"I'm American, but can read and speak Russian on an intermediate level. A few years ago while visiting St. Petersburg, I was buying tickets for the hydrofoil to Peterhof. All the signs at the ticket booth were in Russian, and I could read the ticket prices. The ticket agent assumed I didn't know Russian and tried to tell me the ticket cost three times more than the stated price. I looked her right in the eye and said in Russian, 'I see on the board here that the ticket I want is (x) rubles.' Her jaw dropped, and the ticket agent sitting next to her started laughing her head off."
"Me and my friend were sharing a cab with two girls we didn't know. Just decided to share a taxi with them because it was a long way and we wanted to save some money. They started speaking Swedish not knowing my friend is also a Finnish Swede (her mother language is Swedish, she has been in a Swedish school, but is Finn and speaks Finnish fluently). I understand Swedish but I was too wasted to care. Suddenly she texts me:
'They are planning to leave us with the bill.'
I texted that we should tell the driver so my friend just said:
'These girls will pay half of this before they leave.'
He got the hint and didn't open the doors before they paid."
"When I was teaching kids in Japan, I would only respond with 'English only' to their Japanese. I did this for a few reasons: 1) To make them think I didn't speak Japanese, 2) To make them use English more, 3) So I could scare the crap out of them once I decided to speak Japanese.
Some kid in English school didn't do his homework, when I asked him for it, he told me in English that he 'forgot' his book. He then turns to his classmate and says in Japanese that his book is in his bag and he didn't do his homework because he couldn't be bothered. I said nothing.
Come the end of the class, his mother is waiting in the reception, along with my Japanese manager, so I tell the manager in English that he didn't do his homework, I hear the conversation between kid and mom - with him giving the same 'forgot' bull.
So, I just say in perfect Japanese 'Why are you saying you forgot the book? When I asked you in the class, you told the other student that it's in your bag and you didn't do the homework because you couldn't be bothered. I'm sorry, didn't you know that I could understand Japanese?'
Mom opens the bag, finds the book, smacks the kid in the head with the book and tells him to sit in the reception doing his homework. Kid cries. All is good."
"So I was working at a dental clinic in Germany, and these 2 guys walk in and start speaking in Arabic, not knowing that both I and my supervisor can understand it. The first guy (actual patient) is nervously telling his friend this would never work, and his friend is telling him to shut up and play along, so the supervisor and I try to figure out what kinda game they're trying to play. Apparently, they were trying to lie about the patient's age to get his dental treatment done for free (I don't know how that worked, I was just an intern). Unlucky for him, his teeth told the truth (you can't fake being 16 when your wisdom teeth are ALL THE WAY out).
So me and my supervisor shut up about it, and I'm in actual pain trying to hold back from laughing as the friend is convincing the patient that we're idiots who don't speak Arabic and cant understand their trick. Of course, until I can't anymore and decide to discuss the case with my supervisor, right there in front of them, in Arabic.
I have never seen someone turn so many different colours so fast."
"So I don't speak Spanish fluently, but I understand it just fine. I used to sell cars in Houston and as you can imagine, we had a lot of bilingual Spanish speakers come to buy cars from us. They never asked if my super clean cut white guy self spoke Spanish, so I never told them I did.
It was fun to have a couple that would speak English to me and Spanish to each other. They would literally tell each other everything like how much they wanted to pay and their negotiating tactics. They would say things like, 'If he offers to take $500 off let's do it, but I'm going to ask for $1000.'
So once they said yes, inevitability one would ask the other a product question in Spanish and I'd jump in and answer in English. The looks on their faces when they have that 'a-ha' moment were priceless."
"I worked with a group of Korean students when working on my degree. We worked in a catering kitchen. I used to listen to them talk all the time and would try and laugh when they laughed. They would notice and give me weird looks. One day they were building about 5000 box lunches. I was working across from them on the hotline. One of them was placing bread, next was on protein, next was lettuce, tomato, and cheese. The guy who was placing the cheese ran out and went to go get more. He walked to the cheese cooler but couldn't find any cheddar. About a minute before he looked, I noticed a new hire grab the cheddar and return it to the meat cabinet. Now, they all spoke Korean at work but when he went to the one in charge I knew he was asking where the cheddar was. She walked him over to the cheese cabinet and also found that it was gone. In English, I say, 'Miji, the cheddar is in the far cabinet next to the roast beef,' then I pretend that I'm not watching them. She walked to the meat cabinet, pulled out the cheese and yelled to me, 'Do you speak Korean?' 'No' I say. 'How did you know what he asked for?' 'I don't know what you're talking about Miji...' After all of that, they would switch to English when I was in the kitchen."
