Author Topic: Assumptions and Language  (Read 4849 times)

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Jones

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Re: Assumptions and Language
« Reply #15 on: October 26, 2012, 01:22:15 PM »
I don't think you were rude. I've been in similar situations and when I've guessed correctly, the person was really pleasantly surprised. For example, I was in Carmel, CA and in an art store and the owner had a Slavic accent of some sort. I noticed his business card on the counter and his last name looked  Serbian or Croatian. As I was leaving, I told him "hvala" which is one of the few words I know (thank you) and he smiled and laughed and was so happy that I guessed his language. So in some cases, they're really happy and pleased.

You could always err on the safe side and only ever use English, but I think it's fun to learn other words in other languages. Most of the time, I learn something new and have interesting conversations so I don't want to always be *so* safe that I never get to experience things like the smile on the guy's face that I mentioned above.

And sometimes, they're scared spitless!  DH was riding public transport one time back in the early '80's, and heard 2 men speaking Russian.  Train was crowded, DH's Russian was even then nearly gone (from college, about 8 years prior), but he knew Russian when he heard it, even if he didn't understand every last detail of their conversation.  He had to ask them to let him by when it was time for him to get off the train, and he did it in Russian, and then said thank you.  He said the look of absolute terror on their faces was at once very sad, as we were in San Francisco at the time.  Quite far from the USSR, and DH certainly meant nothing bad by speaking to them in Russian, it was just fun for him to exercise his fading language skills.

I actually had something like that happen once too; I was working as a grocery store cashier and a group of people came through my line speaking in Spanish, very involved in each other and ignoring me. I didn't pay attention to their conversation, just noted it was Spanish and continued my job. When finished they slid a credit card without prompting and I wished them a pleasant day, come again soon, in Spanish. This was the first and only time that I got the reaction of disgust and anger. They said nothing to me and left.

Danika

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Re: Assumptions and Language
« Reply #16 on: October 26, 2012, 06:40:58 PM »
I don't think you were rude. I've been in similar situations and when I've guessed correctly, the person was really pleasantly surprised. For example, I was in Carmel, CA and in an art store and the owner had a Slavic accent of some sort. I noticed his business card on the counter and his last name looked  Serbian or Croatian. As I was leaving, I told him "hvala" which is one of the few words I know (thank you) and he smiled and laughed and was so happy that I guessed his language. So in some cases, they're really happy and pleased.

You could always err on the safe side and only ever use English, but I think it's fun to learn other words in other languages. Most of the time, I learn something new and have interesting conversations so I don't want to always be *so* safe that I never get to experience things like the smile on the guy's face that I mentioned above.

And sometimes, they're scared spitless!  DH was riding public transport one time back in the early '80's, and heard 2 men speaking Russian.  Train was crowded, DH's Russian was even then nearly gone (from college, about 8 years prior), but he knew Russian when he heard it, even if he didn't understand every last detail of their conversation.  He had to ask them to let him by when it was time for him to get off the train, and he did it in Russian, and then said thank you.  He said the look of absolute terror on their faces was at once very sad, as we were in San Francisco at the time.  Quite far from the USSR, and DH certainly meant nothing bad by speaking to them in Russian, it was just fun for him to exercise his fading language skills.

One of the languages I speak is Arabic. Here in the central US where I grew up, you don't often run into others who do. When I was living in San Francisco, a relative and I were in a Chinese grocery in Chinatown. We were speaking Arabic to each other, luckily not talking about anything more interesting than rice and noodles. When I was paying for my food, the Chinese clerk thanked us in Arabic! We were shocked but happy about it. We talked to him a bit and he said he'd lived in the Middle East for a while and learned it there. It goes to show you can't always trust that no one can understand your conversation.

RegionMom

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Re: Assumptions and Language
« Reply #17 on: October 26, 2012, 11:12:03 PM »
It goes to show you can't always trust that no one can understand your conversation.

And that is the truth!
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magician5

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Re: Assumptions and Language
« Reply #18 on: October 27, 2012, 12:01:21 AM »
You'll never believe - someone came up to me the other day and spoke to me in English! I told him "I'm not from England, I'm from right here in Virginia." But I wasn't offended.

I'm not understanding  :-[.  Do you mean he was an American talking to you in a British accent?

I was making an (inadequately explained) joke.
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AuntyEm

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Re: Assumptions and Language
« Reply #19 on: October 27, 2012, 08:12:25 AM »
When I lived in Denmark, people often listening to me speak in Danish would switch over to English--couldn't hide my accent.  Many assumed I was British just because it's the closest English speaking country.  I thought it was very sweet that they would a)make it easier for me to talk to them b) practice their English with me though it did take me forever to learn Danish partly because of that.

Thipu1

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Re: Assumptions and Language
« Reply #20 on: October 27, 2012, 10:21:08 AM »
A friend had that problem when she married a gentleman from Scandanavia.  He and all but the oldest members of his family spoke quite good English. 

She made a real attempt to learn the language but, after a few words, the conversation shifted into English and she was stuck. 

Ereine

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Re: Assumptions and Language
« Reply #21 on: October 27, 2012, 11:33:11 AM »
That happens here in Finland too, even with immigrants who speak no English and don't look like they would. It's bizarre but I think that for many people it's the standard mode of talking to foreigners (plus for many people English is the only language apart from Finnish that they're comfortable using), who cares if they're actually trying to learn Finnish.

