Talking behind someone's back almost always backfires. Some people think using another language to do so is some sort of safety net, but they never know who can also speak that language. In these cases, it was the one they were talking about! Check out what these Quora users have to say about the time they caught someone talk about them in another language.
"My wife and I were travelling overnight across North India in an empty train on a not very frequented route.
A group of five university students boarded our compartment in the early hours of the morning, spotted us and sat together in a row on a free seat facing us out of the 80 odd other free seats available in the compartment.
They spoke in low tones but I could hear what they were saying and it didn’t take very long for me to realize they were talking about us. I pretended to look out of the window and not pay any attention to them. I also whispered to my wife to do the same and ignore them.
That pretence saved my life and perhaps that of my wife as well…
The boys conversed in Hindi, which I speak but which they didn’t know - for some obscure reason I’ve always been identified as a Sri Lankan or Malaysian and never as the south Indian that I am. I let people think what they will and these guys probably assumed I was a foreigner or maybe it didn’t even occur to them that I might know their language.
In the conversation that I overheard, these boys decided to rush us, knock me out, throw me out of the moving train and assault my wife.
As simple as that. It didn’t take them very long to come to that decision as well which only goes to prove how psychotic they were. Or that they’d done this earlier. Throwing me out of the running train would have most certainly meant certain death or serious injuries. And once done with her, they were likely to have thrown my wife out of the train as well.
I, at first, thought they were just fantasizing about their course of action but soon realized they weren’t. I whispered to my wife what they were saying, to discreetly take her Swiss knife out of her bag and keep it ready. I also told her when they rushed us to kick wildly at their groin areas and to stab as many as possible, as viciously as she could.
We then waited. And it didn’t take them very long to rush us. And rush us they did as one man, all five of them together…
Years ago I had been a serious practitioner of Tae Kwon Do and had kept in practice with some of its finer close-quarter defensive and offensive techniques. My wife and I had also just finished a six-week-long, high-altitude, Himalayan trek and were incredibly fit. On top of everything else I’m pretty big for an Indian so I was quite confident that I’d be able to take control of the situation though my heart was beating like crazy.
I waited for them to close in and then I got up in a rush, stepped forward, stood like a rock and quietly said the first two of them would die really horrible deaths…in Hindi, in their language. They stopped, they were shocked I spoke Hindi and had understood them all along.
My wife stood behind me with her knife.
This was something completely unexpected for them. They just froze and not one of them took the crucial first step. Their plan collapsed in a fraction of the time they’d taken to decide on their extreme action.
Cowards that they were, they quietly slunk off, without a word, to the end of the compartment and stepped off at the next station all the while giving us baleful looks.
That’s one adventure I’ll never forget and which was a lesson in itself - there are advantages to keeping some skills secret!"
"In 1985 I had dinner with a friend who had dated a Peruvian, who used the name John, with her home across the ocean. The relationship ended badly. He was abusive, hit her, and would not tolerate that she was an independent woman. She left him. It lasted for just a couple of months, so I had not had time to meet him yet, but she was sobbing through the whole story during dinner, not understanding how he could go from super charming to abusive in just a few weeks.
When the dinner was over, I went to the metro and sat down next to three people who spoke Spanish. After a couple of minutes, I suddenly realized that I was hearing the exact same story in reverse, and that the guy sitting next to me was my friend’s ex. Since I am blonde and blue-eyed, and Spanish was very uncommon in Norway at the time, they obviously did not think I would understand anything they said.
The metro ride lasted for 15 minutes, and he went on and on about how terrible my friend had been to him, going from sweet, to withdrawn, to down right cold (leaving out the part where he had abused her). I could see that he was trying to charm the girl he sat next to, who was all concerned about the ‘horrible’ treatment he had had. Just as we were approaching my stop, he was saying agitated: 'She would not let me make the decisions! And then she left me! How could she do such a cold hearted thing to me? To me!'
I had said nothing all through his rant, but as I got up to get off, I turned to him and said: ‘Well you see, John, Norwegian women don't particularly enjoy being beaten’. And then turning to the girl next to him: ‘And my guess is that Latin American women are not too crazy about that either’.