"I used to work at an armory. Two guys come in, speaking Spanish to one another, with one guy translating for the other. I'm a 6'5" goofy looking Irish dude, so they had no way of knowing I lived in Mexico for two years as a teen.
So the whole time I hear the guy describing the weapon he wants, how much he likes it, etc to the translator. The translator tells me everything like he is the one who wants to buy the weapon. He says he brought the other guy because he 'knows weapons.' Finally, I hear the Spanish only guy say that this is the one he wants, translator then tells me he has decided what he wants to buy.
I let them know, in Spanish, that I wouldn't be selling them any weapons. What they were trying is called a Straw purchase, which is when a felon or someone that can't buy weapons get a middleman to buy one for them and it is very illegal."
"I teach English (to adults) as a summer job. Most of my colleagues are monolingual and as a pale ginger guy, nobody expects me to speak Spanish.
Most of the time it's pretty boring stuff, but occasionally there's some juicy gossip - a worrying number of them seem completely fine with cheating on their partners back home. Sometimes I'll hear a story or joke from one of the students and then use it in an example or an exercise later in the week, which always confuses them.
I tend to be roughly the same age as most of my students (I'm 22) and despite being an average looking man, a lot of them seem to find me attractive. Guess it's the whole teacher thing or maybe gingers are exotic to them, don't really know. Anyway, on my last day of work at one school, this Spanish girl (she was 21) was talking about me to her friend on the phone while I was setting up the lesson. She was going into quite some detail about what she wanted to do with me, assuming that I wouldn't understand. I carried on with what I was doing without reacting, waited for her to hang up and said, in Spanish, 'Come and find me after class and we can arrange something.'"
"I am white, and about 15 years ago I was teaching English in China, and I was traveling on holiday break. I was already fairly fluent in Mandarin, but it was generally helpful to act like a clueless tourist, as most goods and services you paid for had no fixed cost and you had to negotiate prices. Most Chinese just assumed white foreigners were wealthy and would try to charge you higher prices, so I saved my Mandarin skills as a 'trump card,' only using them when necessary.
I was visiting a city with a famous Buddha statue carved into a cliff wall. To get the best view of it you had to take a boat across the river to an island. There were these guys with small boats ferrying people across for $1 RMB per person. I approached one boat that was nearly full and asked 'How much?' in English while gesturing with my hands. One person on the boat told the boat owner, 'You should charge him $5, he looks like an American and is probably rich.' Others chimed in in agreement. The boat owner replied, 'That wouldn't be fair, the price is $1 for everyone, no matter who they are.'
He held up his index figure to indicate it was a buck and I handed him one and got on board. As soon as we were off I sat right next to the guy and started chatting him up in Mandarin asking him questions about the weather, the city's history, etc.
I will never forget the looks on the faces of those people, their faces bright red with embarrassment."
"My cousin is a big white guy who studied for 2 years in Japan during college. He worked for one of the heads of Honda America for a few years. When the head guy learned that he spoke Japanese, he would make sure my cousin was in all the meetings and phone conferences with the Japanese branch. My cousin would listen to everything the Japanese would be saying to each other and report it to his boss during breaks. As such the boss looked like a psychic to the Japanese because after break, he would address their concerns without being prompted. The boss made mad bonuses every quarter and always funneled a bunch of that to my cousin."
"When I worked at Target, this couple went through my check out line, paid for a couple of sodas with a $10 bill, then started pitching a fit in Spanish. I understood just enough to know they were claiming to have paid with a $50 bill and accusing me of stealing.
The manager pulled my drawer and counted it. Drawer came up $1 short, not $40 over, so he told them to take a hike, and sent me to lunch.
I got in line in the food court to get some food, and who should happen to be in front of me? The couple, speaking perfect English, making fun of how scared I must have been and how bummed they were that their scam didn't work.
Ticked me off. I could have lost my job if my manager hadn't been such a cool guy."
"We had a large family reunion dinner at a restaurant and we were all sharing stories. My funny Uncle was telling us how he used to pretend he was deaf and his sister would translate. To prove it, he asked the waitress to get the manager. When he came over, my Uncle started signing to him...with made up and exaggerated gestures. My Aunt told him that the food was good and the server was excellent...all the while the manager just smiled and nodded. When they were done 'talking,' the manager said in sign language, he spoke ASL and knew it was bull. We blew up laughing and my Uncles face turned beet red."