White Lotus

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Re: Assumptions and Language
« Reply #22 on: October 27, 2012, 08:44:54 PM »
Had great fun in the market once following some people around who were speaking a European language I also speak.  Although their conversation was mundane, along the lines of, "Gee, they actually have THIS, HERE" and "I can't believe anybody would eat THAT", it might have offended THAT eaters, or those who thought they were being considered rubes, and taught me well not to assume that other people around me, no matter what they look like, might also speak the language I am speaking with my companion.  I entirely second the "be careful; you never know who might be listening!" posts.

mbbored

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Re: Assumptions and Language
« Reply #23 on: October 28, 2012, 11:14:18 PM »
I was visiting a nearby big city today when one group of tourists asked another to take their picture. The American woman taking the picture cheerfully counted to three in Japanese before one of the other group deadpanned "We're Korean, not Japanese."

My friend and I started giggling like maniacs.

sparksals

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Re: Assumptions and Language
« Reply #24 on: October 29, 2012, 12:53:42 AM »
I was visiting a nearby big city today when one group of tourists asked another to take their picture. The American woman taking the picture cheerfully counted to three in Japanese before one of the other group deadpanned "We're Korean, not Japanese."

My friend and I started giggling like maniacs.

Without realizing it, they offended the Koreans immensely.  There is a long.history of strife and hard feelings  between Korea and Japan.  I hope no one heard you laughing.  I personally think it is rude to assume someone's nationality.  The polite thing to do is to ask where they are from and then converse if the language is known. 

As for the OP, I think this situation showed you that there are lingusitic similarities and one shouldn't assume their nationality.  Personally, I think while good intended you were rude.for.the.assumption. 



 

Sharnita

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Re: Assumptions and Language
« Reply #25 on: October 29, 2012, 08:09:49 AM »
I was visiting a nearby big city today when one group of tourists asked another to take their picture. The American woman taking the picture cheerfully counted to three in Japanese before one of the other group deadpanned "We're Korean, not Japanese."

My friend and I started giggling like maniacs.

Without realizing it, they offended the Koreans immensely.  There is a long.history of strife and hard feelings  between Korea and Japan.  I hope no one heard you laughing.  I personally think it is rude to assume someone's nationality.  The polite thing to do is to ask where they are from and then converse if the language is known. 



I think you assume something when you say the Koreans were immensely offended.  Yes there is history between the two countries and yes they might have been offended to some degree (I imagine it differs with each individual).  They also might have just been matter of fact about letting her know.


I think there are certain circumstances where people should probably be a bit more tolerant or understanding of these kinds of mistakes.  If somebody is in Little Italy they might assume the language they are hearing is Italian.  If they are in a Japanese restaurant they might jump to the conclusion that their waiter is Japanese and not Korean.  On occassion they might be wrong but it isn't like they pulled that out of thin air.

OP reached her conclusion because the man was using the language.  Granted it was just one word but it was not a crazy assumption to make putting that together with the location.  She took the correction in good spirit and went from there.

As for the OP, I think this situation showed you that there are lingusitic similarities and one shouldn't assume their nationality.  Personally, I think while good intended you were rude.for.the.assumption.
« Last Edit: October 29, 2012, 01:55:21 PM by Sharnita »

sparksals

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Re: Assumptions and Language
« Reply #26 on: October 29, 2012, 01:21:48 PM »
I was visiting a nearby big city today when one group of tourists asked another to take their picture. The American woman taking the picture cheerfully counted to three in Japanese before one of the other group deadpanned "We're Korean, not Japanese."

My friend and I started giggling like maniacs.

Without realizing it, they offended the Koreans immensely.  There is a long.history of strife and hard feelings  between Korea and Japan.  I hope no one heard you laughing.  I personally think it is rude to assume someone's nationality.  The polite thing to do is to ask where they are from and then converse if the language is known. 

As for the OP, I think this situation showed you that there are lingusitic similarities and one shouldn't assume their nationality.  Personally, I think while good intended you were rude.for.the.assumption.



I think there are certain circumstances where people should probably be a bit more tolerant or understanding of these kinds of mistakes.  If somebody is in Little Italy they might assume the language they are hearing is Italian.  If they are in a Japanese restaurant they might jump to the conclusion that their waiter is Japanese and not Korean.  On occassion they might be wrong but it isn't like they pulled that out of thin air.

OP reached her conclusion because the man was using the language.  Granted it was just one word but it was not a crazy assumption to make putting that together with the location.  She took the correction in good spirit and went from there.

I think you assume something when you say the Koreans were immensely offended.  Yes there is history between the two countries and yes they might have been offended to some degree (I imagine it differs with each individual).  They also might have just been matter of fact about letting her know.

Fixing misquote.  Sharnita do you mind fixing your post above?

Using one word for yes is a big leap, IMHO.  A more appropriate response would be 'Oh, Are you speaking X language when you say that?' 

Having lived in Korea for 4 years, I do know that it is considered an offense for a Korean to be mistaken for Japanese.  I don't believe it is the same the other way around and the hard feelings are on the Korean side for certain atrocities in wars past.   

This is a prime example of one mustn't assume.  Sure, many don't know the reasons for the hard feelings, but they are there.  But immediately jumping to a linguistic conclusion can very well cause offense.  Better to ask rather than assume.   Again the OP had good intentions, but she most likely offended the man based on his reaction.

alis

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Re: Assumptions and Language
« Reply #27 on: October 29, 2012, 06:14:00 PM »
It can also be quite offensive to some cultures/nationalities when you assume they are Russian, specifically the older (WWII + post-WWII) generation. My elder relatives were forced to learn and speak Russian, as well as spend time in the gulag - their fluency can really stir up some anger and emotion in them, it is best to ask if you are not absolutely positive (and even if you are)  :D