You never know what you will encounter when you venture to the grocery store or a movie theater. In a lot of places, we all hear languages other than our own being spoken. It may be confusing, intriguing or annoying (depending on your point of view) but most of us are used to it.
The most amazing thing about living somewhere like that is how much comfort we take in thinking we are alone in our own little world. Specifically, it’s shocking how we assume that no one can understand us if we are speaking French while the other people in the crowd are speaking Spanish. We feel like we are superior to the other people around us and that no one can touch us in our little French bubble.
The truth is, a growing number can understand and just because someone may not be speaking French, it doesn’t mean that they don’t understand French. Despite this common knowledge, however, we still feel safe in speaking other languages in public. Specifically, insulting other people.
Imagine you’re in a grocery store, debating between two wonderful tomatoes, when some random person elbows you out of the way. They are angry that you have been standing in front of the stand for five minutes picking which ones you want. Sure, we can all understand where they’re coming from, but we all do it! This angry person stomps away, grumbling in Spanish, about how stupid you are and that you should learn some manners. Though you live in a French environment, you can understand Spanish quite well, and you find this person offensive. Understandably, you throw the tomato at them, and soon there is a full-on food fight that is only broken up by the security guards ten minutes later.
As in this situation, we all think that no one around us can understand what we say if we say it in a different language. But, languages are moving around the globe. The odds are greater that someone will understand whatever language you speak, because languages are becoming more popular in school systems. Even if someone doesn’t speak the same language you speak, they may speak one similar that allows them to understand you.
Take an example from my life: I was waiting at the bus stop and a car stopped beside me, asking for directions to the local mall. They spoke to me in French, which I don’t speak, but I do speak Spanish, so I was able to understand most of what they said. I explained that I didn’t speak French (which is the only bit of French I do know) and then proceeded to direct them in Spanish. There was some minor confusion and complex hand motions, but it got the job done.
My point in all this is that no matter how uncommon your language may be in any given area, the odds are good that someone will understand you. So, next time you want to call someone stupid, or gossip about what they’re wearing, make sure you do it out of ear shot, otherwise you may find yourself covered in tomato juice.