It's rare that people that work with the general public get to tell stupid people how they feel, but occasionally, those among us that speak multiple languages get the chance to burn people that think no one else understands them!
(Content edited for clarity.)
"I'm a very pale person, and I was a waiter at a Tex mex restaurant. A customer came in and said 'I don't want this ugly white boy serving them,' to each other in Spanish and I chimed in that I started going to the gym, as a joke, in Spanish, to break the ice. They were clearly very embarrassed and gave me a 25% tip to make up for it, so it worked out."
"I was working in British Columbia, where people speak English. I was a barista, making coffee for an ungrateful salty Quebecers couple. They were saying how much the place sucks, my bosses were a married gay couple so they let out a few French slangs for gay, they said the employees were idiots and probably don't know the difference between a latte and a glass of water. In the end, when I gave them their coffee, I said in French, 'Just because we're in BC doesn't mean no one speaks French here. Some advice: remember that the person who's making your coffee can also hear everything you say.' The look on their face was priceless. I don't feel bad about making their coffee decaf too. Stupid tourists."
"One of my good friends knows Arabic and he's is a tall blonde hair, blue-eyed Aryan-race looking dude. He works for an oil company in Saudi and was tasked with taking these Lebanese dudes around the plant because they were suing the company over some conflict. My friend walks them around all day long while they openly speak about the suit and their defense right in front of him. He never told them he could understand them obviously and went back and reported to his boss everything that he had heard."
"I'm bilingual in French and English. I worked for Chipotle for a while and we get a lot of French-Canadian tourists. Unlike the common stereotype, those people can prove to be pretty darn vile when they want to.
One day, a woman and her teenage son come in. It was a pretty quiet day so I could hear most of what they were talking about from the register. Essentially, the kid was starving, the mom was hungry too but refused to pay for two meals because America is a capitalistic cesspool (how kind).
The way Chipotle works, most of everything is about the same price except for a few things like if you want guacamole or extra meat. The kid took a burrito with rice, no beans, steak (most expensive meat), extra barbacoa (pulled steak, same price as steak), queso (costs extra), and double guac (costs extra x2). They get to me, I punch the food in and ask if they want anything to drink.
The woman looks over the register at the screen (despite the price being displayed on the other side for the customer to see), takes a step back looking offended, turns to her son and goes (in French), 'Oh my god, those jerks are ripping us off,' then proceeds to tear into me personally at her son in French.
I finish cashing her out and hand her the receipt while wishing her a good day in French. She turned bright red with big round eyes. So red she might've been glowing. She asked me if I could understand what she said, to which I replied, 'I understood everything since you walked through the door, you're all set,' and started serving the next customer."
"I'm Mexican, but look little to nothing of it. I'm pretty white and have pretty light colored brown hair. I'm very well educated and have no accent at all despite English being a second language. So if you were to pass by me or overhear me you'd never think I was Mexican.
Well, I work at a location for my work that is 60/40 Spanish speaking. If I see a customer struggling, I start to speak to them in Spanish and it's usually followed by, 'you don't look like you'd speak Spanish.'
One day at work I was helping these rude ladies at my desk. The whole time I was helping them they preferred to speak to me in English so I just went with it. Halfway through our conversation, I said: 'Unfortunately, I can't do much about your issue but I can speak to my manager and see what we could do.' To which this lady said that the last person to help her was able to do it. She then proceeded to roll her eyes and look at her friend and start smack talking about me. Basically, she was calling me dumb, useless and a terrible human being and she didn't stop there. She and her friend then started to pick me apart.
I walked off, talked to my manager about the situation and then went back to my desk. I told the lady that we fixed the issue but if she came back in again, we wouldn't be able to do it. Again she rolled her eyes and continued to talk to her friend. This is where I got smart with her. Since I was basically done, I then finished our whole transaction in Spanish. 'Thank you so much for coming in today. It's been a real pleasure to meet you and if you need anything at all please, please feel free to contact me.' The look on their faces was priceless. They started to say sorry and apologize that they didn't mean to say anything like that. I don't think I've seen them back at my work since and they were regulars. It's been over a year now."
"I'm Filipino and was born in Chicago. My family moved us out to Salt Lake City, Utah to be near my grandparents back in 1993.
One day after recently moving to Utah, my parents took me to the mall for a haircut. The receptionist was a white Mormon male. From the way the receptionist talked, my mom assumed he was gay and started to speak in Tagalog to my dad asking him if he thought he was gay as well. My mom continued the conversation with my dad and was saying some pretty rude things about the receptionist, but my dad was telling her not to judge, telling her to stop, and telling her that it didn't matter if he was gay, etc. If you've been around Filipinos, you know that we can be loud when we're comfortable or in big groups. Of course, the whole time the receptionist could hear everything that was said. At the time, we knew nothing about the Mormon religion. We did not know that they teach other languages to their missionaries so that they could go and spread the word of their religion. The receptionist just so happened to have served his mission in the Philippines and could very fluently speak Tagalog. When the receptionist got up to let me know it was my turn, in Tagalog he said something along the lines of, 'Since you're so curious, yes I am gay.'
