"I knew a policeman in the UK who was half-Algerian, and though he didn't look it, he spoke fluent Arabic. He told me his best story was when he arrested some teenagers who were, lo and behold, Algerians from the same community.
They clearly didn't know he could understand their language and decided it would be funny to use every swear word 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 brats, 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."
"My boyfriend is a native Russian speaker. Let me preface by stating that he is a big dude with a barrel chest, wide shoulders, a black beard and usually wears a dark and stoic expression. He looks intimidating.
So he is in a shoe store (in the United States) and this one kid who is maybe 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!' indicating my boyfriend.
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."
"My family immigrated to the US when I was about 10 years old, so I can still speak quite a bit of Russian. Anyway, I volunteered at a daycare center for a few weeks during spring, summer, and winter breaks in college.
One day, I learned that we had a brother and sister (both 7 to 10 years old and both from Ukraine) coming to the facility.
They were great kids and could speak English. However, since they were from Ukraine, they only spoke Russian to each other.
One day I overheard the younger sibling ask her brother, 'Do you believe in Santa?' He replied, 'Yes, but he won't be coming to our home because we're in foster care.'
Little did they know, Santa was listening. I got them gifts. The little girl had a favorite toy that she played with at the daycare, a stuffed rabbit. I bought her one just like it. I gave her brother a toy car."
"This one is my favorite, of all the multi-lingual 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 screw over. And they'd talk all kinds of crap 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 has single-party consent for recording conversations) that often bled into them trying to make me cover for their own butts on major health-code violations.
Seriously. They expected me to cover for them while they talked crap about me, with me right in front of them.
So. I quickly began searching for a new job and continued to document the crap out of everything. Every single thing. I had pictures, timestamps, temp logs. All of it.
And then they messed with my pay. 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 obvious wage-theft. They denied it. Even in the face of the major discrepancies in hours-worked, set wage, and the 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. I told them I could start in three days.
I walked in for my next shift with prints of everything in a file. I put everything on the table and told him, 'You've been stealing from me. I have all of this proof, 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 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 jerk.' 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 a month later."
"I was living in Hawaii, and at a fancy salon waiting for my then-wife to finish getting her hair done. Three young Swiss ladies come in, sit right across from me, and start speaking loudly to one another. It's a nice place with a quiet atmosphere as they did massages and other spa 'stuff.' At first, I'm not listening, but it's like a TV or radio that's just loud enough to hear, and after a bit, you can't help but start listening more intently.
Of course, I could only catch every other word because to me (a non-native German speaker) Swiss German is a strange accent, but I could distinctly catch the gist of the conversation and it was raunchy. They were talking about their vacation so far and one of them was telling a story about the guy she went home with from the bar the previous night. She went into dirty details about his thing, how big it was, how good he was in the bedroom, and so on.
Of course, I'm kind of looking sidelong at them at this point and I catch the eye of the one that was talking. She gives me a quick half smile and goes back to talking to her friends and the conversation continues as before.
A few moments later, my Austrian ex-wife comes out and says, in German, '(Sorry) that took so long,' to which I reply, also in German, 'It's okay, I was entertained.'
They got quiet, and I could feel them staring at us all the way out the door."
"I have a flipped version of this, in which I didn't speak the language but made the person think that I did.
A friend of mine is Kazakh and one of her friends is Russian. She refuses to speak in anything but Russian to her. One day I was sitting around outside with my friend when the Russian girl comes up, sits next to me (so I'm in the middle), interrupts our conversation and starts talking across me for about 10 minutes before leaving, never even acknowledging my existence.
Then she comes back, does it all again, then twice more. By now I'm pissed off at her, as I only got one break that day and I'd spent most of it trapped in the middle a conversation I couldn't understand. So as she is leaving yet again, I look up, smile and cheerfully say 'Do svidaniya!'
Instantly she stares at me in shock and just stands there open-mouthed, blushing deeper and deeper red with embarrassment before rushing away to the nearest building. My friend is almost wetting herself laughing by now and explains that the Russian girl was talking the whole time about how hot she thought I was, that I must be great in bed, and wondering if she had a chance with me. The last thing she had said was, 'Hahaha, imagine if he could understand us.'"
"I'm a blonde, blue-eyed Aussie. I learned to speak Thai on exchange there in my mid-teens.
One day, on a bus, two Thai school girls were unashamedly talking about wanting to touch my hair. After about five awkward minutes of feeling rather objectified, I finally blurted out that they were welcome to do so, but it just feels like normal hair. I went on to explain that Pantine was the secret to its silky smoothness.
I'm not sure who was more embarrassed."
"I live in Ottawa (Canada), and I'm a big guy with a beard, but I speak enough Mandarin to know my way around people. Apparently, I also have the biggest resting angry face.
Anyway, four young Chinese students are talking on the bus blocking the way to another girl (who was also Chinese). She wanted to leave but the teens wouldn't move, so I asked, with my super deep voice in Mandarin:
'Are you girls leaving or what?'
They were in total shock. Apparently, I have a near accent-free Mandarin (according to every Chinese colleague I ever had). You don't expect that from a lumberjack, I guess."
"I speak five languages. The best use I've had of this power so far is while negotiating deals.
I once went into a negotiation willing to pay $10,000 for the service. Before the meeting started, I overheard them talking to each other about how they can afford to go as low as $1,000 in their native tongue, which I speak fluently.
Yes, that's just 10 percent of what I was willing to pay.
I confidently said, 'I'll pay you $1,500, and that's my final offer.' They took the deal. I never told them I speak their language."
"My family speaks (among other languages) English and Norwegian.
We were in Italy one time, eating in a fairly nice restaurant. At the table across from us, there was another family with a small child. We can tell they're from Norway, but not exactly what they're talking about. Suddenly, the small child bellows in Norwegian, 'I have to poop! I have to poop!'
