Like most people, I read Dear Abby for the Schadenfreude, but today’s column was interesting to me in my capacity as Languagehat. The subject was people who talk about others thinking they can’t be understood, and there were some great anecdotes sent in by readers. A couple:
DEAR ABBY: My son, an 18-year-old college football player of Italian/Irish heritage, was sitting in an airport in Austin, Texas, during a layover. A family from Japan was sitting next to him, complaining about their flight and their food, and finally, that someone nearby smelled bad. My son turned to them and, in perfect Japanese, said, “Yes, something does smell funny.” He said they looked at him in shock, got up and literally ran away. He said the same thing your writer did: People shouldn’t automatically assume others don’t speak their language, even those visiting our country. —DORIS IN KAILUA, HAWAII
DEAR ABBY: My mother is from Germany, and I speak German. I vacationed there with my husband, two children, my mother and my in-laws. On the way home, my father-in-law and I went to the flight desk to check in. The woman behind the counter told us our plane had left two hours before! Then, in German, she said to her co-workers that we were stupid Americans, and she’d make us stay another night and take a flight the next day. I replied in German that we were not stupid, and we’d take a flight that day. Her jaw dropped, and her boss came over and ran with us to the next flight. —CAROL IN PORTLAND, ORE.
So remember, you never know what languages that person you desperately want to mock might know!