"I was working construction (white guy in Nashville, only one on the site who spoke English). The painters were talking about my flabby chest in Spanish. So, in Spanish, I yelled back across the house, 'They're still nicer than your sister's!'
Dead silence, then roaring laughter. I got greeted with a super enthusiastic 'Aayyyy, Gringo,' every morning after that."
"I am a native Polish speaker living in Australia.
It was Christmas Eve and I had not yet bought my girlfriend a present. I went to one of our malls and decided to do some shopping.
The lines were ridiculous everywhere I went, but I decided to go to the Tiffany & Co. store as I had no idea what to buy my girlfriend.
I was in line to ask for assistance with a pen that was on display.
I was in line for a good ten minutes when a yuppie, posh, expensively-dressed, entitled Polish speaking couple came within earshot, and I overheard, 'Honey, let's not wait in this line and cut in front of this guy (referring to me).' They slowly inched closer and closer in front of me and sort of merged with the line.
I thought I'd let them wait with me for a bit before I said anything, especially because they were praising themselves on how clever they are for jumping the line. After about ten minutes when they were well and truly in front of me, I thought back to my old days, living in the grey communist flats/blocks of '90s Poland and thought of how I would have reacted to this situation back then.
I put on my Warsaw ghetto attitude and said, 'A wy co, kurwa ma?' That translates roughly to, 'And what do you suppose this is?'
They looked at me with shock as I directed them to the back of the line.
I've always hated the wealthy Polish migrants. They have weak souls."
"My dad's company was doing work in Iran back in the early '80s when diplomatic relations started to deteriorate.
There was a lot of money in escrow waiting for a project's completion, so the company sent an American whose parents had been diplomats along on the project because he spoke Farsi. While they were working, two guards near them had been talking so the engineers asked the guy who spoke Farsi what was being said and he said he would tell them later.
When they got back to the hotel, he explained how one guard had said, 'Let's just kill them now,' and the other guard said, 'No, wait until they finish the job first.'
They grabbed their stuff and hopped the next flight out of the country that night. The next day, the American embassy was overrun, starting the Iranian Hostage Crisis shown in the movie 'Argo.'"
"I have caught quite a few people speaking about me over the years, but my favorite moment was early on when I first moved to Japan in 1994.
I was waiting on the train platform in a rural village when a mother and her young son came through the gate. Immediately, the son grabbed his mother's hand and told her in Japanese that they had to be careful of me - that I was a dangerous foreigner. He promised to protect her but he was hiding behind her.
We had a long wait. Eventually, he decided he could creep closer. Still muttering under his breath about the foreigner. So I muttered back, 'I love Japanese children. They're delicious.'
He ran screaming."
"I lived in Western Africa, where 99% of white folks are visitors who don't stay long enough to learn the local language. Even though English is an official language, most prefer their native tongue.
One day, I left my cell phone in a taxi and had to chase it all the way to the taxi ranks. Out of breath, I asked, in English, for my phone. She said she had it and I had to pay what amounted to $10. I said no and she should give it to me because I paid my fare.
She and the other drivers started speaking Fanti, saying I should pay more, maybe $20 because I obviously had the money because I was an American.
So I walked over to her slowly, put my hand on her shoulder, and said, 'Auntie, Osiande me ye obroni, wo dwin m'insase fanti, a? Wo se, Dzin Pa ye sen Ohonia. A?' (Auntie, because I'm a white guy, you think I don't speak Fanti? Your people say that a good name is better than riches, yes?)
All of the cabbies got quiet and turned to her. She just held out my phone and I grabbed it and casually walked away to the 'Ooooohs' of all the other cabbies. From that day, whenever I took a cab in that town, they called me Dzin Pa (A Good Name)."
"I'm not completely bilingual but I knew more than enough for this one.
I'd been visiting my Dad, who was stationed in Germany. He was still at the army base I'd grown up on, and this particular army base was a former Nazi army base - directly next to/covering part of what had been a notorious concentration camp.
Whilst visiting there, I was run over by a car and spent a week in intensive care. Following that, I was moved down to the next level of care ward - it wasn't the normal ward, it was for people who are still seriously ill. In the bed next to me was a very elderly German lady.
One day, the old lady's family came to visit. I'm English, but from growing up there, I know I a reasonable amount of conversational German. The lady's family kept asking nice questions about how she was, and they got on to 'had she made any friends in the hospital?'
The old lady gestured towards the other old ladies in the room and said that they were alright, but they didn't talk much.
Then she pointed right at me and said (very loudly) 'But HER! She's a JEW! Why would they put me in with someone like that? Why are they helping her? She's DISGUSTING! Why isn't she DEAD?!'
I know old people revert to old memories when they're sick, but I would have preferred to have been in a bed next to an old person who didn't revert into being a bloody NAZI!"
"I was at a Las Vegas buffet with my parents, aunt, and uncle when I perpetrated a perfect cross-cultural verbal beatdown on an older Japanese couple sitting at the table next to us. My aunt and uncle are pretty large and had appropriately large piles of food on their plates, as did the rest of us. We're all whitebread Americans, and I'm sure the couple had no idea that I had been studying Japanese for three years, and my Dad had taken enough Japanese to pronounce certain phrases.