The mom, who is attending to a small baby, tells her child to be quiet. She's finishing up her meal, so she makes no effort to shut the kid up. Her reasoning, it seemed, was that nobody else in the restaurant could speak Norwegian, so she wasn't too concerned about her kid loudly and repeatedly announcing that he needs to poop.
Unbeknownst to her, my entire family is stuck in that zone between cracking up and dying from second-hand embarrassment."
"I speak German fluently.
One time, I was standing in line at the grocery store (in the US) when a German family got in line right behind me. They had a little boy (probably 4 or 5 years old) who was being a real handful, running around, complaining loudly in German, accidentally ran/bumped into me etc. The mom was scolding him, telling him in German how he was annoying the people around him with his behavior, and he was talking back that no he wasn't. I turned to him and calmly responded in perfect German that she was right and that he should listen to his mother. His eyes got big as saucers and he hid behind his mom for the rest of the wait, who gleefully laughed at this sudden turn of events."
"I went on a school trip to Indonesia. While at an empty food court I asked (in English) for a fresh batch of noodles to be cooked without spice, and the chef made them but complained to the server in Bahasa the entire time. It sucks to make fresh food in an empty food court to be fair, so I felt for them. But I had to eat. As a self-respecting teenage boy, the words I knew best were all the swears and they were used liberally. Also, there was a lot of racist stuff towards me and slang I didn't understand.
So I got the food, paid, and then said (probably with terrible grammar), 'I know work is hard, but you lost my friendship by saying mean things.' They were either shocked by me speaking the language or confused and trying to figure out what I said, but I used the silence to say 'Hisap telur' and walk away, which translates to 'suck eggs.' I'm not sure if they would've got it, suck eggs isn't a common slang phrase everywhere, but it felt good after being flamed for a couple of minutes."
"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 attended weekend language school with her siblings, but she went by an abbreviation of her given name, spelled in an odd way, which is what was on her name tag.
She spent a fair amount of time with them, asking what they were looking for, their budget, and sizing. She was 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.'"
"I lost my backpack in Japan, which contained $1,000 in yen, my passport, and my laptop. I was hysterical to the train guard, and he phoned the terminal station talking about a crazy foreigner losing her luggage. I was close to tears already, so it didn't matter. After returning an hour later, I saw the same train guard and thanked him in Japanese. I wasn't offended at all by his comments, but he had a funny look on his face after I thanked him all the same."
"I was traveling in Indonesia and needed a place to stay the night. I found somewhere that looked decent, so I went to check in.
The hotel receptionist was phoning some of our info and requests on to someone else, and I heard her refer to me as a 'white punk' in Malaysian. I guess she assumed that I didn't understand her as I spoke English when entering. I did this because I can't speak the language, though I can understand it (I used to hang with the Moluccan kids who lived next to our neighborhood). After filling out the paperwork, I told her something like 'You know I heard that, right?'
Free minibar for me, yay."
"I was in a game of Overwatch (an online computer game) with a bunch of French speakers. They were grouped up together, and I was the only one solo-queuing. Now, admittedly, I only speak a bit of French, but I can understand it, and I can read and write it. When I asked if anyone was on voice chat, I got a response from a guy with a Québecois accent, who then continued to speak with his group -- in French -- and heard them start making fun of 'the Anglo.' After a round of them making fun of me and me trying to do callouts and strategize, I gave up and told them, in French, 'Je vous comprends' -- I knew what they were saying and I could understand them.
They started laughing, actually started talking to me when we were playing, and we went on to win that game. They added me to their group chat and I still have them as friends."
"My mom went to university in America and took public transport everywhere. The key difference between American busses and Indonesian busses was the hand grip. My mom thought it was the weirdest thing in the world. She told her friends in Javanese, 'Hey, these white people are like monkeys, hanging around.' When the bus stopped, an older white man walked past them to get off and said in fluent Javanese, 'Excuse me, monkey coming through.' She was so embarrassed.
I also had my own experience when I was traveling. I was waiting for my partner to come back from the information center and a bunch of middle-aged women (known henceforth as W1, W2, and W3) were contemplating whether or not to ask me for directions to the subway in Indonesian.
W1: She looks Indonesian.
W2: Really? She doesn't seem Indonesian at all, and even if she is, she is too dark to be able to afford this type of holiday.
W3: Look at her features though, very Indonesian.
W2: Trust me, she is definitely not Indonesian, just ask her in English for the information.
After a lot of mumbling and protesting, they shuffle closer to me. One of them eventually asked me.
W3 in English: Excuse me. Information?
Me in Indonesian: Oh, the subway tickets are down those steps over there.
They were shocked and apologized nervously when I explained that I had overheard them. We did have a good conversation until my partner came and we said our goodbyes."
"I was in Korea taking photos at a mural village with my two friends (we're all British) when two Japanese tourists came past and said, 'they're so cute! especially the boy!' to each other. I live in Japan, so as we were leaving I decided to let them know that we're all female. They went bright red, and it made my day.
In general, being British and living in Japan outside of Tokyo you get a lot of people thinking you don't understand them. Generally, nice things are said, though!"
"I was waiting for the subway in Hamburg when a young Englishman walked up to me, almost falling over himself with apologies, asking if I could please speak English for a moment. He seemed like he was probably lost and wanted directions.
'Yes. I speak English perfectly.'
'Perfectly?' he wondered, noticing my American accent.
'Like a native speaker.'
He never did get around to whatever question he had meant to ask. He seemed about to burst into a rant, 'It's my language, we invented it you Yank.'"
Brainjet is devoted to providing you with all of the craziest, most eye-opening, and overall most interesting information out there.