Tables turned


I do it. You do it. We all do it.

And it’s completely harmless until you are on the receiving end.

I’m talking about the subconscious tendency to treat those who don’t speak our language as complete idiots.

Sometimes it’s warranted, like when I went to buy a Chilean cell phone (“espera momento: I recharge my SIM card how?”)

Most of the time though people wrongly confuse language barriers for IQ barriers. Por ejemplo, I took advantage of a free personal training session at my new gym. My inability to roll my r’s was mistakenly confused for an inability to use a weight machine, operate a treadmill or stretch properly (“es muy importante to stretch, Felipe”)

For the last two weeks, I’ve been treated as if I had the knowledge base of a four-year old. All I want to do is yell out at the top of my lungs “WAIT 30 MINUTES TO EAT AFTER SWIMMING. NEVER CHECK BAGS.  RIGHTY TIGHTY LEFTY LOOSEY. CHAMPAGNE ROOM — CHAMPAGNE  BUT NO SEX” and other such kernals to signal my extensive practical knowledge.

Next time you see a foreigner. Don’t yell. Don’t slap on that paternalistic smile (you know the one). Tell them what they need to know softy, clearly and wait until they walk away before mocking their funny foreign accent.

3 Responses to “Tables turned”

  1. Nic Says:

    That’s hilarious.

    My application for the move to Dubai has been accepted, and I actually considered chronicling my multi-cultural experiences while I’m out there. I think there would be a ton of day-to-day oddities that are interesting. I’m guessing the same for you.

    One oddity that I’m still having trouble wrapping my brain around, and is purely because of the way American culture works, is that religious conservatism does not have to be strongly related to a pro-life stance.
    In the US those two almost always go hand-in-hand. In the UAE, not as much. Still seems strange.

  2. Sam Says:

    This is spot on, Phil. I remember when I met a group of Spaniards while traveling in Spain. They were nice people, except I got increasingly frustrated by one of them who kept treating me like a 3 year old. Finally it got to a tipping point and I got a bit nasty: “I think there’s a misunderstanding about something. I’m different because I’m American and not because I’m mentally challenged.” The Spaniard just stood there with this blank face, although his friends, who understood exactly, burst into laughter.

    Any other good stories out there?

  3. Nic Says:

    I grew up in Hong Kong, but went to a British school so my Chinese was less than stellar. So, I had all the joy of growing up in a place that was home, but where I definitely didn’t belong.
    I would say that it’s possible to turn the tables and have people assume you are intellectual superior to them because of the way you speak. I can’t say I’ve ever really felt the reverse…yet.

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