My mom was so embarrassed. My dad continued to have a full conversation with the guy to not only learn, but to make my mom even more embarrassed. The guy educated my parents a little bit about the religion and his time in the Philippines. In the end, my mom apologized and offered to cook dinner for the guy to make up for her being rude. He politely declined."
"I'm one of the palest people I know, add to that blonde hair and a thick, northern (UK) accent I look like the last person on the planet to speak a Middle Eastern language. We married into an Egyptian family and we spend plenty of time there, my Arabic isn't amazing but I can get by. I live for the horrified look on people's faces when I switch to Arabic.
I used to do debt collection for a utility company and had a gentleman who refused to pay his bill. He called me all kinds of horrific names, I quickly told him in Arabic that I absolutely wouldn't tolerate language like that, that I was trying to help him and that he was bringing shame on his family. He stuttered for a good few minutes, apologized and ended up paying. However, I got into trouble at work because all calls are recorded at the call center and management was unable to review my call because they couldn't understand what I was saying. They were worried I could have said something offensive etc. So from then on, we were forced to use professional translation services only on three-way calls, which was an absolute pain."
"I'm Puerto Rican, but I tend to look Indian whenever I let my hair grow out and let my facial hair become rather unkempt (thanks Taino genes!)
I used to work at a big red retail store years ago, and I remember a time where I heard an older mom start complaining to her son that I'm putting in too many items in her bags and that I'm not double bagging them. She then muttered In Spanish:
'Stay in school so you don't end up like this guy.'
Now, I had only done around three bags. She probably had another 20-25 items to go. I slowed my pace down and gently began to insert one item into two bags. Every. Single. Item.
She starts complaining that I'm too slow and she has places to be, so I slow down even more. I gently checked for the barcode and made sure that her bags were inserted perfectly into her cart.
Finally, she insisted that I can just scan it all and throw it in a bag. I tell her, no, I want to do this right. In Spanish.
She paused and her son just stared at her while she comprehended what was happening. From there, she just nodded her head as I scanned back to normal. She became deathly silent for the rest of the transaction. Cash or credit? No response. Did she want a red card? No response.
Have a good day? I got a, 'Listen...I'm...' She didn't even finish, she just paused and walked away while her poor son didn't know what to do."
"I am fluent in Spanish because I lived in a Spanish speaking country and my wife and her family are all native Spanish speakers. But as I am fairly pale, most don't expect me to speak Spanish.
One day, when I was working retail, I was helping this Latino family, abuela (grandmother), husband, wife and kids; who all spoke English very well, buy a computer.
Since they all spoke English I didn't mention me being able to speak Spanish. However, when I recommended a more expensive computer that they were looking at (the one they wanted sucked and wouldn't have been good for what they wanted to do), the abuela spoke to the husband in Spanish saying 'this gringo doesn't know what he's talking about, get the cheaper one.'
I looked her dead in the eye and responding in Spanish said: 'I actually know exactly what I'm talking about as I have been doing this for many years.' I then turned and walked away to check and see if we had the one I was recommending in stock. The abuela didn't say another word the entire time they were there and they bought the computer I recommended."
"My dad decided to come with me to the pet store while I got crickets for my gecko and the cashier (who looked and sounded 200% American) ordered a dozen of them. It took an unusually long amount of time for the insects to arrive, and my dad kept mumbling complaints to me in Armenian. Things like 'She's taking forever. Can she go any slower?' etc. I replied in Armenian that it wasn't her fault, it's not in her control, it's up to the other employee getting the crickets. And after a good couple minutes of this back and forth, the cashier joins our Armenian with her own. 'You're Armenian too?' My dad shut up instantly but she was so kind she carried on the conversation as if he didn't insult her in the first place. That still didn't stop him from turning into a tomato though."
"I'm white but grew up in San Diego, so I speak decent Spanish. Especially derogatory words. I once had a customer call me a pendeja (prick) after I momentarily forgot to scan his coupon. I responded with, 'Señor, hablo Español.' He just said, 'Oh' very quietly, paid for his movie, and fled the store. I never saw him again."
