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Bilingual people share their 'they didn't know I spoke their language' stories and it's hilarious

These Reddit users left a lot of people embarrassed by revealing that they knew every word of what was spoken about them.

Bilingual people share their 'they didn't know I spoke their language' stories and it's hilarious
Image source: Smiling woman enjoying Korean meal in a Korean restaurant/Getty Images

Editor's note: This article was originally published on April 28, 2022. It has since been updated.

A person's nationality and native language are often great sources of pride. Many countries are built on the labor of immigrants and yet language is often used as a means to exclude people. One Reddit user asked the community about instances where people trying to use a language to exclude, trash or even rip off others without realizing they actually knew the language and it's hilarious. User Reddevil2048 asked, "Bilinguals of Reddit, what's your funniest story of people not knowing you speak their language?"

Here are some of the top replies we came across:

1. To dye, or to not dye

Some Japanese cashiers had a conversation deciding if my wife's red hair was natural. As we walked away I told them it was dyed but not to tell my wife that I know. - ​u/Protomor

 

2. Swedish takedown

I was shopping and two people approached me and asked if the store had ice cream packages in English. I guided them to it (as I was heading there myself). Once they got it, they instantly started talking Swedish (extremely poorly — Swedish is my native language) and said, "how impolite I had been for not simply telling them and had felt like I was forced to lead them there." I replied (in Swedish) "I was heading here myself, so why the hell would I simply tell you where it is?" Both turned pale, grabbed the ice cream, and hurried off. And yes. This was in Sweden. There's literally no reason for them to assume I'd NOT speak Swedish. u/ForLornkaiser

3. 'Crazy eyes' knows Spanish

I’m not bilingual but can understand quite a bit of Spanish, and speak a limited amount. I was at a quinceañera with a friend and was having a really bad anxiety day. One of the middle-aged men sitting at the same table as we were outright talking about me in Spanish, saying I had crazy eyes and how there was something wrong with me. My friend told him I could understand him and he just went quiet. u/bllaaupibu

4. Uninvited barterer

Was at a market in Thailand. Just as the stall owner is handing me my purchase, a tourist walks up and starts randomly educating me on bartering. I’d never met this person before, but they insist on showing me how it’s done. So he’s bargaining away and drives the owner down to about half price. With a smug look, he says “and that’s how it’s done.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell him I paid a tenth of what he did just by speaking politely using rudimentary Thai. u/zenic

5. Thank you for the compliment!

I was standing at a crosswalk in a little Japanese town when a girl commented to her friend that this foreigner has really nice eyelashes, and she wanted to borrow them. I thanked her for the compliment and she turned beetroot. u/Doctorunderhill

 

6. Left hanging

My wife (Norwegian) speaks 6-7 11 languages at varying levels of proficiency and has a few good stories. The best one is from her time studying in Prague. She went out with some Czech friends, all girls. They ended up in a bar, at a table next to a group of Norwegian guys that were on a weekend party trip. The guys were somewhat drunk, and of course immediately started flirting with my wife and her friends, in the typical heavily accented English spoken by Norwegians. While flirting, they discussed among themselves the various physical attributes of each girl, how slutty they were, how they'd perform in bed, what they'd do to them later that night in graphical detail, "I'm so getting laid" comments, and so on. My wife translated everything into Czech for her friends. A lot of fun was had at both tables, the Czechs got more and more flirty as the Norwegians bought drinks, got bolder, and became more and more certain they'd all actually get laid. After several hours, when the girls decided to rather abruptly to end the evening, the Norwegian guys were a bit confused, as the girls all got so cold so quickly. Then my wife said, in Norwegian: "Nice meeting you guys, good luck", watched them all turn blood red, and left. u/Einie

 

7. Gracias

My friend's son knows fluent Spanish but is white so when he brought his wife's mini-van in to get it detailed, the people cleaning it were all going on and on about how stupid and dirty this guy is and how he should make his kids clean the van instead. Then they went on about how cheap Americans are and they probably wouldn't even get a tip for all the hard work. When they were done he went right over to thank them, let them know how much he appreciated the job they did, and gave them a tip... all in Spanish so they knew he had heard every word they said. Edit: I probably should have mentioned that this was in Mexico right near the US border, so being white and a Spanish speaker was more unusual. u/Blueishraptor

8.  Want me to show you my boogers?

My family is Greek, however, I have an aunt that lives in Germany. She was visiting Greece one time, and she went to the jewelry store with her husband, where they both spoke to the staff in English. They were looking at rings when my aunt wiped her nose with a tissue. One of the girls working there thought she was trying to steal a ring and told the other girl working there: 'I think she just put a ring in her tissue, keep an eye on her.' My aunt turns to her and goes: 'I blew my nose, would you want me to show you my boogers??' u/annaoop_

 

9. Costlier in English

Most people don’t realize that I speak Spanish fluently. I was in Mexico with my husband on vacation. We went to a restaurant. They gave us a menu with the side in English facing up. I flipped it over and the exact same menu was printed on the back in Spanish except the prices were about half that of the English version. I ordered our meals in Spanish just in case it counted towards the discount. u/almostahermit

Reddit

 

 

10. Splendidly backfired 

Kind of the other way. When I was younger my family and I (German) went to Greece and to a store. My grandpa started talking about how expensive that stuff there was and how cheap it looked. Then my mom found something she liked and the store owner came over to help her — in German. u/BleaLogosi

11. Nobody messes with my mamma

Was at the theater waiting for the play to begin in my city (São Paulo, Brazil) and those teenage girls next to us were making fun of everyone around them, in French. I was quiet. Until they started to talk about my mother, they were talking about nothing much, just her general appearance, but in an unflattering way. My mom speaks no French, but I do, a broken French, but I do. She got really confused when I turned to her and said, loud and clear "cettes filles croient qui personne lês a comprise. Connardes". This means: "These girls believe that no one can understand them. Idiots".

