Being bilingual has its positives; being able to pick up on people talking smack is just one of them! These polyglots share the times they’ve caught someone talking trash in a different language.
“Ask Your Girlfriend!”
“I spent a lot of time in Thailand. I stopped for gas and a Pepsi Black (diet) at a spot in Isaan, Northeastern Thailand.
When I headed for the shop to get my Pepsi I noticed five older Thai guys at a concrete table near the door. They were enjoying a bottle of Hong Tong (Golden Swan) Thai spirit. Enjoying it a lot.
As I approached, one guy pointed at me with his chin, jovially announcing ‘Farang ham noi.’ It’s a common play insult that means ‘Western foreigner, tiny genitals.’ My Thai is not great, but it was plenty good to understand and respond.
I stopped while the guys chuckled. Then I stuck my chest out and said loudly ‘Actually it’s huge! Ask your girlfriend!’
Jaws dropped, eyes popped fully open, and after a five-second pause they all roared with laughter. It was probably even funnier because I’m 77 years old.
I left them to get my Pepsi. When I came out they started laughing again and squeezed together to make room for me at the table. They insisted I drink with them. I said ‘No, I’m driving. I’m on my way to see your girlfriend.’ More laughter.
Finally, I accepted one capful and poured it unsteadily into my Pepsi bottle.
Most Thai people will agree that having fun (Sanuk) is very important. They sure contributed to my Sanuk that day.”
“I had a real estate license for a while because I was buying rental properties for retirement income. I lost them all in the crash of 2008, but that’s a different story.
Today’s tale belongs to another realtor, but I’ll tell it the way he did:
‘So I get this call from a couple, maybe in their sixties, they’re looking for a house in Pleasure Ridge, with a pool. The guy says ‘one to two million price range,’ which got my attention. I spent the morning on MLS and making calls, and set up half a dozen nice listings to show them.
We’re driving around, chatting, and the wife says something in Hungarian, which shocked me. They don’t have a Hungarian name, neither do I, but I’m full-blooded and spoke only Hungarian until I was 12.
I didn’t let on. I figured I might get some clues I could use to help with the sale, in case they spoke Hungarian again.
They did, and I got a huge clue. After the third house as we were walking back to the car, they lagged behind. The husband was saying to the wife in Hungarian. ‘This is better than ever. I never thought of telling these stupid real estate guys that we wanted a million-dollar plus house. Next Sunday we’ll say two million, see what happens with the next loser. I’ll bet I can get this guy to buy us a fancy lunch too! I love these free house tours!’
The guy switched to English, all polite and apologetic. ‘Say, my wife has low blood sugar, are there any restaurants around here?’
I took them to Nicolo’s. Very expensive. We went, sat down, ordered a nice bottle of vino, and a big meal, and then I excused myself to go pee.
I found our waiter, told him I had to leave. I explained this was my birthday dinner, and my older brother and his wife were treating me. Just bring the bottle (I upgraded to the $200 Chateau neuf du Pape) and serve them. I’ll catch up.
I popped out the side door, got in my car, and drove home.
I called the restaurant a couple of hours later and learned that my ‘brother and his wife’ had to be threatened by the police before they paid the bill and that they’d left in a cab, jabbering in some foreign language. I stopped by the next day with a big tip for the waiter.
The couple made a complaint Monday afternoon to the Real Estate Board, where my friend was executive director. They wanted my license. I’d talked to him Monday morning. He told them they were going to give me a medal, instead, and circulate their description to all the realtors in the valley.
I’m retired now and still waiting for my medal, but they tell that story every year at the new-licensee orientation breakfast.’”
“I had just started a job with a boss who turned out to be the best boss ever. This was in Cambridge MA, but he had been in the US Foreign Service in France for many years, married a French woman, and spoke fluent idiomatic French.
I was 19. Highly inexperienced and a bit naive. We had a daily morning meeting to coordinate the day. I sat in his office, steno pad on my knee, shorthand at the ready (circa 1977), and waited while he spoke on the phone. I was staring at my pad when I realized he was speaking French, and my high school knowledge of French kicked in. He was talking to his girlfriend, and describing in graphic detail their previous and impending naughty activities. This happened more than a few times, and I clearly was not expected to understand.
I just pretended that I hadn’t understood a word, and our meeting continued after he hung up.
A couple of months later, I had done something extremely well, and he came out of his office praising me highly–in French. ‘Ca c’est magnifique! Tu es un ange!’ Reflexively, I responded something like, ‘Ah non, Monsieur, je vous remercie. Vous etes trop gentil!’ [French speakers, please correct me if I wrote that wrong.]