While we were chowing down, I overheard the couple saying things like, 'It's so disgusting how much they eat,' and 'No wonder those people are fat,' while casting furtive glances at us. I discreetly passed my dad a note telling him that I was going to say in Japanese, 'This food is so delicious and plentiful,' and that he should respond, 'Yes, it is delicious,' loud enough that our neighbors would hear.
We executed our plan to perfection and the couple instantly turned white as sheets, dropped their forks and simultaneously bolted from the restaurant without saying a word. If I had wanted to be more of a jerk, I would have asked them to pass the salt, but our technique worked so well that they probably committed ritualistic suicide in their hotel room."
"One evening, I called an Uber driven by Abdel-Latif. Mr. Abdel-Latif, an Egyptian, was nice enough at the start, but then took a phone call from an Arabic-speaking friend of his and started complaining very colorfully about his day. He eventually finished his rant by stating that he would head home after he takes this one last [bad Arabic slur] in his car home.
I, of course, didn't drop the ruse and pretended that my Uber driver didn't just loudly (and quite needlessly) insult me to this random person on the phone. When we finally arrived, he told me to 'have a nice evening, sir.' I told him '[the gist of which is: good night, jerk],' and walked away, putting on my best display of being highly offended, even though I was dying from laughter on the inside after seeing the look on his face.
Weeks later, I took another Uber, driven by Mr. Badry, an Iraqi. He seemed like he had a lot of trouble with English over the phone, so I started the ride off by greeting him in Arabic. He was quickly at ease and was surprised that I spoke Arabic so fluently for a white American. I explained I was only half Egyptian and that was probably why I didn't look like your stereotypical Middle Easterner.
He laughed, and said it reminded him of a story his Egyptian friend - also an Uber driver - told him, about the time he picked up this white guy that turned out to speak perfect Arabic. I asked him for his friend's name.
It was Abdel-Latif."
"I used to work with this guy who was an average white American who was married to a smoking hot Dutch lady. One evening, they went out for Chinese food and after being seated, he noticed the entire male waitstaff started cycling by their table to get an eyeful of his wife. Okay fine, it kept his water glass topped off, and it's not like he wasn't used to it.
He noticed the guys all congregated at the bar talking and laughing. After a few minutes, he motioned for his waiter and asked to speak with the manager. The waiter asked if everything was okay, but my friend just repeated that he wanted to see the manager. Their waiter left and returned shortly with a guy from the group at the bar that said he was the head waiter. My friend told him that he didn't want to talk to any of them, he wanted to speak with the manager. The head waiter assured him that wasn't necessary as he could take care of any problem. Through gritted teeth, my friend looked at him and said, in perfect Mandarin, get the manager right now. He told me the color drained from both waiters' faces as they stumbled backward like they were trying to get away from an evil spirit.
The head waiter dashed off to the back and returned a short time later with the manager. Speaking in English, my friend told the manager that the waitstaff had said some pretty nasty things about him and his wife. Figuring his 'get the manager' comment was something picked up from Google translate, the manager sought to assure my friend that Mandarin was a challenging language for foreigners to master, so he was likely mistaken with anything he thought he might have heard.
At that point, my friend lost his cool and switched to full-on Mandarin. He very loudly repeated what he'd overheard the waiters joking throughout the meal, like how he must be rich because there was no way he was satisfying his wife with his tiny package. The group at the bar suddenly stopped smiling and became interested in their shoes. The manager stood open-mouthed and speechless as my friend pointed to each of the waiters, and, using the proper slang, recounted what each said they'd do to his wife."
"I do speak a second language, but I would have to say the most memorable foreign language incident I've had was on the bus when a Chinese lady was sitting in front of me and a white lady next to me.
The Chinese lady was on the phone and she kept saying the word 'na ge,' pronounced like ... ahem, the racist N-word (In Mandarin, it means 'that/ that one'). The lady next to me, her expression was so priceless. Then the Chinese lady said a whole stream of words, and, I kid you not, it sounded like she'd said something like 'a streetwalker for a na ge'... That killed it.
The lady next to me turned to me and whispered loudly, 'I don't understand Asian, but it sounded like she is selling herself to a black man, am I right?' I didn't know whether to laugh, agree, or be insulted at the fact that she thought just because I was Asian, I'd understand what she was saying. But I didn't want to ruin her Christmas so with the straightest face I could manage I replied, 'Yes. Yes, she did.'
The rest of the bus ride was spent with the lady next to me shaking her head, tsking and doing the 'Father, Son, and Holy Ghost' motion."
"I'm an American but I spent some time living in Uganda. Most of the time I got in a taxi, the other riders would inevitably start making jokes, and talk about the 'mzungu' (white person).
The usual themes were about the conditions of the ride (too many people/animals/potholes), and how I should be riding in luxury since I'm white.
