17 Multilinguals Share the Awkward Moments When Others Assumed They Didn’t Speak the Language

I’m not multilingual, though thanks to years spent taking Latin, I can usually parse at least some of all of the romance languages, when they’re written.

That, though, doesn’t mean I understand people when they’re quickly speaking a language that isn’t English, so others are safe to say what they want about me, even within earshot.

Some amazing folks, though, speak several languages – a fact everyone should keep in mind before they start chatting away in another tongue, assuming the people nearby are oblivious.

17. I’m glad he stood up for her.

Not me, but my dad. We are from South Africa.

My dad speaks 5 (English, Afrikaans (similar to Dutch), French, Italian, and German) He emigrated to the UK in early 1995 when a lot of other South Africans were doing the same due to embedded racism of a fledgling nation…

But I digress.

He was on the underground in London when he overheard two guys speaking about a pretty woman on the train in Afrikaans – my dad’s native tongue. According to dad they were being incredibly rude and using quite graphic descriptions of what they wanted to do to her. My dad decided to speak up, and told them to “fuck off, and to not speak to people that way, they don’t know who is listening.”

The two guys looked horror struck and shut up immediately. The lady turned to my dad at her stop and said, in fluent Afrikaans “I bet they couldn’t do half those things with their tiny dicks”

My dad just laughed in shock and watched her get off the train.

Pretty hilarious.

16. First of all, bacon belongs on everything.

I live in England but I come from Poland and am fluent in Polish alongside English. Couple of days ago I was ordering at a Subway when two Polish employees started talking. It went something along the lines of “this fatass wants chicken AND bacon” and they laughed (on a side note I feel like thats not that uncommon of an order, right?).

When it got to putting vegetables on the sub, I gave my order fully in Polish with a big smile on my face. The order cost me £4.80, but the looks on their faces were priceless.

15. It is what it is.

Moved to Thailand and took extensive language training.

Was drinking coffee in a quiet shop and the barista and the waitress started guessing my age…

Where I was from…

Why I came there three days in a row (lived close by).

And I was thinking “cool… They think I’m cute… How flattering” and then the barista said “but he is a little fat…” so when I left I told her my age and home town.

When she brought the change back I told her that yes.. I am a little fat”

14. That’s a nice thing to overhear, though, right?

I was solo traveling in Morocco. I’m 22/ female and speak Arabic enough to understand conversations, basic words and phrases, etc.

I was trying on clothes at a small shop and there were two women helping me choose what to try on. They started talking about me in Arabic, saying how I would be a great wife for one of the lady’s sons.

They were going on and on, and as I was leaving I responded in Arabic, “No thank you, but I appreciate your help,” and they were stunned.

13. Gotta make sure and get your cold cuts first.

Well my great aunt told a story of how she once went into a butcher shop. When she walked in, the butcher was talking with a customer in Russian (which she spoke).

The butcher saw my great aunt walk in and told the costumer (in Russian) that he’d take care of this “old hag,” and then continue the conversation.

So my great aunt (in English) asked for pounds and pounds of cold cuts, all sliced and wrapped. When it was all ready, she told him (in Russian), to “shove it up your ass,” and walked out.

God i loved that woman.

12. I bet this would crack them up to know.

Was a high school student in Toronto, but I speak Slovak, which is similar to Czech and polish.

I was going to school on the subway in the morning and two good looking women started to talk in polish right next to me.

I usually like to strike up conversations with fellow central/Eastern Europeans. Unfortunately they started talking about how one of them has had a burning pee problem.

With nowhere to move on the packed subway and no headphones, it was an awkward thing for a 15 year old to hear from 2 ladies. It got a little worse later when they started to talk about women problems. Now I have no issues with that convo nowadays of course, but 15 year old virgin me was a bit mortified.

A long 45 minutes.

11. A sweet moment.

I was on the subway in NYC a few months ago when a family sitting across from me was playing I Spy in Hebrew with their kids. The parents went around describing each person they saw on the train, so when they got to me I decided to play along.

I looked up from my book, made a funny face, and covered my face with the book before the kids could find me. The parents started laughing and said to their kids: “I spy someone who understands us!”

The parents and I shared a good laugh about it while their kids got really excited that someone else spoke Hebrew. They never figured out who it was, but it made my commute a lot more fun!

10. The origin of her bilingual-ness is the best.

I’m a black American.

My dad was military and stationed in Korea from his late teens to mid 20s. He picked up on the language, and as a child he taught me, it was like our secret language to talk around my mom with, she hated it. Anyway.

I went to college with a large Asian population, while me and some friends were in a study room a group of students came and I asked us to leave so they could use the room (in English.) There was no time limit, no sign up, no nothing where they had that right. So I explained that we were here first why do they want this particular room.

Then they start speaking Korean and say something along the lines of “ugh of course the black bitch is being difficult they’ve been here for awhile they need to leave, maybe we can lie and say the professor reserved it”

I respond, in Korean, “call be a bitch in English so I can punch you and everyone in this room knows why”

Their faces turned bright red, they couldn’t say anything they just looked at me in shock and then left the room

9. Very good advice.

My late best friend, who was big tall and blond, was in Tim Hortons…….he speaks fairly fluent Arabic, having spent 7 years working in Saudi Arabia.

