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Assumptions that you didn't speak the language

Assumptions that you didn't speak the language

Old Apr 2, 20, 3:13 pm
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Assumptions that you didn't speak the language

Since many of us are not able to travel and are staying home, I thought it would be a good idea to start this thread. While traveling or in your hometown, people assumed you do not speak or understand their language and spoke between each other until you replied in their lingo. What kind of reactions did you get?

I'll start with a story of mine, I was in line for a ride at Universal Orlando and behind me was a Brazilian teenage tourist group. I am a fluent Spanish speaker, and can understand everything in Portuguese and speak decent enough.

One of the teens asks the other what time it is, to which the other replies "Não sei, pergunta o Albino gordo" (I don't know, ask the fat albino) and points to me. So the guy asks me the time and I tell it to them in English.

Line keeps moving and 10 minutes later the same guy asks me this question as a conversation starter,

"Do you speak Portuguese?"

So I naturally replied with

"Sim! Eu entendi tudo o que você diz!"
(Yes, I understood everything you said"

Suffice to say the whole group nearly soiled themselves when they realized their mistake
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Old Apr 3, 20, 8:46 am
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Great idea for a thread!

I'm an American but lived in Italy for a number of years. I only spoke a little Italian when I got there but I picked it up quickly. One time my friend and I were visiting with a lady who wanted to practice English with us. In all of her text messages and other contacts with us she communicated in English, which is fair enough since that's the language she was trying to learn.

One day we were at her house, chatting in English, and she couldn't remember a word. Instead of asking us she yelled to her son in the next room: "Come si dice __ in inglese?" (How do you say __ in English - I can't remember what the word was). He didn't know so I offered "Si dice ___" (You say ___). It simply went in one ear and out the other that I had understood her question in Italian, knew the word, and responded in Italian. Similar things happened a few times before I paused the conversation and said, in Italian, something to the effect that my friend and I both spoke fluent Italian and would be happy to help her figure out the words she wanted to use. She looked as us very confused and then I saw the light turn on. She had just assumed that we didn't speak Italian because we were Americans and had therefore totally missed that we had already had snippets of conversation with her in Italian. She hadn't even realized we were speaking Italian!
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Old Apr 3, 20, 10:46 am
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I’d say that’s more a credit to all of your abilities to converse in two languages. I speak French and am sometimes told off by my wife (who doesn’t) for lapsing into French in conversation with Francophones who speak English. I think it’s just the way of it when you get to a certain level of fluency, you switch without too much thought - or indeed mix and match when you momentarily forget how to say something in one language, or you another scenario I often find myself in is having conversations where the native French speaker is speaking in English, and I am speaking in French!
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Old Apr 3, 20, 4:40 pm
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One example of this was at a mosque in Quanzhou, China.

I had entered the prayer room, and knelt down to take a photograph of a courtyard.

A Japanese tour group soon after made it to the entry way of the prayer room, but stopped to take a picture of me, with the tour guide saying "oh, look, a Muslim is about to pray." I chuckled, and told her that I was also a (non-Muslim) tourist, to which she sheepishly laughed.
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Old Apr 4, 20, 1:00 am
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I have had an opposite situation happen many years ago.

I was hired by another franchisee of a popular fast food chain and placed in a store in South Beach. After working a few hours in the back of the store, getting to know the employees, I walked to the front registers to assist the lines that developed as a convention or meeting being held had a break and we filled up quickly. While assisting, I had a customer approach me and started blurting out in rapid Spanish. I didn't understand much as it had been at least 2 years since I had really heard Spanish and took my classes in High School. When she finished her speaking, I said "Sorry, I don't speak Spanish." She then said in perfect English, "What!!!!? You look Cuban,!!" I am as Gringo as a Gringo could be.
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Old Apr 4, 20, 2:39 am
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Originally Posted by dfw88 View Post
Great idea for a thread!

I'm an American but lived in Italy for a number of years. I only spoke a little Italian when I got there but I picked it up quickly. One time my friend and I were visiting with a lady who wanted to practice English with us. In all of her text messages and other contacts with us she communicated in English, which is fair enough since that's the language she was trying to learn.

One day we were at her house, chatting in English, and she couldn't remember a word. Instead of asking us she yelled to her son in the next room: "Come si dice __ in inglese?" (How do you say __ in English - I can't remember what the word was). He didn't know so I offered "Si dice ___" (You say ___). It simply went in one ear and out the other that I had understood her question in Italian, knew the word, and responded in Italian. Similar things happened a few times before I paused the conversation and said, in Italian, something to the effect that my friend and I both spoke fluent Italian and would be happy to help her figure out the words she wanted to use. She looked as us very confused and then I saw the light turn on. She had just assumed that we didn't speak Italian because we were Americans and had therefore totally missed that we had already had snippets of conversation with her in Italian. She hadn't even realized we were speaking Italian!
Our English-speaking family moved from UK to a part of Brussels where French was the predominant tongue. My wife and I consciously learned to speak French as a second language. Our children, then aged 6 & 4, went to a local school and were taught in French. Unlike adults they assimilated a ‘set of words’ to communicate with their friends and teachers. They did not think of it as a second language and despite the fact I become fluent in French would not use that ‘set of words’ with me when eg. Shopping.