He went back to his office, and I sat at my desk realizing that I had just blown my cover, so to speak.
He called me into his office a few minutes later. I sat down and just waited. (19, inexperienced, mortified.) He rolled a cig between his hands. He stared out the window. Rolled the cig some more. Then, carefully choosing his words, he said, ‘In this job…you may be exposed to…personal…or confidential…information (No duh! Ya think?). This information will remain confidential. Are we clear?’
Yeah, we were clear. When he spoke with his girlfriend, I was never again in the office.”
Fluent In German Sarcasm
“When I was a kid I lived in Paris, France. I was completely fluent in French and German and I was generally mistaken for a native in either language. (I’m originally American.)
At some point I was arranging a trip to Germany with some family friends so the travel agent sent me to the German Railway something or other – it was their official center in Paris that answered questions on behalf of the German Railway System itself. Fortunately, it was within a block of the central train station.
It is important to mention that Germans, in general, take their jobs very seriously and are very well trained and highly competent.
On this particular day, however, the fairly attractive young German lady who was handling the front area was fully engrossed in a conversation with an equally attractive young German man her age, speaking fluent, high speed, idiomatic German. They were obviously flirting, she’d blush, and he’d counter and it was clear they were completely absorbed in their ‘date’ and completely neglecting me. Which would have been fine on most days, but this time, I had already figured out, all three trains I was there to get information about were leaving within the hour.
So finally, after at least thirty minutes of this, I stepped forward and said, in French, that I only needed some simple information about three trains leaving within an hour (this was decades before the internet) and according to the travel agent this was the only place I could get the answers we needed to make the correct choice.
Well, to my surprise she tried to speak down to me and said, in only reasonably fluent French, that I was going to have to wait my turn because she was serving another customer and I was no more important than anyone else. Then, to add insult to her little scene, she turned back to the man and said in German, ‘Typical French brat!’ And went back to flirting and blushing again.
I was kind of taken aback. I was younger than either of them, so I wanted to be respectful. But after another five minutes, my last bit of time ticking away, I messed myself up to my full height, walked right up to her, and said in German, ‘I’m not a typical French brat. That’s very rude of you to say. (Pause to look at her closely and let it sink in) I’m a typical American brat and I’m surprised that a sophisticated woman like you can’t tell the difference!’
I could see in her eyes that she was suddenly realizing I’d heard the entire conversation she and the dapper guy had been having for the previous half hour and then there was a second dawning awareness that if I wanted to get her in trouble I would easily sink her with even a partial recitation of everything I’d learned about her from listening to all the personal details she’d been sharing with dreamboat guy.
She actually turned an even brighter red than before and began sputtering and stammering that she had been on her break and that she didn’t realize I was standing there. Which was ridiculous because the three of us were the only people there and we were standing within ten feet of each other. I realized that she was quickly rehearsing a story in case I wanted to try to get her in trouble.
As it happens I don’t look to get people in trouble so I just smiled gently and said to her in German that all I needed was some help with her country’s train system and she was the only person in Paris who could help me in time and could she please? And then I added, ‘Look, I’m a kid. I’m not the job police. Don’t worry about me. I just need your help.’
And suddenly she was my best friend and totally sorted out my situation in minutes. On my way out I said to both of them, still in German ‘And by the way, you two make a really cute couple.’ She turned red again, he started laughing, and then I left.”
Don’t Scam Foreigners
“I lived in Riga for a short while and went out almost every Friday to meet girls. Riga has a lot of visitors from the UK and I’ve spent a chunk of my time in the US, so I generally speak English in the center. I feel more comfortable using it. However, I also speak Russian perfectly well.
So I’m drinking in a bar and all of a sudden some cute Russian girl comes up to me and starts speaking English to me. She invited me for a drink with her and her friend. I didn’t really have anything else going for me that night, so I agreed.
What followed is an hour of them trying to make me buy them a Dom Perignon bottle and some really dirty talking about what one of them would do to me if I agreed.They also talked to the bartender (who knows me fairly well) how they’re gonna rip me off big time and that I’m a foreign idiot.
I ended up buying them four drinks total out of decency. It was a lot of fun for a while, I’ll give them that. Eventually, I got really tired of it all + my friend hit me up, so I just switched to Russian, thanked them for a nice evening, and left.
Their faces were red from embarrassment and anger.
Don’t scam people.”
How Do You Say “KARMA” in French?
