Bilinguals Share Their Awkward “I Can Actually Understand You” Stories

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This moment has been played for laughs and for tears on the big and small screen – the one where people are speaking another language under the assumption they won’t be overheard, only to find out that the other person in the room understood them the entire time.

The moments below kind of run the gamut, but they all have one thing in common – they should teach us to be nice. And in the absence of that, to be careful.

#15. It was lovely.

“I worked as a part time clothing model for a while in an arab country, i am arab but i dont look like it apparently.

Anyways, we had to walk around this convention and show the clothes, wearing heels on a carpet floor.

I was young(around 16) i didn’t know how to walk really well in heels yet and the carpet floors didn’t help either.

The women there didn’t know i spoke arabic and started making fun of how I’m walking, i went up to them and asked them where the bathroom was in arabic they looked so surprised and embarrassed at the same time it was lovely.”

#14. I would pay to have a picture of his face.

“Teacher here.

Had a student with serious issues concerning authority. Essentially, he would cuss out nearly anyone who tried to tell him what to do with every name in the book. One day, he thought he’d get creative and starting swearing in Spanish to avoid consequences and called me basically the equivalent of a wrinkly ball sack. Long story short, I would pay to have a picture of his face when I replied, in fluent Spanish, that he was going to call his mother and repeat what he had just said.”

#13. Both their faces dropped.

“I look mixed. I’m full Cambodian but I’ve been confused with being mixed with Black.

When I was 7 I went with my mom to her doctor in Long Beach, which is mainly Cambodian populated in that area. My mom went inside her doctor’s office, leaving me in the waiting room.

As soon as the office door closed, these two old Cambodian ladies start talking s**t in Khmer saying how she’s a single mom (she’s not), and how she had a Black baby(me) and that’s such a shame bc she made my life miserable. They also said my skin color was ugly and I had a Black nose, etc. I just sat quietly, looking at them until one realized “Oh snap, maybe she understands Khmer.” And asks me “Hey, do you know your dad?” And I just replied back in our language, “Yeah and he’s at home waiting for us. And we have the same skin color so that means yours is ugly too.”

Both of their faces dropped it was great and they had the audacity to tell my mom that I was rude when she came out.”

#12. Oh, s**t.

“I’m an American and English-German bilingual.

My high school hosted some exchange students from Austria. My family hosted a student. We were the only German-speaking host family. None of the exchange students except the one living at my house knew I know German. Americans are notoriously bad at foreign language, so the Austrians assumed I was monolingual.

Anyway, I was hanging out with some of the exchange students and other hosts, and one of the Austrian kids told a joke to the other Austrians in German.

I laughed.

He asked, “Why are you laughing? You’re just laughing because we’re laughing?” My exchange student said, “No, she knows German.”

“Ja, ich verstehe alles,” I confirmed.

“Oh s**t, now we can’t trash talk the Americans anymore.””

#11. She looked absolutely humiliated.

I’m fairly tattooed and I was working in retail, in a shoe shop.

I was serving a very rude woman and her daughter, both of whom clearly thought they were better than me, and every time they asked for shoes they told me (in English) that I was very slow to fetch them and bad at my job (I was only on like my third shift).

The atmosphere turned pretty sour because obviously they were being rude and it annoyed me, and as I was boxing up the shoes they wanted, the mother turned and said to her daughter something like ‘don’t ever get tattoos, this is the kind of person that has them, working in retail with absolutely no brains and tattoos reflect that! bla bla bla’ in Italian. I simply replied ‘non sono d’accordo, ma grazie’ [i disagree, but thank you]. S

he looked absolutely humiliated and quickly left!”

#10. The look of horror.

“Late to the party but once when I was younger I went to the park with my sister. We look very white and no one would know both of us to speak Mandarin fluently unless we told them.

Some money must’ve fallen out of my sisters pocket and in Mandarin we hear a mother talking to her daughter and telling her not to let us know we dropped money so that they could pick it up after we left.

Both of us turned around straight away and my sister picked up her money while both of us gave them dirty looks and we changed our conversation to Mandarin. The look of horror on both of their faces will forever be burned into my head.”

#9. His friends had a big laugh.

“I’m a white guy who lived in Senegal for 11 years. As such I learned quite a bit of Wolof, the local language. 99% of white people here don’t because they aren’t there that long.

Anyways there were a few times that people were talking about me or to me in Wolof without knowing I understood them. Once there was a group of teens at the beach and one of them greeted me with a Wolof insult for white people (“red ears”), but he said it in a “nice” way, as if I wouldn’t know he was insulting me. He kept talking to me in Wolof and I responded in French that I don’t understand, while in actuality I understood very well.

After a minute I had enough and said in Wolof, “Ok I’m going, I’ll see you around, black ears!”

His friends had a big laugh and I moved on.”

#8. A brighter shade of red.

“At a bar with a Russian buddy of mine. Grew up there and moved to the states when he was 12 or so.

He adapted to English really well so he has no accent whatsoever. Both of the bartenders were Russian (you could tell by the accents) and were having a conversation.

Friend looks to me and says “Damn, they’re talking some mad s**t right now”.