"I'm one of the whitest girls I know (half-Norwegian decent) and I speak Japanese. I used to work at a Japanese grocery store, and at that time I was the only white person, others were Japanese, Korean, and Chinese. There were these two older Japanese ladies that came into my line. I normally don't speak Japanese to older ladies because my experience with old Japanese ladies that live in America is that they have a complex about speaking Japanese to non-Japanese (like they're really proud of their English or they just feel weird about it, which is fine).
So I was scanning their stuff and one lady says to the other 'Why'd they let a white girl work here? This is a Japanese grocery store,' and the other lady says, 'Yeah, she's really out of place here,' and then they laughed.
So I just looked at the first lady dead in the eye and said, in Japanese, 'I can actually understand everything you're saying, so I'd be more careful with the words you use.' The ladies faces turned bright red, and responded in Japanese 'I'm so sorry,' and then tried to save themselves by going off: 'Your Japanese is so good, oh wow, can't believe it,' and just praising me. I didn't really care cause I sorta knew where they were coming from, but it was still America and it was the way they said it which made me furious."
"A friend used to work in a bar in London. One night these two men came in, ordered their drinks from a female colleague in English, and the preceded to slag her off in Greek. My friend listened to the whole conversation and waited for her to finish their drinks. He took their drinks over and requested their payment in Greek. Apparently, they both were mortified and tried to apologize profusely. They finished their drinks pretty quickly and left."
"I am 100% Mexican, but I don't look it and even though Spanish is my first language, I speak English without an accent.
I remember back in college I started this job as a delivery driver/cashier at this Japanese restaurant. My first day there, I was being trained by someone that worked there, who was around my age. Most of the kitchen was Mexican or from somewhere in South/Central America where they spoke Spanish. As she's training me on the processes and teaching about the orders, I could hear comments from the back that were in the line of 'Oh, I bet they're gonna smash' and 'They want each other.' It was funny to me because it was a bunch of grown men gossiping like they were in high school. I didn't really get a chance to talk to them because I was so busy learning the ropes, so I stayed quiet about that.
At the end of the day, the owner asked me if I could drive the cooks back home since it was on my way. I agreed and we all got in my car and I asked them in Spanish how to get to their place. They were all silent for a second and they all starting laughing and saying, 'You speak Spanish! Well, shoot, why the heck didn't you say so?'
It was a lighthearted car ride and I enjoyed it and their company. We all became friends during my time working there and I would often drive them home because I enjoyed talking with them outside of work."
"I look really white especially now that my hair is blonde and I live in Australia so it's an easy mistake to make, but I'm half Nepalese and my mum speaks seven languages on top of that. For those reasons, I can understand pretty fluently but not speak very well a few languages.
Once, when I was in an Uber, the driver was on the phone complaining that he wouldn't have accepted the trip if he knew it was going to be so inconvenient. Not exactly mean, but I felt like it was my fault. He was speaking in Bengali so when I got out I said (in Bengali) 'Thank you for the trip, god bless, god be with you.' He seemed very taken aback and said thank you very quietly and drove away quickly!"
"I work at Chipotle. I am also Iranian and speak Farsi. My hair is blonde, and I look like a normal white person. One day a group of Iranians come in and they were speaking Farsi together. As I was giving one of them their chicken, I heard one of them say in Farsi, 'Why doesn't this kid give me more chicken. It's not like it's his money.' This irritated me because I had given her even more than what I'm supposed to. So I responded to her in Farsi, 'If you didn't like the amount I gave you, you can always pay for an extra scoop.' She looked at me shocked for a second, then laughed. They were pretty nice people, and it was just funny how they found out I was Iranian."
"This happened a number of years ago to one of my colleagues. We were working in a busy car rental branch. His parents are Welsh and Belgian, he grew up in Belgium and is multilingual.
We were in a tourist town in the UK. He's a handsome chap and was in his early 20's at the time. Two attractive young ladies come in and sit down. It's a small office, there's a big queue and everything can be heard by everyone. The two girls proceed to have a long and graphic conversation in Flemish about what they'd like to do in bed with my colleague. He carries on dealing with his current customer, not letting on that he understands every word. When he comes back into the office, he walks up to the girls, greets them in fluent Flemish and proceeds to deal with them in that language as he would any other customer; they turned bright red with embarrassment."
"At the fast food restaurant I worked at, we collectively spoke English, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, and German. I'm not fluent in anything but I'm decent in Spanish, Italian, French, and a little Tagalog. It's a small midwestern college town, so an odd combination of rednecks and immigrants. If people insulted us in a foreign language, someone on the staff would always give them a not-so-kind response back in that language. Most people just kinda freeze from embarrassment. One person walked out and never came back.
There's a weird stereotype of all fast food workers being lazy poor idiots, so we appreciate getting to put customers in their place when they're being rude. We actually only hired college students, and many of us had foreign language requirements attached to our degrees."
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