Three Arabic men were sitting at a table making very lewd comments about the women in the shop.

My buddy turned to them and said in Arabic; “You need to shut up before someone kicks your ass………you never know who is listening”

They got very confused, and left soon after.

8. Sometimes you gotta call people out.

Not me, but my dad (very white guy with equally white Irish last name) was born and raised in India. He speaks a variety of languages (Gujarati, Hindi, Konkani, English, Portuguese etc.). He was at an airport and sitting across from two young Indian women. One was saying to the other in Hindi, “Look at that fat old white guy over there”.

My dad got up, walked over to them and greeted them in Hindi, proceeding to make small talk about their flights and days. From his telling, there was a mix of shock and absolute embarrassment coming from them. He smiled and walked back to his baggage.

7. We live in a global society.

My SO is a tattoo artist who can speak Bulgarian, Turkish, English and German.

One day we were queueing in the supermarket and two guys behind us were laughing and snickering. She turned around and said something to them. Afterwards she was laughing while one of the guys went bright red.

Afterwards I asked her what that was about. The guys were like “look at her arm. Those tattoos. Disgusting. How can you tattoo a naked woman on yourself?” In Turkish. My SO turned around and said “thanks bro”. St first the guy asked her to repeat because he didn’t even register that she could be speaking Turkish and assumed he misheard English. That’s when she said “for the tattoo opinion”.

It was funny from there. The guy apologized and said he has never felt so much shame in his life. His friend was saying at least buy them (my SO and I) some beers.

This was in a small town outside of Dublin city, so I can understand why they didn’t think there would be any Turkish speakers around.

6. A wholesome story to cleanse your palate.

When I was doing my exchange studies in China (native Russian), I was riding a subway in Shanghai. At one of the stops a mother and her daughter sat beside me. The daughter was maybe 4 or 5 and she wouldn’t stop looking at me, then without turning her head she started asking her mom “Mommy why is mister so strange? Why is his hair strange?” and so on.

I didn’t react as if I didn’t speak Chinese, and the mother patiently told her daughter “Mister isn’t strange, he’s just a foreigner, they look different”. I thought it was really sweet so I started talking to both of them in Chinese. They were very nice and I hope they’re doing great now.

5. It’s nice to have a bright side.

I’ve said this before. It happened a while ago.

I went to a psychiatric emergency ward once and asked for help and if they were comfortable to speak English.

I understand Danish but have a hard time making myself understandable in it and didn’t really feel like an idiot at a crucial time of my life.

I stayed there for 4 days without anyone realising I knew what they were saying about me right in front of me.

2 of the nurses thought I was cute.

1 doctor thought I was lying all the time.

A patient thought I was a spy for the staff.

A lot happened in those 4 days

It made my stay way more enjoyable then it should have been.

4. This makes me smile.

I was in the line to renew my license, at the DMV.

Two Latina girls were behind me and were talking about me having pretty blue eyes, in Spanish.

They turned three shades of red when I turned around and said thank you.

3. Surely Mexicans have learned now that many people speak Spanish?

My husband is the bilingual one, not me. He’s from Colombia so he speaks Spanish fluently, but grew up in the U.S and has been here most of his life. He also has a really fair complexion. Most people think he’s just Caucasian. Anyway, we were in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico looking for a place to eat.

We get to a restaurant and he asks in English how much it would cost for all you can eat tacos. The guy at the door said it’s $15. His friend next to him said to the guy in Spanish, “I thought it’s $12?” And the first guy responded, “Yeah, but they don’t know that.”

My husband of course understood everything. He told them in Spanish that they’re lying rip offs and we’d be going somewhere else.

The guy’s expression was priceless.

2. Obviously.

My dad grew up in Egypt and now travels the world for Dole (the fruit company). Once he was in Morocco at a plant who were possible suppliers and they tried to deceive him. They showed him the safety guidelines that were written in Arabic, but were describing different standards in English.

My dad doesn’t look like a typical middle easterner and has a very non-descript accent, so they thought they could fleece him. After the dude was done talk my dad says “that’s not what it says” and the guy says “what do you mean”. My dad repeats the statement but in Arabic. The guy apparently dropped his jaw and all he could say was “you speak Arabic?”

Needless to say that Moroccan plant did not get the gig.

1. I bet this happens all the time.

I’m an extremely white American man. I was stationed in Korea, and a buddy and I went into a store that was slightly “off the beaten path”. My buddy was in a different section of the store and found something he liked. He asked the shop keep how much it was, the shop keep said, in Korean “well, you’re an American, so $65” (translation and currency exchange provided for ease of reference).

I looked over, and saw a sign on the wall that said the exact item he wanted was $40. I approached the shop keep and asked him, in Korean, how much it cost, to which he replied $40. So I responded, in Korean, “Why are you charging him $65?”.

He got rather embarrassed and apologetic, offered to sell the item for $35, and gave us each a soft drink for free.

People have such gall, y’all! Argh!

If you have a story like this, please tell it to us in the comments!