They went blue, purple and, red. They were not French, but they were smartasses who thought they were the only people in São Paulo that spoke French. And nobody messes with my mamma. u/cupcakelimao

12. Amigo

Spanish speaker here. Was with my family ordering food at a Mexican restaurant, and the waiter in training was telling his senior that he was worried that his English wasn't good enough and he wasn't ready to try. I told him not to worry, I spoke Spanish and would help translate for my monolingual mother. He got excited and thanked me. I ended up chatting with him for a while and told him to not get discouraged, if I could learn Spanish in Mexico, he could learn English in the US and people would be more willing to help than he might think. u/Lockshala

13. Died of laughter

My boyfriend and I went to Japan and stood out like the pair of hugely tall white folk we are. Literally, no one expects foreigners to speak Japanese here btw. When just hanging out waiting to cross a street, a kid holding his mum's hand just stared at my 6-foot + boyfriend and said to his mum; "Wow, foreigners are amazing aren't they?" We nearly died of laughter later, but there are tons of encounters like this. I only scare the pants off some of them though! Great fun! :) u/LadyLuck-13

14. My girlfriend is better looking than you

I'm Norwegian but was on vacation in London, was on the way out of the subway, and waiting for a lift. Standing with my girlfriend, we overhear two girls behind me talking about me in Swedish (that I understood) and how hot I was and that they would definitely be down to f*ck if I asked. And how my girlfriend was not in my league and that I did not know how hot I was. When the lift arrived, I turned around and thanked them (in Norwegian) for the compliments, but that my girlfriend was far better looking than both of them. They decide to not get on the lift with us. u/Matshelge

15. They were making fun of me 

I'm a white-as-they-come American from the Midwest. I absolutely do not look like I speak any language besides English. You know, the stereotypical stupid American who thinks if I just speak English really slowly and loudly everyone will suddenly understand me. But I've actually studied quite a few languages, including Chinese (Mandarin), Korean, Japanese, French, Spanish, German, and Italian.

I've found the best thing to do is to keep a vacant expression on my face whenever people are talking around me like I don't have a clue what's being said. One time I was in Seoul. There were several Korean men standing around not too far from me, smoking, laughing, and talking, so I started listening in. They were talking about the "fat, stupid American man" sitting near them. Lots of insults and making fun of my character, intelligence, and looks. I didn't let on that I understood a word of what they were saying. I just sat there minding my own business and if any of them looked at me, I just smiled at them. When it was time for me to go back inside to work, I walked past them and, in Korean, told them that not all Americans were as stupid as they seemed to think. The look on their faces, when they learned I had been listening to everything they were saying about me, was one that still makes me smile when I remember it. u/DNSGeek

16. They were snickering at me

I was at a music festival in Germany, and there was this group of 5 Japanese guys looking kind of oddly at me and snickering. I had taken a few classes in Japanese by then so I understood WHAT they were talking about, but not exactly what they said. (Turned out they were one of the bands playing the next evening). But it was something along the lines of "Why is that foreigner wearing a mask like that? Thought only we did it." And then some general remarks about how weird and odd my getup was, in their defense, I WAS wearing a face mask with filters and a pair of welding goggles. And as I walked past them I just remarked that I could understand them and that they were being really rude. They bowed and apologized and offered me a drink to make up for it. Long story short, I got backstage and they were really cool guys after all. u/Darandala

17. Extra yakisoba 

An old Japanese lady here in Brazil was selling yakisoba at the farmer's market and talking in very broken Portuguese with a heavy Japanese accent, I start talking in Japanese and she suddenly is super impressed. I got so much extra stuff on top of my yakisoba. u/Cahnis

18. Earned me a date

The staff at a Korean restaurant I frequented always used to yell "your white girlfriend is here!" (in Korean) to the head waiter when I walked in, because he was the only person on staff who had some English and always served my table. One time he good-naturedly told the other staff after they said it that I couldn't be his girlfriend because he was too short compared to me. I took a leap and told him in Korean that I was wearing heels right now, but would be happy to wear flats on a date. We ended up dating for over a year before he had to go back to Korea to take care of his dad. He was the loveliest guy. u/aperhapsand

19. A bargain

Negotiating with vendors in Turkey. As they babbled amongst each other trying to rip me off, I'd make a super lowball offer in Turkish. The look on their faces was gold, and this happened often. Usually, I got the deal as they were super embarrassed. (American who lived there for 2 years and took Turkish 101 & 102 classes when I arrived.) u/k3yst0ner

20. 'They don't understand English babe'

I was on a bus, and a tourist couple was pretty much next to me talking about finding a hotel to have sex that night. The girl told him to stop saying that because someone might hear it, and the guy replied "they don't understand English babe". Well, I sure did. u/ihatemyshadow