“A few years back l was a vendor ticket agent for Continental Airlines In Nassau, the Bahamas. One afternoon we had two flights checking in around the same time. I don’t remember the flight numbers so I’ll make up two numbers 343 and 699. Flight 699 was going to close in 20 minutes while 343 closed in an hour. There was quite a line. The standard procedure for us in such instances was to call persons for the earlier flight to the front of the check-in line.
I did so twice and my supervisor did so three times.
The last two times no one responded so we closed the flight and focused on 343. Shortly after my supervisor had asked for 699 passengers for the last time a family of four joined the line. I noticed them because I’d just come from getting a wheelchair for a passenger and almost bumped into one of the children on my way back to the check-in counter.
They got to the front of the line about 20 minutes AFTER flight 699 had closed. Turns out they were a French family with round trip tickets from Paris to Nassau. What they had done was purchase tickets from Nassau to Georgetown Exuma (another island) on a local carrier. Unfortunately, the flight from Georgetown was delayed which caused them to miss their flight to Newark.
There was a bit of back and forth between my supervisor and the father as he claimed he was in the line in time and did not hear any announcements. I told my supervisor that they were not and was able to pinpoint exactly when they joined the line. She even agreed because she was walking through the line herself and did not see them. Lest I forget, their English was impeccable so language wasn’t an issue.
Things were getting a little heated, but not necessarily rude; after all, no one wants to be stranded on the other side of the Atlantic in a country where your language isn’t spoken.
My supervisor was taking pity on them and was only going to charge the change fee ($300 in total) and not charge the fare difference which, as it was transatlantic and last minute, very expensive.
The son (about 15-years-old) was standing right next mutters under his breath in French, ‘This dumb tramp doesn’t know what she’s doing.‘ I looked up and asked him in French, too, exactly what he’d said.
He turned red and walked away to where his sister and mother were standing.
I turned to my supervisor and said, ‘Are you aware he just called you a dumb tramp?’
His mother glared at him. Of course, he claimed innocence: ‘I didn’t say that,‘ in French. I responded in French, ‘Yes you did say that. I may have bad eyes but I have exceptional hearing.’
My supervisor then says, ‘Oh, since I’m a dumb tramp, I’m too dumb to help you,’ and walked off.
I ended up rebooking them but they ended up purchasing four new tickets which cost them about $5,000 on another airline as they would have missed the connection. KARMA.”
He Let Him Have It In MULTIPLE Languages!
“When I was at university, I decided to take a trip to Mexico. I had a friend from Mexico who lived with his family in Mexico City. His aunt had a big house that was empty, and my friend talked her into letting us stay there for free for the 10 days we were in the country.
On the second day, we were there, Jaime asked me to come over for dinner. I caught a cab and gave him the address, written on a piece of paper in Spanish. The cabby and I didn’t talk on the way over.
I watched the meter as we drove. It came to about 19 pesos and 20 centavos. When I got out of the cab, the driver told me, in poor English, that the fare was 50 pesos. I responded, in English also, that the meter said $19.20, and gave him 20 pesos. He got mad and started swearing at me in Spanish.
My major at school was Spanish. I lived in a dorm that had one international student and one American student in each room. Very early on, the Americans learned to swear in each language. There were Chinese students, Vietnamese students, French students., Iraqi students, Iranian students, an African student whose language I’m not sure of, and maybe a couple of other languages I don’t remember now.
So, when he started swearing at me in Spanish, I swore back at him in 8 different languages. My friend came outside just as the driver started swearing at me, and listened to the rest of the exchange. He told me it was the first time he had ever seen a Mexican cab driver embarrassed. The man’s face had turned bright red, but not in anger, and he got back in the cab and drove away.”
Those Idiots Were Lucky He Knew Malay
“I was taking the bus across town, and I have a bad habit of listening to others’ conversations. Anyways, I’m listening in on these two guys talking about their attitudes towards immigration, etc (I live in Australia, and there is a lot of xenophobia) it was all a bunch of trash like ‘Oh, they don’t assimilate into our culture, they shouldn’t be coming into our country if they’re Muslims, etc. Eventually, they notice an Asian couple get on the bus, and the couple starts talking in Malay. The two d-bags go on in the conversation about how they shouldn’t have to learn their language and they should have to speak our language in public because they wouldn’t understand it if the couple was talking about them. This annoys me and I try and tune out of their conversation.
Eventually, due to my terrible habit, I tune into the couple’s conversation. I speak Malay because I had learned Indonesian in high school which was extremely similar, and my stepfamily is from Singapore and they speak a variety of different languages. They were talking about general day-to-day things. Then one of the guys, shouts ‘Speak freaking English! Asian rats!’
That was the last straw, for both me and the guy from the couple.