For a couple of seconds he said absolutely nothing. He just looked at me in total shock and disbelief. Here was this perfectly strange blonde woman whom he had never met, but who obviously knew his back story and addressed him by name. Then he turned to the girl and yelled, ‘but I had to beat her! She wanted to dominate me, and I could not take that, as a man!’
I thought ‘gotcha’, and left, and as the metro left the station I could see him frantically speaking to the girl, whose body language had gone from smiling and flirty to cold and withdrawn in a second.
And I was happy to potentially having saved another girl from being abused."
"I'm a foreigner currently in India. I can speak Hindi fluently, but most people assume I can't.
It makes for interesting trips into convenience stores, calls that get routed to call center in India, cab rides, etc.
One time, around 9pm, I had lost my way, still far away from home. Phone's dead, and I didn't have a portable charger. I saw a gas station store, and went into it to buy a charger, an energy drink, and maybe a candy bar. For whatever reason, the absolute genius that designed the layout of the store put the mobile accessories as far away from the counter as possible. The only way to see a customer looking at mobile accessories from the counter is on one of those half sphere dome mirror things.
So I walk in, say hello, and make a beeline for the mobile accessories. I'm the only customer in the store, as it was in a semi rural area. I can hear the couple behind the counter talking in Hindi, and it's typical stuff. 'We need more of X, don't forget to make the deposit', etc. Then the wife chimes in, and it goes downhill from there. In Hindi, she says 'Hey, I think that scum just put something in her pocket'. I hear it, and look around, thinking someone else has walked in and shoplifted, but there weren't any other customers in the store, and I hadn't moved since I started digging through the box of lighting cables looking for a charger.
The husband replies 'Don't joke, she didn't take anything', but the wife insists. I walked around the aisles, got a can from the cooler in the back, and tried to pick out a bag of jelly or something. Meanwhile, the wife is threatening to call the police about the 'dangerous thief' and going on and on about how she hates 'these people'. I've only been in the store for less than five minutes, and she's already decided that I'm a dangerous thief that shoplifts. So I got my phone charger, energy drink, and a small bag of jelly, and I walk up to the counter, thinking I'm going to just say something in Hindi, and that will be the end of it. The husband is telling her to shut up, and then addresses me in English, and says 'Hello, did you find everything, etc, etc'.
The wife chimes in, in English, and says 'Miss, I saw you put that cable in your pocket, you have to pay for that'. The husband tells her again in Hindi that he doesn't think I took anything, and that she needs to stop harassing the customer, but this lady is in a foul mood. She threatens to call the cops if I don't give her what I took.
Without missing a beat, I reply in Hindi, '(curse word in Hindi), I didn't take anything, I'm not the one that needs to lose a few pounds, and go right ahead and call the cops, I'm happy to wait'.
She turns bright red, and starts trying to explain how she thought I was stealing, that I look like someone else that shoplifts, etc. The husband is trying his hardest to not smile, rings me up, and I walk out."
"My mom is Chinese. I was born in America. At that time her English wasn’t very good so we always communicated in Mandarin. This was about 20 years ago in Barstow, California. We were on a road trip to LA. I needed to use the bathroom so we stopped at Barstow Station, an old rest stop. It’s a pretty popular pit stop so when we walked in it was jam packed with people.
So we’re searching for the bathroom and my mom sees it but I’m only 12 and too short to see the sign. She points and say’s, 'behind that guy.' ( nayga ren ho mien) I say, 'which guy?' (nai guh ren?) because there’s about a hundred people in there and I had no idea who she was pointing at. She points again and getting slightly annoyed says, 'behind that bald guy.' (nayga gwong tou ho mien) I still don’t see the bathroom sign or who she’s pointing at.
I’m getting frustrated at this point, so I say frantically, 'WHERE??' (NAHLEEE????) She looks at me super annoyed and says 'AYYYAHHH' which is like Ughhhh in Chinese. So we push and squeeze our way through a bunch of people closer to who she was pointing at and she says in Chinese 'BEHIND THIS BALD FAT GUY!' ( ZUGGA GWONG TOU PONGZE HO MIEN LAAAHHH!)
