It's a classic story for lots of multilingual individuals out there - others hear you speak one language and naturally just ASSUME that's all you're fluent in, then go about talking "behind your back" (but still to your face) in another language...that just so happens to be one of the other languages you speak. Sometimes it works out in a fun, nice heartwarming way - but more often than not, it just allows you to completely dunk on them by revealing you've understood everything they were saying. And this r/AskReddit thread asked people to contribute their best stories, and there were some real doozies in there. Check it out:
I lived in South Korea for three years, but I never learned too much of the language. A friend of mine is 100% Korean but is very tall and was educated in America and New Zealand so she has an American accent. Her co-teachers at her school all assumed she couldn't speak Korean so they would talk shit about her constantly while she would listen on and feel terrible. She said nothing for a whole year until she had to speak at the end of year ceremony. The school offered her someone to translate but she refused and in front of 800 or so students and faculty members she delivered her address in perfect Korean. She subtly called out the coworkers that had spent an entire year calling her a foreign pig. Apparently one started crying from the shame of it. I wish I had got to see that.
My mum's a linguist and speaks about 15 languages fluently and as such, I picked up a couple along the way. Most of my childhood was spent in Germany so I have a firm grasp of the language...which doesn't really seem to match my appearance. I'm a 6'3, 220lbs, black man, who speaks German. Now this isn't too uncommon a sight in Germany, but in North America, I'm a fucking unicorn.
So I was standing at the bus stop one day in the heart of downtown Toronto and there were these two 60-something year old German ladies who were not having a good time. They were trying to find the Art Gallery and were fed up with the fact that they were having such a shitty time navigating because their english-speaking children had left them alone for the day.
I didn't have anything particularly important planned for that day, so I turned to them and said something to the effect of "You know, our city has a lot to offer if you know where to look. Would you two like me to show you where the Gallery is, and a couple places you can get lunch along the way"
They nearly fainted. They were sooooo happy that they found someone who spoke German and couldn't stop taking pictures with me to show their family 'the guy that saved their day'. I walked them to the Gallery and gave them a bit of an impromptu walking/bus tour along the way. That was the day I gained two Omas.
The people at the Chinese food place on my campus spoke Chinese to the door exchange students. But even tho I spoke Chinese I just always spoke English to them since I have an accent when I speak Chinese. But one day I got all meat no rice since I had a rice maker at home. And when I was paying the lady says to the person beside her "fat ass wants meat no rice". And I responded in Chinese, "actually I have rice at home". They didn't charge me for the order and started giving me a bit extra whenever I go there
When I was stationed in Korea, I was getting a haircut and the hairdresser had like an assistant or a new person helping her get me seated and prepared. She says to the main girl "He looks like a baby!" (I have a baby face and was like 22 at the time). I responded in Korean with, "I look like a baby?"
She was really startled and embarrassed and noped out of there for the rest of the haircut. The main hairdresser took advantage of being able to talk with me in Korean, though.
My family and I went to Sri Lanka for two weeks to see where my mom grew up and general beach stuff. For some reason we were like the only people in the hotel we were staying at aside from a wedding party that left a day after we got there.
A few days in there was another family staying there, I believe from Suriname and we were all chilling at the pool and decided to play a game of water polo against each other. Things got exciting and one of the daughters yelled out something in Dutch like "go for the big fat guy!", my Dutch dad replied "what big fat guy?", And everybody laughed.
Just a simple story but it was pretty sweet.
I'm Brazilian and was flying to Rio from Atlanta. There were these two very attractive girls with their mother speaking English very fluently and one of them had their seat right next to mine. We exchanged some courtesy in English as I just assumed they were American and so did they. They were Brazilian-Americans and so did not have an accent and I started speaking English from a young age so as long as I don't talk too much I can go unnoticed.
So they start putting their carry on luggage in the bin overhead and the mother says to her daughters, in Portuguese:
"Coitado, tá achando que vou deixar uma de vocês sentar do lado dele."
"Poor thing, he thinks I'll let one of you sit next to him."
So I just turn to her and say, in Portuguese:
"Don't worry, ma'am, I'm just being polite. I do have a girlfriend and it'll be a pleasure to share this flight with you."
She just went: "oh"
And then she sat there in silence for the whole flight.
My cousin is a big white guy who studied for 2 years in Japan during college. He worked for one of the head of Honda America for a few years. When the head guy learned that he spoke Japanese, he would make sure my cousin was in all the meetings and phone conferences with the Japanese branch. My cousin would listen to everything the Japanese would be saying to each other and report it to his boss during breaks. As such the boss looked like a psychic to the Japanese because after break he would address their concerns without being prompted. The boss made mad bonuses every quarter and always funneled a bunch of that to my cousin.