I would wait until there was relative silence, then say in Lusoga (one of the major languages), 'Shhh. I think the white person understands!'"
"I was waiting in line with my sister to take a boat tour in California and ahead of us was a group of German-speaking people. The wait to board the boat was long and they got to talking. At first, it was about how nice the weather was, then it turned to how annoying Americans can be, especially fat, dumb, tourist Americans. They cracked a couple of jokes having to do with American stereotypes.
While this was happening, the line started moving and people started boarding the boat. But the group was too wrapped up in their own jokes to realize it. So I finally turned around to them and in fluent German, asked if they were part of the tour and if they were getting on the boat. They stopped dead in their tracks and said yes. So I replied that they had better get a move on because the dumb, fat, American tourist standing right behind them wanted to get on the boat, too.
They all looked embarrassed."
"I'm an American, but my Dad and his family are from Switzerland, so I've had to learn some languages other than English if I want to keep up with my grandparents and cousins conversations. I've gotten pretty poor with my French, but good enough that I can still listen in on other people's conversations. But, I was never expecting to be able to use this skill or surprise anybody's secret conversation since I live in Texas.
But lo and behold, one day I was out shopping with a couple friends - one who also speaks French and German. I'm disabled from an accident that deformed my left leg - it's pretty obvious and people do tend to stare but that doesn't mean I'm going to go around covered up in pants all the time. It's too hot here! At lunch, we overheard a mom talking with her son at the table next to us. The boy was about 7 or 8 years old and was fixated on my leg and my leg brace - just typical kid curiosity and I was probably one of the few disabled people he's seen.
The little boy was asking his mom what happened, why is that girl's leg was all messed up, and why I had to wear that brace. The mom then started talking crap about Americans and told the boy I probably lost it in the war while killing a bunch of helpless people. She then went on about how Americans are unhealthy, dumb, and should stay out of other people's business.
My friend had gotten up to go to the restroom and came back and just casually asked how the meal was - in French. I answered her back and the mom looked mortified as it dawned on her I had heard the whole conversation. I wasn't rude but I did take the opportunity to tell the boy - who was legitimately concerned. I explained that I was injured in an accident but I'd be okay. So, I got to surprise someone being a jerk and got to show a little boy that disabled people are just regular people, so win-win."
"My family owned a business on a beach right outside of a French town. None of us spoke French, but a great friend of mine was French and came to work with us for years.
One of the local townspeople came up to order fries to go while their child walked into the candy/toy store part where my buddy was working. The kid asked for a toy in English and the parent responded in French, 'No, these are bad people. They take jobs from the community and won't hire locals.'
My buddy interrupted her and said no, my family was great people and he did not appreciate her telling her kid flat out lies (all in perfect French). The woman turned beet-red and waited outside for her food.
My buddy told my dad what happened and before he got her food ready, he grabbed the stack of tapes we had from local kids we hired stealing from us and even breaking in overnight. My dad offered her the tapes so she could be queen gossip of the town (he wouldn't have given them to her) and explained nicely how we had to bid on the business and have a business plan, and that there were five offers - four from the city and only one from the town who only offered $12,000 for the building, equipment, and the three acres of property it sits on.
She was kind of shocked at how it all worked. We gave her the fries for free for the hassle of listening to us, but apparently, she told the story and we started getting local business for the first time in over a decade."
"I'm Japanese and live in Japan, but I went to college and law school in the United States, so I'd like to think I speak fluent English. It's always funny when foreigners realize I speak English because there are so many bilinguals in Tokyo that you'd think they'd learn by now that talking crap in English isn't going to be as discrete as they think. Anyways, I have two, one is a pretty feel good one and the other is the typical 'talking smack' ones.
I was drinking in a pretty small town in Niigata prefecture. It's not known to get too many foreign visitors except in the winters when ski/snowboard season picks up, but this was in the spring, so I was actually quite surprised when I walked into an Izakaya and a foreign couple was sitting at one of the tables. I was alone, so they seated me at the counter and I ordered a couple of yakitori and a sake. As I was waiting, I could hear the couple behind talking about how none of the things that came were what they ordered/expected and that its so difficult since no one seemed to speak English. The Izakaya we were at was like a hole in the wall, no pictures, and the menu was handwritten in Japanese, so I could understand how difficult it would have been. Anyways, I came over, and to their delight, I translated the menu for them and helped them with their order. I ended up sitting and drinking with them that night, and we still message each other on Facebook!
The second time isn't the same type of feel-good story. I was in a small city outside the 23 ward which had a pretty prominent language school, so there are a lot of foreigners in the area. I used to bartend when I was younger and one of my coworkers from that time had opened a small BBQ restaurant in the area, so I decided to stop by and congratulate him. There was a couple of American guys, probably in their early 20s, just trashing this place saying it wasn't authentic and that they did it better in Texas or wherever they were from. So after I had finished talking with my ex-coworker, I turned around and told the two American men that if they wanted authentic BBQ, they should just go back home to America, no one is subjecting you to this restaurant."
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