As we’re standing behind him he slowly starts to turn around. He looks at me, then looks at my mom. He stares her right in the eye. I had no idea what to expect because I had never heard a white person speak Mandarin before. Neither had my mom. I still remember the look on his face, it was very stoic. With a look of apathy on his face, he very simply and calmly said, 'I’m not fat' (woh bu pong) in perfect Mandarin.
We were shocked. My mom gasped and put her hand on her mouth. Then she waved her hands back and forth really quickly trying to signal that she was sorry but the guy just turned back around and ignored her. Then we just stood in line in silence. I have never seen her so humiliated in my life. She couldn’t even look at me. I was pretty embarrassed too. We stood in that line for like 5 minutes without saying a word. None of us, my mom, him, me. Longest 5 minutes ever. Then I had to pee in the stall next to him. Then she had to see him walking out, and then we saw him in the parking lot too.
I still bring it up to this day to mess with her. 'Hey remember when you called that guy fat?' 20 years later and she still gets embarrassed. Good times."
"I was scheduled to travel in a train at night. It was an 8 hour overnight journey in the 3rd AC coach. The majority of the people in my compartment were old. Maybe they were travelling as a group. I was the only young guy in the vicinity who had lower berth and an old man in his early 70s was assigned an upper berth. For your information, the Indian 3rd AC train has three types of berths: Lower, middle and upper. It looks like this and it is difficult for elders to climb to the upper berth.
His son, who came to drop him at the station, asked him how he would go up to the upper berth and suggested that he ask me for a seat exchange so that he could take my lower berth. They were discussing in another language (assuming that I didn’t know the language) and I overheard the conversation while I was eating my supper.
The old guy told his son in his language, 'This fat mad dog will go up and I’ll take the lower berth.'
I was shocked but did not show any signs of understanding their language. They were discussing how fat I am, how dark I look, what I eat, how I eat, how my hair style is, how shabby and dirty people in my region are and that it would be easy for him to exchange the berth with such a cheap dog (Yup they called me a dog). They were talking about me for the next ten minutes. I pretended for those ten minutes as if I didn’t understand even a word of what they spoke about me. Toughest 10 minute silence of my life. Woof. Son left the place when the train was about to depart.
The old guy came to me and spoke in English - in a commanding tone.
'Hey you, I am old. I want this berth and you go up.'
I replied to him back in his language that I will not exchange the seat with him and asked him how come he concluded that this person who he considers a dog knows how to start a conversation in English. He was taken aback.
I will never forget his facial expression when he heard me speak his language.
This train journey taught me 2 great lessons: Everyone grows old, but only a few grow up. Wisdom has nothing to do with age."
"I am a Japanese-American girl who has features that are more American than Japanese. I am often told that I do not resemble a Japanese person, so I surprise people a lot when I am able to read, write, and speak Japanese.
This past summer, I traveled to Japan alone for one month, and I spent time with my relatives in Kyoto. I fit in while I was in Kyoto since it is a very popular tourist destination, and I saw many foreigners.
There is a well-known market in Kyoto called Nishiki Market, and it is a popular tourist destination. My aunt and I went to the market together to shop and look around, and I saw many other Americans among the crowds of people streaming throughout the bustling marketplace.
As I was observing the marketplace and marveling at its wide array of merchandise, I became aware of a conversation nearby from two Japanese ladies. I heard them mention something about foreigners, which piqued my interest, so I subtly listened in. The conversation went something like:
Woman 1: Look at all these foreigners! They have no culture!
Woman 2: I know. That man looks so odd. And look at her!
By this time, I had turned around to face the ladies’ direction to listen better, when I realized they were glancing at me.
Woman 2: Look at how she is. She keeps looking around like she’s so important and pretending to read those signs. I bet she can’t read a single character of Japanese.
Woman 1: I bet her Japanese is awful. Stupid foreigners!
I just about had it by then, so I walked by the ladies and asked my aunt some question about what time a certain store opens in perfect Japanese. The ladies were speechless since they were not expecting any Japanese to come from me, let alone advanced Japanese.
That look of shock on their faces made my day, and I could barely hold back a smile. I can only imagine the embarrassment they felt!"
