Saturday, December 14, 2013

Do Other Languages Offend You?

(thinking to herself) "Oh, no she didn't wear that!"
Okay, so I'm sitting in an Asian restaurant last week.  A Japanese restaurant to be exact.  The waitress comes to my table and speaks very good English while getting my order.  I noticed about five minutes later that she and a co-worker were off in the corner having a good laugh.  They were looking towards a customer and giggling all while talking in their native language.

Were they making fun of the customer?

I haven't a clue and I can't say that it bothers me to know what they are saying.  I just assume that they're more comfortable in speaking their native tongue.  However, I do remember a story a former coworker told me once.

First of all, my former coworker is black.  I have to give you that background to help you understand the context of the story.  She was one of four other black women getting a pedicure at a local, Vietnamese nail salon when an older, black woman walked in and sat down next to her.  The older woman was wearing something resembling African tribal attire (really gaudy ensemble including a large hat).

After greeting the older woman (in the English language) and figuring out what services she needed, the Vietnamese lady working at the location proceeded to start the pedicure.  Another Vietnamese salon worker walked by, laughed, and hurled an insult in her Vietnamese tongue about the older woman's attire.  She assumed that since everyone in the salon was black that they wouldn't know what she was saying.

What she didn't know is that my former coworker lived in Vietnam for three years and is very fluent.  She told the salon workers (in Vietnamese) that they would do that lady's pedicure for free or she would tell the woman that they were insulting her.  Of course they were stunned (along with everyone else in the shop) that someone spoke the language and to make a long story short, they did do the older woman's pedicure for free.  The older woman never knew why she received the free pedicure, but she was appreciative on top of being confused.

A lot of English-speaking people are skeptical when we don't understand something.  We feel extremely disrespected to think that someone could be bad-mouthing us right in front of us.  A lot of times we assume the worst, but I think that story is an isolated incident.  With so many people being educated in foreign language, it's not wise to assume that someone doesn't understand what you're saying.

Do you get offended when people, who speak good English, speak their native tongue around you?

"Ay, que feo!"

4 comments:

  1. I'm not offended by it at all. It's hard to be in a country that is not your own and when you find someone who can speak your language and relate to you, speak on! I have no problem with it. I do have an issue with people who speak a language to exclude others such as at work sites where, say, two of the three people working in an area speak language one and they do it all day so that person three can't participate. But then, that has nothing to do with the language, it's just rude. It's the same as people who hurl inside jokes all day long, which excludes someone in the group who doesn't get those references.

    So short story long, I have no problem with people speaking their native language with each other. I have a huge problem with doing it to insult or exclude others though. And your friend's story is an example of why this should not be done. You can't tell by looks alone what a person's skills are. I have a friend who speaks four languages fluently and you would never think that by looking at him. Most people take him for middle eastern or Hispanic. They have no idea he holds a master's degree and is multi-lingual.

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    Replies
    1. I agree, Lawfrog. Comfort is one thing, but intentionally excluding is another. However, we can never really tell someone's intentions, so our paranoia can get the best of us. I personally pay it no mind. If they are talking about me, then I could care less because I haven't a clue what they're saying. LOL! However, if they do it in Spanish, then I do know enough of that to understand when I'm being insulted. :)

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  2. I'm not offended. Even if you're fluent in another language I can imagine it's still comfortable to speak in your native tongue. However, insulting people and hiding behind your language is not a smart move on top of being mean and insensitive which is evident in the story you told. I had a coworker years ago tell me of a similar incident involving Vietnamese people. They truly think no one in America knows their language but themselves. But we live in a global diverse economy now. And 5-10 years from now it will probably be almost mandatory for some business professionals to know a foreign language to some degree to compete in an ever changing business climate.

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