Have you ever pretended you DIDN'T speak a language?

Just curious. I’ve seen people with a good command of a foreign language refuse or pretend not to in order to avoid dealing with, f’r’instance, flirtatious boys, cops, vendors who hope to make a connection by guessing what country your from and claiming they have a cousin in Capitol City…

Ever happened to you? When?

Haven’t thought about this in years…but I used to like to go into new places and pretend I was deaf. Don’t know why I enjoyed it, just did.

I sometimes pretend not to speak either English or the language of the country I am in for the precise reasons you mentioned. It doesn’t always work in Europe, because if I’m in, say, France and claim to speak only Italian, the other person will start rattling off in that language. But it can come in very handy; it just backfires sometimes.

Visiting my grandparents in Hawaii one year, I was happily splashing around in the ocean, when I was approached by a group of locals, telling me that they were going to kick my haole ass. I was maybe 14, and they were about my age. I stood dumbfounded for a moment, then some ancient genetic weirdness kicked in and I started speaking in incomprehensible first-year German.

Strangely, it worked. They left.

All the time. Well, it has happened anyway. Especially when I’m being bugged by someone, I’ll just say “Ursäkta, men jag talar inte engelska/franska/tyska”. It has happened, at least once, that I’ve told someone I don’t speak Swedish. That’s not a very good idea though, cause then they all want to practice their English, and I won’t be left alone after all.

I had a few excruciating moments back in high school, when I was taking Spanish. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I happened to come face to face with some distant cousins of my mother who were missionaries in Central America. “Oh, Ducky’s taking Spanish in school–Ducky, say something in Spanish to Cousin Paul…”

“Ummm…” :rolleyes:

I’m a horrible eavesdropper on sign conversations. I’m fluent at American Sign Language, and love watching other people sign without them knowing I sign. It is fun watching them talk about other people that are around.

Waar hebben jullie het in godsnaam over? Ik snap er geen zak van!

i pretended not to speak english to avoid paying more money on a train. unfortunately i forgot that i didn’t know english and got caught reading a book a few stops later.

LOL! That reminded me of a time I did a similar thing. I had extreme laryngitis (which is the equivalent of not being able to breathe, for me) so I pretended I was mute. All weekend long. Got really tiring writing everything, but it was funny listening to everybody yell at me because they kept thinking since I was mute, I HAD to be deaf as well! :slight_smile:

Sometimes I pretend that Im a hearing person. This works okay if I put in a nod here & there & a ‘uhhuh’. I just hope they don’t ask a question.

I’ll occasionally speak French and let people assume I’m Canadian so as not to deal with life in general.

I also often adopt a thick Southern accent because people around here tend to assume that means I’m a moron. Then they forgive me for being stupid. :smiley:

There was a movie made about a guy who pretended to be deaf his entire life. It was a pretty cool movie, but I forgot what it was called. “What the deaf man heard,” or something like that, I think. Saw it on TV a while ago. Good movie.

I have a Cuban-born friend who does not “look” like he’s Cuban or Spanish. We were at an auto repair shop to have some work done on his car. The mechanics were speaking Spanish in between bits of English to us. After a few minutes my friend spoke to them in Spanish, then we got in his car and left.

He explained to me that they were openly discussing overcharging him for work he didn’t really need. At which point he informed them, in perfect Spanish, that he was going elsewhere. No wonder they looked surprised.

I was standing at LRT station one night watching people make their way up the stairs to catch the train. A rather large drunk guy walks up to me and says “%@%(* let's go kick some %#@%$(*& gook ass” as a group of young asian guys were gathered at the bottom of the stairs. He kept talking and making ethnic slurs and I made a good effort to ignore him thinking that:

a. Bozo the drunk might actually start a fight if he thinks he has backup.

b. Feynn might get maimed pretty badly as there were about ten asian guys who might think I was this guys friend. (I’m good but not that good).


c. Bozo might get pissed at me for not wanting to join him in his suicide mission and take out his pissy day on me instead. Then I’d be forced to kick Bozo’s ass, miss my train, possibly deal with the cops, and be really late getting home.

