’re next’ they didn’t move. He looked as if I had kicked him in the nuts.”
Everyone Feels Bad In The End
“I’m a dual citizen to Norway and the U.S., but I live/was raised in the U.S., so I have an American accent. Went to Norway, on a train to Oslo someone started a conversation in English to me (like 80-percent of Norway is multi-lingual, and I know its a pre-requisite in their schools to pass a fluency test in English and one other language), and asked where I was from, told them the U.S. blah blah blah (small talk ensues). Then some other people talk and say ‘Jeg hater disse tapelig turistene’ or ‘I hate these stupid/foolish tourists.’ I turned around and said (in Norwegian) ‘Yeah me too, did you see one somewhere?’ Then he started tripping all over the place apologizing; it was worse for that guy than it was for me. He just felt terrible, and I ended up feeling kinda bad for him.”
Does This Count As Flirting?
“I was on a bus in Korea when two 20 something girls were having this conversation about me. Girl One: ‘Say hi to him, use your English.’ G2: ‘Nooo, I can’t I’ll be embarrassed.’ G1: ‘I bet his hot pepper is huge!’ (Korean slang for dude’s junk). G2: ‘yeah. but I bet it is soft, and wilted and doesn’t last long enough; everyone knows the smaller the pepper, the hotter it is!’ Then giggling from the seat behind me.
At my bus stop, I turned and said in my best Korean ‘My friends call me the horse who can run all day,’ as I got up and got off the bus. Not sure if they got the full gist of what I was saying, but the fact that I busted out in Korean had them flabbergasted for sure.”
“I’m an American, but I spent some time living in Uganda. Most of the time I got on a bus, the other riders would inevitably start making jokes, and talking about the ‘mzungu’ (‘white person’). The usual themes were about the conditions of the ride (too many people/animals/pot holes), and how I should be riding in luxury since I’m white.
I would wait until there was relative silence, and say in Lusoga (one of the major languages), ‘Shhh. I think the white person understands!'”
Yes, It Actually Was Uncivilized
“One time, while I still lived in Egypt, I was at a McDonald’s, waiting in line. Some guy cut line to the spot in front of me, but I decided to let him go.
Seeing that I let the guy go, a middle-aged woman tried to do the same. I was having a pretty crappy day, so I let her have it, in English. She backed off, quite chastened, and stepped into line behind me.
By the time I had made my order and was picking it up, her friend had joined her, and they were talking about me. She was saying something to the effect of ‘Freaking American. What, he thinks we’re uncivilized or something,’ and was talking to all of the people around her about it. As the clerk put my order on the counter, I turned around, and, in perfect Arabic, said ‘It would seem that way, wouldn’t it?’ Everyone fell quiet. Maintaining eye contact with the woman, I reached back, grabbed my order, and then proceeded to walk out. I walked around the corner and then did a moonwalk. Yes, I know, I’m lame.”
Stunned Into Silence
“My husband went to New York to visit his brother. One morning after waking and not caring about appearances, he headed down the elevator to have a smoke. Well, the building cleaning crew comprised primarily of Puerto Ricans joined him at some point in the elevator ride. They started speaking Spanish assuming this scrawny white boy with long hair and a ratty, old Metallica t-shirt wouldn’t understand. He did, though. One of the ladies said his shirt was ugly. When he exited the elevator, he looked her dead in the eye, said to her in Spanish that he thought her hair was ugly and walked away in stunned silence.”
IT Finally Boiled Over
“My story is similar. I’m from Uruguay, which isn’t a very dark-skin country, to begin with, and I’m half-Polish, though I seem to have gotten all the Polish genes.
I was working in the kitchen of a sports bar when I was 18. The only ‘white boy’ in the kitchen, the rest being mostly Guatemalans with the odd Haitian thrown in. My first few weeks working there, they were talking smack to me CONSTANTLY, thinking I didn’t know what they were saying. I just kept my mouth shut, but one time they were ragging on me, and I was stressed out from some other crap, and I turned around and yelled something like ‘Yo se que todo que dice, hijos de puta! Anda cagar!’ (‘I know what you’re saying, jerks! Screw off!’) They liked me a lot after that, no joke!”
“My step-mother’s father was a Greek immigrant to Australia, with pure white hair but particularly black eyebrows. Anyway, Australia is pretty multicultural, but the story goes there were two Greek tourists on the bus who just assumed nobody spoke Greek and were chatting away; ‘Look at that guy! his hair is SOOO white, but his eyebrows are SOOO black!’
Anyway, his stop came up, and as he was getting off, Grandpa responded in Greek; ‘If you think my eyebrows are special, you should see down south.'”
Leering And Talking About It In Any Language Is A Bad Idea
“When I was in high school, I went mountain climbing with my best friend. Some Hispanic men were climbing the mountain behind us and started making lewd comments about our butts and what they’d like to do to us. They were quite embarrassed when I told them exactly what they could do to themselves.
