Embarrassing Assumptions

Lee of Right Thinking From The Left Coast informs us that he's studying Mandarin Chinese as part of his new job.

He also warns us about assuming that someone in a foreign land doesn't speak your language. As he illustrates, it can lead to embarrassing situations.

....what I really want to do is learn enough so I can understand what the Chinese say about me as I walk past. They know that, in general, most foreigners don’t speak Chinese, and if they do it’s only a few words like, “Which way to the bar?” So the Chinese get used to talking about you when they’re standing right next to you, probably saying something like, “Check out this fat bastard.”

What I’d love to be able to do is turn to them, and in Mandarin say, “Every day I earn what you make in three weeks. Eat s**t and die.”

I've run across a situation like that, too, when a couple of young French ladies visiting London assumed I didn't understand French. Were they embarrassed when they found out that this “ugly American” understood every word they said.

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