I asked him about who and he said the other dude across the bar in the blue shirt. I asked what they were saying and he said they were just roasting him in general. I asked if they said anything about us and he said not yet but would say something back in Russian if they did.

They ended up not saying anything about us but right before we left, he said to them in Russian “You should speak a bit nicer of your customers”.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone’s face turn a brighter shade of red than that.”

#7. Driver was shook.

“In Quebec on a ski trip a bus hit my dad’s car while trying to park.

My dad got onto the bus and started talking to the driver.

The driver was quite apologetic, but when my dad started asking for his insurance information he all of a sudden couldn’t speak English.

Without skipping a beat dad switches to interrogating the driver in French, the language he did all of his education until university.

Driver was shook.”

#6. The whole class died laughing.

“This happened in HS, My home room teacher sent me to the principles office with some paperwork that was requested. As I walk in I see this one guy in the principles office, tall black dude, will call him “Mr J” and he is speaking fluent Spanish with the Spanish teacher. I drop off the papers with the secretary and go back to class. It’s almost end of day and I’m in my English class and we have a substitute teacher…Mr. J

Well kids being kids no one is listening to him, and one of my classmates, Millie, who’s sitting on the other side of the room from me starts bad mouthing him in Spanish to 3 other girls. I kept telling her to shut up, but she wouldn’t listen and just went on and on.

He heard me try to warn her and motioned for me to stop, so I stopped. And thats when he began talking back to her in Spanish! I didn’t say a thing, and the whole class died laughing, Millie then began to yell at me for not warning her and Mr. J told her..”she tried to warn you but you didn’t listen” she and the other girls got detention for about a week.”

#5. I love Korea.

“Visiting South Korea with my wife, a native of that country. I’m shaped like a lumberjack, and have a big, red lumberjack beard to match. A group of Korean women in their 50s and 60s nearby were laughing and calling me a “bear” which I found hilarious. So one of the older ones says, “Gom” (“bear”) to me as she passes by, and I start laughing. She makes that face like, “Did he understand what just I said?” So I raise my arms and make a playful growl at her. She is horrified and starts apologizing while her friends all cover their mouths and giggle, as Korean women customarily do. I love Korea.”

#4. I never made any indication.

“I used to work as a dealer in a casino where our biggest richest clients were Chinese. I don’t look Chinese but I could understand and speak it. Sitting down on my table, they thought it was safe to discuss techniques to be sneaky behind my back (and also talk about me a little, I’m a young girl so I got some creepy remarks). They never understood how they never got away with things as I never made any indication I understood them.”

#3. I just think ‘why’?

“So I was living in Barcelona dating a Swedish girl about 10 years ago, and I got really into studying Swedish and watching Swedish films and learning vocabulary and stuff. So we went on vacation to Portugal with her roommate over the summer, and we’re on the beach. I’m listening to a conversation that they’re having between themselves, and honestly not understanding much of it. But then, in this moment of pure clarity, I heard my girlfriend say “…Sometimes I look at him and I just think: ‘why??'”. Oh man, I confronted her about it, and I’ve never seen someone turn so red in my life.

Because apparently EVERYONE needs to know this:

She was a really rich girl from Sthlm, trying hard (and failing) to be less boring by coming to live in Barcelona. I was 22 and completely insane; dreadlocks, going out every night and doing speed, drinking, MD, coke; waking up a lot of the time next to other girls.

Half of the time I would look at myself in the mirror and think “why??”. Which is to say: I wasn’t really surprised that she had said it, I was much more surprised that I had understood it.”

#2. Those were all true.

“I wasn’t the bilingual one, but my bilingual friend was really the star of the show. I am a straight guy and my bilingual friend is gay. We were in college for summer school 20+ years ago and everyone taking classes stayed in the same old dormitory. It was a school with a lot of international students who had even greater representation in the summer because they typically didn’t fly home for just three months. My friend had a computer, I didn’t, so he told me I could go into his room any time and use it if he didn’t need it at the time.

My friend was white, but had spent a number of his childhood years in Japan and spoke Japanese like a native. We were talking and walking down the hall toward his room and two Japanese exchange students began talking to one another in Japanese, looking at us and snickering. My friend looks over and starts dressing them down in absolute perfect Japanese and they are horrifically embarrassed. They began profusely apologizing and hurriedly waking away. I turned to my buddy, What did they say?”

“They were making some disparaging remarks about your s*x life, so I told them they were wrong and not to be rude,” he said. Then he quipped, “They were making some disparaging remarks about my s*x life, too, but those were all true.””

#1. Pretty freaking great.

“It’s a reverse of this actually. I didn’t know they spoke my language!

I asked my mom in Vietnamese if I could have the Mexican ice cream near checkout (that s**t…is the best thing ever) & was begging her since she thought I had too many sweets.

This older white man turns around & says “it’s pretty good ice cream!” in our language.

Me & my mom blankly stared at him in awe.

It was the first time I’ve ever heard a white man speak Vietnamese. It wasn’t flawless, but I could understand him!

It was actually pretty freaking great. He noticed our faces & was just like “Yeah my wife’s family does the same”

Never assume, y’all. You know what that does. It makes us dummy dumb dumbs!

Now it’s time for YOU to share. Let us know which of these stories you thought was the most cringey.

Please and thank you!