When I was living in China, I used to run in this giant park. One morning on one of my runs, I see these three young men hanging out by the path. Not too many foreigners in the area, not too many joggers either, so they immediately notice and start talking about me.
One guy says, "Is she Russian?" There was a small but significant Russian population in the city, so, not a bad guess.
Another guy: "Talk to her!"
First guy: "Nah, she wouldn't understand."
By this time I'm right next to these guys, and I yelled over my shoulder "Yes, I do!" as I ran past.
They absolutely lost their shit. I could still hear them laughing after I went around the bend.
I once interviewed for a part-time school holiday job, together with a good friend of mine. My friend is Chinese, the majority race of the country I live in. I, however, am quite clearly not.
The first thing the HR manager says when he sees me is "We need someone who speaks Mandarin", a criterion not stated anywhere in the employment ad, and which subtly translates to "Chinese candidates preferred".
My friend, while ethnically Chinese, speaks little to no Mandarin. I, on the other hand, speak it rather fluently.
Probably as a test, the HR manager decides to field us questions in Mandarin, clearly intent on cutting me out of the interview.
My friend turns pale, as he stumbles along to answer the question posed in whatever halting Mandarin he can scrape together.
The manager then turns to me, rather arrogantly, waiting for my reply.
It gave me great joy to tell him straight to his face "Thank you for the opportunity, but clearly I am not the right candidate you are looking for to fill this position since I am not Chinese" in crisp fluent Mandarin.
The look of bewilderment of his face was priceless.
We had a large family reunion dinner at a restaurant and we were all sharing stories. My funny Uncle was telling us how he used to pretend he was deaf and his sister would translate. To prove it, he asked the waitress to get the manager. When he came over, my Uncle started signing to him...with made up and exaggerated gestures. My Aunt told him that the food was good and the server was excellent...all the while the manager just smiled and nodded. When they were done "talking", the manager said in sign language, he spoke ASL and knew it was bullshit. We blew up laughing and my Uncles face turned beet red.
Took the employee shuttle with a bunch of my South American exchange student coworkers. For about a month I slept in the back while they conversed in Spanish. One day, they told a joke and I laughed out loud, then they all stopped and looked at me, realizing that I could understand Spanish the whole time. This really broke the ice between us, and some of them became lifelong friends and it led to a romantic relationship as well.
I used to work at gun store. Two guys come in, speaking Spanish to one another, with one guy translating for the other. I'm a 6'5" goofy looking Irish dude, so they had no way of knowing I lived in Mexico for two years as a teen.
So the whole time I hear the guy describing the gun he wants, how much her likes it, etc to the translator. Translator tells me everything like he is the one who wants to buy the gun. He says he brought the other guy because he "knows guns" Finally I hear the Spanish only guy say that this is the one he wants, translator then tells me he has decided which gun he wants.
I let them know, in Spanish, that I wouldn't be selling them any guns. What they were trying is called a Straw purchase and is very illegal.
So I was working at a dental clinic in Germany, and these 2 guys walk in and start speaking in arabic, not knowing that both I and my supervisor can understand it. The first guy (actual patient) is nervously telling his friend and this would never work, and his friend is telling him to shut up and play along, so the supervisor and I try to figure out what kinda game they're trying to play. Apparently, they were trying to lie about the patient's age to get his dental treatment done for free; (I dont know how that worked, I was just an intern) unlucky for him, his teeth told the truth (you cant fake being 16 when your wisdom teeth are ALL THE WAY out)
So me and my supervisor shut up about it, and I'm in actual pain trying to hold back from laughing as the friend is convincing the patient that we're idiots who dont speak arabic and cant understand their trick. Of course until i cant anymore and decide to discuss the case with my supervisor. Right there in front of them. In arabic.
I have never seen someone turn so many different colours so fast.
When I started working at McDonald's at 16, none of the other employees realized I could speak a fair amount of Spanish. A few of my coworkers would talk crap about me in Spanish and I pretended for a few weeks that I didn't know what they were saying.
Then one day a manager told me she was worth me than me because she was bilingual. So I told her (in Spanish) that I was actually trilingual. The looks on their faces when they realized I spoke Spanish all along was priceless.
Said something like "You need to be careful when talking shit about someone in your native language, there might always be someone who understands you" in German while I was in Italy. A woman who was walking by responded "Like me for example".