"I'm 15, understand English, French, Spanish, and German almost perfectly and speak them as well. I do things any 15-year-old does, and some things involve getting in trouble. The best way I've found for me and my friends to stay out of trouble is I just stand and look at the person talking to me, usually in English, and pretend to not understand. Usually, they get more upset that I'm not answering them, then in a very kind voice ask if I speak English or the language they are speaking. I laugh and say no. Sometimes this is the end of it and they leave and we continue, but other times they ask if I speak French (I'm a Canadian so lots of people speak French). No. For the most part, the conversions end here and they either explain to me very slowly in English to stop what we're doing or leave, we usually just turn around and continue doing what we were doing or wait till they're gone and I've yet to get caught with my pranks.
Other times I used this to mess with people, for example, when I would fly internationally. I'd get on the plane speaking Spanish and ask for my first drink in English. The flight attendants usually just look at each other and take note, then if a meal comes or they come back to check on me they ask me in English, I answer in French. Ok. At this point they usually get confused, probably thinking, 'there are lots of people on a flight, and I thought this kid spoke Spanish, but I must've gotten mixed up cause he speaks English, wait, no French.' Then comes the ultimate mind twister. The last time I speak to them, usually when I'm getting off the plane, I speak in very clear German so even if you don't speak German you know it's German. 'Danke sehr für alles, auf bitte sehen, Tschüss!' or something along the lines of that. Then I look back one last time before they are out of sight, and they always just look at each other like I'm crazy or think they were definitely losing their minds because they swore that there was nobody on that plane that spoke German."
"I once interviewed for a part-time school holiday job together with a good friend of mine. My friend is Chinese, the majority race of the country I live in. I, however, am quite clearly not.
The first thing the HR manager says when he sees me is 'We need someone who speaks Mandarin,' a criterion not stated anywhere in the employment ad, and which subtly translates to 'Chinese candidates preferred.'
My friend, while ethnically Chinese, speaks little to no Mandarin. I, on the other hand, speak it rather fluently.
Probably as a test, the HR manager decides to field our questions in Mandarin, clearly intent on cutting me out of the interview.
My friend turns pale, as he stumbles along to answer the question posed in whatever halting Mandarin he can scrape together.
The manager then turns to me, rather arrogantly, waiting for my reply.
It gave me great joy to tell him straight to his face 'Thank you for the opportunity, but clearly I am not the right candidate you are looking for to fill this position since I am not Chinese' in crisp fluent Mandarin.
The look of bewilderment on his face was priceless."
"My grandma is German and went to buy some peaches on a local farmer market in Germany and there was an older Polish couple selling. When my grandma was there the Polish woman said to her husband 'Go give her the crappier ones, that old hag won't notice.'
Little did they know: my grandmother grew up in communist Poland because her father was a Soviet prisoner of war and they wouldn't let them emigrate. She didn't speak German at all until age 16, just Polish. So grandma told them to screw off and went her way."
"My cousin, who speaks a multitude of languages (6+), was visiting family in Australia and they all decided to venture out for a meal.
After being seated at their table and getting their starters out of the way, my cousin picked up on the table next to them making some very rude comments towards my family's table in German. Considering that the cousin had worked for many years as a translator between firms for German and English business operations, she politely turned towards the rude individuals and requested that they stop. Ashamed and abashed they apologized profusely and even sent over an expensive bottle to the table as an apology.
Following the arrival of the bottle, there was a brief respite where my family was able to carry on with their meal, however, the party of rude individuals could not contain themselves and were very much determined to continue to make comments, this time in Spanish. They even went so far as to make comments about how British people rarely speak more than two languages. Unfortunately for them, this was another language in which my cousin is fluent and the scenario played out very much in the same way for them.
You would think at this point that perhaps they had learned their lesson and would stop trying to make snarky comments about my family gathering, especially considering the apologetic bottle and verbal apology. However, the routine had to play itself out for the third time, in yet another language, before they would decide to pay for their meal and go elsewhere to complain about my family in peace."
"I was at a tourist area flea market trying to haggle for a laser pointer. Most of the tourists spoke English and we did some initial haggling in English but I wasn't making any headway. Then I heard the guy tell his friend in the stall next to him what an idiot I was and happened to mention he would eventually sell it to be at double the price he usually sold to natives. I slowly turned to him and asked him what the word idiot (in the language) meant. He started to get nervous and then I started telling him in his native language that I would start telling all the tourists in the market that he calls you an idiot behind your back, all the while getting louder and louder. Right when he looked like he was gonna pee himself, I told him I'd forget about it if he sold the pen to me at half the native price. Best laser pen I've ever had."