"Here in America, my little sister switches to Hindi if she wants to tell me something on the rare occasion in confidence while we’re in public. It’s the most commonly spoken language in the nation of our birth, India (English by comparison is the most widely spoken language there in terms of geographical reach). Her Bavarian-born husband incidentally is the exact same way as an immigrant here, except that in his case he’ll switch to speaking with his family and friends in German.
Then this was one time when she and I were both visiting our home city, Mumbai. Mom, she and I were out on the street in downtown Mumbai in a neighborhood they simply call 'Fort'.
Now one thing which bears mentioning is that I ate a lot of bad contaminated food as a child and suffered from a whole host of gastrointestinal diseases (cholera, jaundice, typhoid, gastroenteritis, food poisoning...the whole gamut). The upshot is that I developed the immunity of a stray dog from repeated exposure to eating infected, spoiled and plainly filthy food. Call it a ‘natural version of vaccination’.
Then on that afternoon while we were walking around in Fort, there was this fellow selling street food. I say to my sister and Mom that I’m going to have some ‘pani puris’.
My sister forgets that she is back in Mumbai and says in Hindi
'Allen, mat khao! Usne apni ungli naak mein dali!'
'Allen, Don’t eat it! He just picked his nose!'
I look at her and say -
'He understood precisely what you said! If you didn’t want him to understand, you should've spoken in English! We’re not in America right now.'
Because while English is widely spoken and understood in India among the educated classes, that certainly isn’t the case with street vendors.
At this point the street vendor is smiling awkwardly.
And my mother is laughing her guts out. My little sister literally covers her mouth at her faux pas, she’s so embarrassed.
That instance when she almost by second nature after living for all these years in America then switched to Hindi right in a place when everyone and their dog understands it!
She laughs still when I remind her of it."
"It was 2016 in Bruges, Belgium. I was with my parents and we had just hailed a cab that somehow turned into a ride-share with this British family.
All was well in the van until about three minutes in, when I heard the lady say: 'These people look a bit funny, don’t they?'. I looked up to notice that they were talking about my family. In plain English.
I stayed silent as much as I could, as they went on discussing among themselves and chuckling over how we were so bundled up (It was in the middle of a freezing winter and I live in the freaking equator!) even though it wasn’t that cold for them, or how they couldn’t figure out where we’re from because apparently we didn’t look Chinese enough nor Middle Eastern enough for them (Answer: Neither - we’re Indonesian) and all. During the whole ride, they were mocking us.
My mother must’ve seen me giving them a death stare and asked if anything was wrong, in Indonesian. Topping it all off, they were of course chuckling at how my mom was talking really funny. I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I answered my mom in English, making sure the British family heard me well: 'Yes there is a problem here. Some people actually still think that English isn’t a universal language by now, and think that it’s good fun to mock and make fun of other people just because of how they look'.
I spent the rest of the cab ride watching the blood drain from their faces. At least I was no longer the one being uncomfortable in that cab."
"A few years back, I went to a big shopping mall to purchase some sarees. My purchase of sarees usually does not take more than fifteen minutes. Before leaving the house, I had already decided about the color, fabric and price range that I was looking for.
As usual I asked (in Telugu), 'Show me Bengal Cotton sarees in the price range of six hundred to eight hundred rupees in cream color and lemon yellow color.'
The salesman at the counter went to pick the sarees from the rack that was in the store. That's when a girl, who seemed to be the leader of the sarees section, called that salesman and in English, told him 'There is unsold stock bought two years back, lying in the godown. This lady will not know the difference. Bring them.'
The guy looked at me. There was a suppressed sneer on his face. She was careful not to use the phrase ‘old stock’.
Me being an old lady wearing a simple cotton saree might have made her assume that I didn’t know English.
'Today I have a lot of time. Let me enjoy the scene,' I thought to myself.
She then told me in Telugu that there was new stock that just arrived in the morning, lying in the godown and asked me to wait.
I asked for a chair and settled myself comfortably.
After fifteen minutes, the salesman arrived with a big bundle of sarees and started showing each of them to me.
I told him that I wanted cream colored sarees and lemon yellow colored sarees, to which he showed me some sarees.
I rejected them, citing that Cream should be little lighter and Lemon Yellow should be a bit darker.
'Bring more sarees from the same stock' said the chief to the salesman in English.