The downside was that when we moved back to monoglot UK they dropped that ‘set of words’ because they did not need it. We tried to encourage them to ‘keep up your French’. Years later they regretted it but ‘C’est la Vie’
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Old Apr 4, 20, 10:20 am
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I was teaching a class in Kazakhstan. I speak fluent Russian. We had interpreters to teach what we said to the class. One interpreter did not care for me and was telling the others what he thought. He was wining about a powerpoint I had that was in English he wanted the powerpoint in Russian. So that night I put the powerpoint in Russian. He asked the next day how the powerpoint was done. I told him" I did it because we are not all stupid" He looked at me and quit within the hour. He realized I understood everything he said. I was getting ready to fire him, and get another interpreter. He saved me the trouble.
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Old Apr 4, 20, 10:32 am
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Growing up in Miami. Dark skinned, living in a neighborhood that was about 80% Latino. People would stop and ask directions all the time and get so mad when I told them I didn't speak Spanish well enough to answer.

They always would look at me like I was lying. LOL
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Old Apr 4, 20, 4:57 pm
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Originally Posted by bitterproffit View Post
Growing up in Miami. Dark skinned, living in a neighborhood that was about 80% Latino. People would stop and ask directions all the time and get so mad when I told them I didn't speak Spanish well enough to answer.

They always would look at me like I was lying. LOL
As a Scandinavian who also spent my early years in Miami, I picked up Spanish quickly. Every time I am there people are either over the moon because I spoke Spanish or they insist on continuing the conversation in their broken English.
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Old Apr 5, 20, 12:45 am
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Originally Posted by bitterproffit View Post
Growing up in Miami. Dark skinned, living in a neighborhood that was about 80% Latino. People would stop and ask directions all the time and get so mad when I told them I didn't speak Spanish well enough to answer.

They always would look at me like I was lying. LOL
Long ago when we lived in Utah for a couple of years multiple people tried to speak Spanish to my wife--a language that at the time she didn't know a single word of. They were surprised, but always quickly understood when I pointed out that she's Chinese, not Mexican. (At that time I did most of the speaking for her, at that point we still often carried the dictionary when we went out.)
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Old Apr 5, 20, 6:41 pm
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I'm a pale blue eyed redhead. I was riding the subway in NYC when I lived there. I was about 25, tall, and thin in a short dress. Two guys across from me starting talking quite graphically, in Spanish, about what they'd like to do to me sexually. My stop came. I stood up next to them at the door. Just before the doors opened, I asked them, in fluent Spanish, if they'd appreciate men talking about their mothers and sisters that way. Their jaws dropped and I walked out of the subway car.
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Old Apr 5, 20, 7:14 pm
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I'm Chinese American and it's interesting - here in the US, in Asian neighborhoods, most merchants seem to assume I speak Chinese (at restaurants, grocery store, etc.). However, when I'm overseas in Chinese-speaking countries, they very rarely open with Chinese. I wonder if it's just what they do in a tourist location (Hotels, touristy restaurants, tourist attractions, etc.)

A really fun experience was in Japan a couple of years ago. We had gone to a restaurant and everything was completely in Japanese (not a touristy place). Nothing in English and no picture menu. The server didn't speak any English and I was trying to figure out the kanji to see if I could guess a bit on context when she starting to ask me in Mandarin if I spoke it. Turns out she was like me - ethnic Chinese with immigrant parents. We ended up having a great dining experience all in Chinese.
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Old Apr 5, 20, 7:49 pm
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Bravo! A fun thread amongst all the complaining and sad threads!
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Old Apr 5, 20, 8:04 pm
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I bought a used car in Costa Rica 20 years ago from an American missionary. He was bilingual, and told a story of arriving at an airport in Honduras, and taking a taxi with his wife to their destination. There was a driver and another person in front, and they started discussing in Spanish how they would rob the couple once they got to a deserted location. They stopped that ride pretty quickly!
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Old Apr 8, 20, 4:38 pm
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Originally Posted by OskiBear View Post
I'm Chinese American and it's interesting - here in the US, in Asian neighborhoods, most merchants seem to assume I speak Chinese (at restaurants, grocery store, etc.). However, when I'm overseas in Chinese-speaking countries, they very rarely open with Chinese.
It has nothing to do with the way you speak, but rather with the way you act. I was born in Europe and grew up in San Francisco (went to a high-school that had 60%+ of the student body 1st/2nd/3rd generation Asian), I can easily tell apart Chinese-born Chinese and American/Canadian-born Chinese (or those that spent most of their time in the US/Canada). It's not limited to Americans. National stereotypes exist because they're partly true.

As someone who's fully fluent in 5 languages (bilingual natively, learned English when I was 10, European Portuguese when I was around 25 to the point where I have a very slight accent, but it's not obvious where it's from and a number of people think I'm a local and Spanish shortly thereafter) and less fluent in other related languages I've had waaay too many of these stories that the OP described.

What gets me though is people trying to pay me a compliment me on "how good your [fill in the language] is." They're not realizing it but it's a backhanded compliment.

This example takes the cake:
Six months after arriving in Lisbon, I go to IKEA. By this point, my Portuguese is shaky at best. My face easily passes for a local.
An older lady near the entrance asks me where the entrance is with her cockney British accent. I tell her that it's down the stairs and to the left.
"Oh, you speak such good English!" was her reply.
The only thing I could think of responding to that was "Oh, but you also speak such good English! Where did you learn to speak it?"
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