"Went to get ice-cream with my kids at Dairy Queen. There was this group of exchange students or holidayers; all young males between 14-17 and all blatantly obnoxious. Very loud, laughing, obviously insulting everyone around them, etc (most North Americans can figure out some basic Spanish, even in Canada).
Anyhow, unfortunately, we had to sit near them and they were sniggering and pointing at me and my kids and calling me fat, etc. They also began pranking the girl who ended up having to bring them their food. Must have sent her back three times with faux-innocent 'I didn't understand you' order 'mishaps.' They were laughing at her every time she went back to the kitchen to correct their order for them and during the last time she tried to help them they made some very dirty comments about her as she was walking back to the kitchen to fix their order.
Girl comes flying back a few minutes later and tears them a new one in Spanish. Then she says that she is done (in English) and that is the last time she's bringing them their food, they're on their own. I believe she said something about how their mothers would feel if they knew what they were doing but don't quote me.
I have never been so proud of a random stranger in my life."
"Was trying to sell an antique pickup. A father and son were talking about how they'd team up and fool me into reducing the price. Dad said the tires were flat and told the son to tell me it needed a new set. I handed him an air hose and smiled before the son could turn around. Don't expect every white person to not know Spanish."
"Very regularly, while working at Gamestop, we would get the non-English speaking Hispanic parents dragged to the store by their kids wanting a new game. I would give the usual spiel in English about the 'M' rated game they were buying and read their faces. They would then look to the child and asked what I said; wherein the child would lie. The look on their faces after I explain everything in Spanish was just great, always made my day."
"There are a few things I try to learn in each language: 'Thank you,' 'I love you' and how to count.
When I was little I was in an Arabic country. Now, the habit in these countries is that you negotiate everything. One day I was out with my mom shopping and she negotiated a bit on a pair of shoes but she still wasn't happy with the result. While she was chatting with her friend in our native language, I was inspecting the store as little kids do. So without any intent, I eavesdrop on the shopkeepers and what they said. I did not understand the words but I understood the numbers. So I went to my mom and told her that they said even lower numbers than the price she agreed with them. Ended up getting her extra discount."
"I'm a native English speaker but also speak Swedish and understand Finnish well. Went to a shop in Helsinki and heard some conversations at the cash register. I was speaking in English which seemed to annoy the person there as their English wasn't that good and I was looking for something specific.
After a lot of back and forth, I heard the person at the register complain about me and tell the other guy he was going to charge me extra. I decided to have a little fun with them for this. Made them look for objects that I knew they'd have to look for first. Ended up asking for the manager, explaining the story and got what I asked for, for free.
Although I must say that this is the only case of bad service in Helsinki I had. Usually, the people there are very nice and polite. Being in the Nordics is always a pleasure."
"I once worked as a door to door salesman for a concentrated multi-surface cleaner made from enzymes or somesuch. I get it, people don't like being bugged at home, but just tell me that and I'll be on my way with a 'Sorry for bugging you at home.' Don't lie to me.
This one guy one day interrupted my pitch with 'No hablo Inglés.' So I backtracked, apologized and began my sales pitch, completely en Españolish. When he heard a couple of sentences of this, he said, 'No thank you, we don't want any cleaner.' To which I replied, 'No hablo Inglés.'
"I went to school in Miami, I'm Cuban but I look really white. I got kicked out of my class and sent to an ESOL (English Second Language) class (they do everything in Spanish while 'learning English'). I was sat in the middle of three girls who were deeeeeep in conversation in Spanish. When I sat down they all kind of hushed for a second, then the cute girl to my left says in Spanish 'Is he new?' Girl to my right says, 'No, I've seen him before.' The chubby girl behind me says, 'Aye, he's cute I wish he was new.' Left and right giggle. Right says, 'Noexy thinks he's cute, she's staring!' Left says, 'Stop talking, you think so too.' Chubby girl taps me on the shoulder and in broken English says, 'Gwhat is jour name?' I told her my name (my real name is veeeery not Cuban), so left says in Spanish, 'I don't really like white boys.' So I said in Spanish, 'Me too I'm more into Spanish girls,' and I looked at the girl on the left. Let's stop here cause the rest is just high school flirting but I ended up losing my v card to that girl."
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