He was loud enough that other people on the platform were starting to look towards us.

I turned to face him and signed “I can’t hear you, I’m deaf” as I mumbled the words. He simply said “fuck” and walked away to the other end of the platform to catch his train. I was thankful that he was going in the oppposite direction.

There was a couple standing close by who had been watching this whole scene, I turned to them and told them I wasn’t really deaf and simply didn’t have the time to deal with assholes.

We laughed and laughed.

I actually use this little tale when I am explaining martial arts theory to people as there are many ways to avoid confrontation that don’t involve violence.


Here in Panama my fluency in Spanish pretty much disappears when I have to deal with a traffic cop. I become completely oblivious to the hints that I am supposed to come across with a bribe, and am usually let off the hook when the cop loses patience. (Though if they actually start to write the ticket, my Spanish suddenly improves dramatically.)

And in the U.S., having a surreptitious knowledge of Spanish is often quite amusing in overhearing what people think are confidential remarks.

Conversely, sometimes I am approached here by scam artists or other unsavory types who try to speak English to me. I sometimes reply in some kind of fake German.

And several times I have avoided of trouble at customs in African countries by pretending my French is non-existent, rather than simply very bad.

I did that outside a museum in New York. I was buying a hotdog from a vendor. A guy approached and kept insisting I turn and speak to him. I didn’t want to deal with a panhandler, so I said something in Swedish. Then some really snotty lady says to the crowd “I HEARD YOU ORDER THAT HOT DOG IN ENGLISH!”. I shrugged, like I couldn’t follow her either. The panhandler then ignored me and pestered her until she scurried into the museum entrance to wait for him to leave.

My sister insisted we go to a Mexican danceclub to meet her friends and I don’t smell a setup because I’m blindly trusting and have an exceptionally sweet nature. Soon I’m shaking hands with a man and my sister is telling him in spanish that I don’t speak much spanish and since he has no english, she will just leave us to figure it out ourselves. I don’t speak much, but I understand some and spent the evening smiling politely and looking dumbfounded alternately. After sincerly trying to communicate, my new buddy would just muse aloud—why am I here? But she is very pretty, her sister’s husband says she’s a very nice woman, what am I going to do with her? I don’t think she likes me, but she is dancing with me. Look, she smiled, is she playing? Sweetheart, do you like me? I spot my sister and tell her to tell him I’m seeing someone else, which she knows good and well. I can’t tell him or he’ll know I’ve been having him on all night. She says no way and I spend a lot of time in the ladies room until my sister decides we should be getting me home. That guy probably thought I had a UTI.

I have never pretended not to speak a foreign language I speak (only English and a bit of French) however I have claimed not to speak my native language (German) qite a lot in the last years.

For example - if you go in a bus and “forgot to pay the fare” you will certainly not be controlled if you only speak English in the bus, cause it s just too difficult for the bus conductor to make the “tourist” understand what it is he wants Thoughts of the conductor:“what s the English for ticket again? Ah damit! I ll ask the old ladie there for hers.”

Also in Amsterdam it was quite funny to listen some German guys while a friend and I pretended to be American (it s strange they didnt notice my thick German-English accent. Of course officially we didnt get one single word.

what you say?

I speak a bit of French and can understand some German; my wife is more fluent in German but speaks no French. We were at a restaurant in Paris last year, and as it was obvious that we were American the waiter began by speaking to us in English (after which point you look like an idiot if you respond in French).

The couple at the next table were alternating between German and French, and spent the entire evening talking about us. We pretended not to know this, but compared notes afterwards. It was quite amusing.

A lesbian couple of my acquaintance, one of whom spoke arabic, similarly went to Paris and at a North African restaurant overheard the waitstaff discussing getting them drunk and “taking them upstairs” in Arabic. They finished their meals quickly and asked for the check – in Arabic; while the staff were blustering they paid and left. Funny (to them) in hindsight, but potentially not so funny.