They didn’t expect a blonde-haired, blue-eyed young girl to speak fluent Spanish.”
Fighting Old Battles
“I lived in Japan for quite a while. I also became fluent in (spoken) Japanese. I can’t read but maybe 60 kanji, though. Anyway, I was sitting on a train between Kobe and Osaka across from a fairly old Japanese man, maybe 70 or so. A few minutes after I got on the train (he was already on when I boarded), we made eye contact, and I smiled and nodded at him. He said, with a huge grin on his face, ‘It’d be good if all Americans died.’ I was stunned. I was so stunned I forgot how to speak Japanese for a few minutes. After I got myself back together, I said to him, very quietly (in Japanese, of course), ‘When Japanese people stop being angry at Americans because we had bigger weapons, then perhaps we can have an intelligent conversation, but your anger blinds you to reality.’ He got furious, stiffened up, and stood up out of his seat. He bowed to me and said, ‘Die.’ (That’s the most potent insult there is in Japanese.) Then he got off the train. It was a terrible experience and ruined my day. I still get upset thinking about it.”
Might As Well Be Related
“I am Dominican. If one knows anything about Dominicans, is that we take up every color slot of the race rainbow. That being said I look like a Middle Eastern/Desi mix. I often get confused for Indian, Pakistani, Lebanese, Iraqi; everything not Dominican. Anyway, I worked one summer at a Taco Bell, as a cashier. One day, a customer, a fellow Dominican, was waiting on line with his wife/girlfriend, and said, ‘Anda al diablo, a saber si ete’ indio e’ mierda sabra hablar ingles. Maldito grajero.’
Which roughly translates to: ‘Aw man, I hope this terrible Indian dude can speak English. Freaking stinker (stinker as in BO).’
So he got to place his order, and I took his order in perfect Dominican Vernacular Spanish, and his wife/girlfriend instantly blushed. Dude asked me where I was from and it turned out that our families were from the same village in the Dominican Republic, and may even be distant relatives.”
Too Quick To Judge
“I had a terrible sinus infection plus a cold and being a broke college guy, my idea of health care was a bottle of Nyquil to sleep and Dayquil for breakfast. I was at the point of delirium in the medicine aisle at Walmart when a Mexican family walked up behind me to look at vitamins. At this point, I was wearing old work jeans with a hoody and long hair. Now, half of my family had deep roots in Spain, so I speak it fluently while looking like an everyday white guy They started talking about how I looked like a junkie and that I was probably buying stuff to cook speed. After selecting my liquid health, I let out the gnarliest sneeze towards the ground while facing them and told them they needed to be careful who they talked about and walked away. I’ve never seen a mother grab her children so quickly.”
They Weren’t Embarrassed At All
“Playing Phantasy Star Online, I ran into a bunch of French people who started badmouthing everything I did. For a while, I pretended to be oblivious despite understanding everything they said. After a while, I let them know that I understood their language.
Silence for about 15 seconds.
.And then they continued insulting me in French as nothing happened.”
Time To Press The Easy Button
“Setting: Staples Store (office supplies store). I am wandering around after acquiring label paper, looking through the aisles, and notice a woman dressed in a white frilly skirt, black leggings, pink jacket, red hair, overly made up, with expensive looking dancer boots, and along with her, her husband, and their two kids. This woman spends about 10 minutes loudly making fun of everyone in the store in Russian, including me, calling me the equivalent of a nerd stupid American. I wait for her to dial it down a bit, and walk by her, look her in the eyes, smile, and say in perfect Russian (I’m a Russian native) ‘I’m smart enough to gauge your ignorance,’ paid for my paper, and left the store. When leaving I looked back and noticed she super red-faced standing in line with her head down, one of her kids was laughing hysterically (might have been crying, I was looking through the glass, so there was no sound).”
A Happy Story
“My family is Lithuanian and at the time had recently moved to the states. My great-grandmother was riding a bus with her friend in Chicago when a young African-American man walked on the bus and took a seat nearby my great-grandmother. To her friend, in Lithuanian, she mentioned that the man was very, very handsome and had a well-tailored suit on. (I like to imagine it was more like ‘that guy is hot,’ but this is how I was told the story.) They continued to chit-chat in Lithuanian until the man stood to leave. He turned to my great-grandmother and in fluent Lithuanian thanked her for the compliment and said she was quite lovely herself and turned to leave.
I love this story because of the rarity of finding people who speak Lithuanian (even in the highly populated immigrant neighborhoods in Chicago) and that the man was African-American. (really, have you ever met someone with Lithuanian heritage!? All blond, blue-eyed, giants).
This was always one of my favorite stories growing up about my aging great-grandma, and it taught me to always talk good about the people around me, no matter what language I am speaking in.”