The salesman went inside and brought more sarees. I patiently inspected and rejected every saree that he brought. This happened thrice.
Meanwhile, I felt sorry for the guy. But I could not forget his suppressed laughter. Throughout the process, he was communicating with the chief with a conspiring look in his eyes.
After one and a half hour, I got exhausted could not enjoy the scene anymore.
'I am tired of seeing this old stock of yours! Please inform me when new stock arrives' I said in English.
The girl stood flabbergasted.
I walked out of the shop. And never returned."
"My mother is a French-Moroccan Israeli and the only member of her family to move to America, so as a child we spent part of every summer 'visiting', which means traveling around to places where you can stay for free with family. Because I was the only American cousin, all of my family and friends would want to practice their English. My cousins would even take me to school for 'show and tell' in their English classes. As a result, my passive vocabulary is very good, although I hardly ever actually spoke the language. I also learned very early that everyone assumes that Americans only speak English, and rather than correct them, it is MUCH more fun to roll with it because the eavesdropping is awesome.
I don’t visit Israel anymore, but seven years ago my cousin was getting married in Tel Aviv and I attended the wedding. My passport was about to expire so I did a rush renewal one week before the trip, so my passport was crispy and fresh and hot off the press. I should also note that although I have been to Israel more times than I can count and spent my entire childhood traveling abroad, I had never ever been stopped at security.
On this trip I had no trouble on my way out, but on the way back, I found out pretty quickly that they are REALLY not a fan of a brand spanking new passport at the airport. I got interrogated in the line. I was removed from the line and brought to secondary. They x-rayed my luggage, made me open the luggage, thoroughly rummaged through my belongings, made me completely unpack my large suitcase in the middle of the airport, and x-rayed my bags again without the contents. They acted like everything about me was suspicious and unusual, from my electric razor to the spare battery that I carried for my Blackberry. This was all fine with me, because I appreciate how good the Israelis are at security - especially when about to board a plane - and also because the most possibly controversial item in my possession was the pointy tweezers in my checked bag.
All the while, I felt like the security agents were getting increasingly annoyed with me for not getting riled up or nervous. But I mean, I felt like it was pretty hilarious. They were trying so hard to make me uncomfortable but after a lifetime of this type of travel, I was very secure in my position as an American in an allied country, who had not done anything wrong. The worst thing that could happen to me is that I would miss my flight, and I could not have cared less about that or the whole airport seeing that I pack a ridiculous amount of underwear. From the beginning, when they asked me if I spoke Hebrew, I gave my usual answer of 'not really', so it’s not my fault if they interpreted that as 'not at all'. They continued discussing me in Hebrew right in front of me, and told every subsequent agent that I did not speak the language.
At one point, I had been handed off to two female agents who were doing a comically obvious 'good cop/bad cop' routine and brought me into a private room. I was wearing a long summer dress that was basically a cotton sheet with spaghetti straps, so I had undergone minimal body searches at that point since there was no place to hide anything, unless they wanted to get REALLY personal. They ran a handheld metal detector over me and were not unreasonably curious about the fact that it kept beeping when it passed over my lap. The reason for this was because I was wearing Beyoncé-themed underwear. The underwear had a little metal tag with the brand name sewn onto the front. The security agents were having a very serious conversation in Hebrew about whether maybe I had a piercing and how to proceed. After patiently waiting through an official ten-minute discussion about my panties, I finally took pity on them and assured them in Hebrew 'This whole misunderstanding is all Beyoncé’s fault” and lifted the skirt of my dress to show them my green and purple zebra-striped trouble making underpants.
Oh man! They turned so red and panic-gestured for me to lower my dress. I even offered to take off the underwear and let them screen me without it, but they didn’t take me up on it. Every agent they handed me to after that was informed in super loud whispers that I could understand them. They continued to hold me and make me jump through more hoops until finally I told them that they were cutting it close and would have to decide soon whether they were going to actually make me miss my flight, because I would need to inform my boss if I was going to miss work in the morning. Eventually I was escorted to my gate with moments to spare, but I was not permitted to bring my electric razor. It had to take a separate flight without me, and when I received it a few days later it had been torn apart and taped back together."