The Asian guy was built like a tank and ready to knock these d-bags teeth out, whereas the idiots were puny, skinny, and very unintimidating. He got up to talk to them before I did, I got up just in time to yell out to the Asian guy ‘hey come on man, it’s not worth it. Just leave them be’. I mean I was going to give them an earful about how stupid they were acting, but if a fight broke out the Asian guy would have knocked them out which would only worsen this bigoted d-bags attitude towards foreigners. The Asian guy was pretty surprised to hear me speak Malay, but he recomposed himself and got off the bus with his girlfriend.
I felt pretty awesome telling these arse hats afterward that if they weren’t acting the way they were, that might have not happened and that If I, an Australian hadn’t learned another language they would be bloody and beaten. They said thanks for dialing down the situation, felt even more tough telling them that I don’t need thanks from prejudiced pricks like them and if there was a next time maybe I would let them get their faces kicked in.
Felt awesome man.”
Taking The French To Task
“What I overheard was not amazing. It was amazingly shocking. I cannot say if it was expected – you can judge for yourself.
I am of Chinese descent but grew up in the French-speaking region of Switzerland. I find it quite hilarious because solely basing off of experience, most people do not actually expect me to understand or speak French. However, I speak French fluently and have practically no accent since I started speaking at the age of two.
This story took place in Paris when I was on the younger side of my teenage years. I had just taken a four-hour train ride from the Lausanne train station (in Switzerland) to Gare de Lyon, a train station in Paris. I traveled alone since my parents had to fly somewhere else to attend to important matters and there would be no one to take care of me. My aunt lives in Paris, so I was going to live with her for the time being.
As soon as I arrived in Paris, I carried my suitcase and backpack out of the train and searched for the exit where I would meet my aunt. My aunt was running late, so I waited at the exit. Meanwhile, two girls who seemed slightly older than me stood within close proximity. Now looking back, a young teen in the middle of a busy train station alone was probably not the best idea…
Because I looked like a tourist with all my baggage, the girls probably assumed that I spoke no French at all. They began talking about me in French and laughed at me. They laughed about how I looked like one of those ‘stupid’, ‘clueless’ Chinese tourists and they also talked about how much they hated Chinese tourists and how Chinese people were so disgusting, ‘taking over France’ and whatnot. I was absolutely dumbfounded. But of course, being the shy little teen I was, I kept my mouth shut… for the time being. I quickly glanced at them a few times while also looking around to see if my aunt was coming.
My aunt finally came and I said loudly, ‘Hi auntie! I missed you so much!’ in perfect French. My aunt and I had a quick conversation in French before heading off. I took an obligatory look at the girls’ faces. It was quite priceless, I can’t lie. The shocked expressions on their faces gave me a good laugh before I told my aunt what had just happened.”
German Insults…In Florida?
“I was in Florida for a conference. One of my colleagues and I went to a supermarket and I bought some items including a deodorant (which I forgot at home when I was packing to come here).
So while I was standing in line at the checkout counter, the cashier where I was standing was talking to a cashier from the next counter, in German. I was full of smiles and was excitedly waiting in line to talk to her in German while she processes my items. (I missed my people, or so I thought).
When my turn arrived before I even said ‘Hallo’, the woman (cashier) quickly looked at me and told her friend in German ‘Ah look, this black monkey is buying a deodorant. I hate these people, especially the tramps. They should go back to their motherland.’ I was in shock. By the time she and her friend finished insulting me and laughing at me, the cashier has already finished scanning my items.
I smiled and said: ‘Ich würde gerne mit Karte zahlen bitte!’ (I would like to pay with card please!) Both of the women were in shock, complete silence. I then thanked the cashier and wished both of them a beautiful day ahead (in German). They didn’t reply or say anything. I was all smiles when I left the supermarket.”
“Although my Dad is white as white can be, he speaks fluent Maori. His stepmother was Maori and she encouraged him to learn and since the white side of his family were cold and indifferent people (still are) he gravitated toward his stepmother’s culture.
This paid off beautifully one day when he stopped at the small dairy to grab a pie for lunch on his way to work.
Two lovely Kuia (old Maori women) were sitting outside the shop having a smoke and when they saw my Dad coming, one said to the other in Maori ‘Look at that white boy’s legs. He has some fine legs.’ And they started giggling like you do when you’re being cheeky.
My dad went in and bought his pie then came back out and said – in Maori- ‘Thank you very much, ladies. You’ve made my day!’
He strutted back to his car striking leg poses all the way while the old ladies fell over themselves laughing.
It is very unusual for a Pakeha to speak Maori so they thought they were safe.
No one is safe from my Dad and his jokes.”