Three short tales of not speak English

grab bag

Something you can count on

I managed to get up at 8am to go to the gym today.  This is impressive, because:
– Today is Saturday.
– I went to the gym yesterday.

But that’s not really the story here.  Rather, we had a substitute teacher for our gym class who giggled in an adorable, Japanese-school-girl’ish way, and apologized for not speaking much English.  Continuing on in mildly broken English, she pleaded for us to just follow her and everything would be okay.

Okay, then. But I soon realized that something wasn’t quite okay.

Before long, it was clear that she had a pretty impressive and ready vocabulary for someone who “no speak much English.”  The only consistent FAIL part was her use, er, abuse of numbers.

“Just four more!… Okay… Eight, Seven, Six…”

“Last one!  Good!… Ten, nine…”

By the end of class, I was convinced that her English was just fine.  Indeed, her masochistic promising of “almost done!” and “just one more!” was simply an oft used evil trick of gym trainers seeking to perversely motivate people, Peanuts style (“Of course I’m not going to move the football, Charlie Brown!”)

*  *  *


Checking out my German

About a decade ago, I found myself living in Germany.  My entire German knowledge was squeezed in beforehand by a handful of one-hour German tutoring lessons and a “Learn German Today!” type book which I frantically eyeballed for the first 42 minutes of my flight to Germany before semi-dozing off.

In due time I managed—out of intense personal interest and self-preservation concerns—to learn approximately 1,742 food words.  But other vocabularies were more difficult and more risky.  Therefore, when it was time for me to set up a checking account, I knew without a doubt that it was time to plead for English.

In the Deutsche Bank in Mannheim, all in German (translated for your convenience)…
Me: Good morning.  Do you speak English?
Bank Frau, beaming mischievously: No, no I don’t.  But you speak good German!
Me, getting both scared and frustrated:  Hmm.  Does anyone speak English here?
Bank Frau:  No, only German.
Young woman behind her, now also smiling broadly:  Correct, only German.  Speak German, please.

I think I subsequently set the record for longest-time-to-set-up-checking-account.  Thankfully, I inexplicably escaped ending up with a home loan, a retirement account, seven different German Gov’t bonds, and a free t-shirt proclaiming “Ich Bin Ein Berliner.”

*  *  *

The brilliantly stupid Spanish teacher

Back in junior high, when I struggling through Spanish class, my dad told me a little story about an old high school teacher of his, whom we’ll call Señor Gonzalez.  Señor Gonzalez apparently didn’t speak English.  ANY English. 

“Lo siento, no hablo inglés.  Español, por favor.” y “Cómo? Cómo? No hablo inglés!”

And, as you can imagine, this was both incomprehensible and maddening to my dad and his fellow first-year Spanish students.

Bravely or masochistically, my dad stuck with this teacher for all four years of high school, improving his Spanish greatly.  The same linguistic improvement seemingly couldn’t be claimed by Señor Gonzalez, however; despite living in the heart of America for undoubtedly far more than my dad’s four years of high school, the stubborn Spaniard still spoke not a lick of English.

Eager to take a break from his studies, my dad got tickets for the senior prom and arrived early to help set up.  As he began walking around to the back of the auditorium, he overheard Señor Gonzales quietly talking with the principal:

“Yeah, looks like we’re gonna need some more punch and…”

My dad stood at the door entrance, jaw dropped and staring in disbelief at the English-without-an-accent-Gonzalez.

“Uh… uh… hola, Jerry!  Cómo estás?

*  *  *

Have you had any similar experiences?  Ever faked not speaking English (or another language) that you actually know?

2 comments… add one
  • John May 24, 2008

    I faked not knowing any German in school (in the states; being a German) for about 3/4 year. Unluckily, my parents decided to come to a parent-teacher evening, where my German teacher was somewhat surprised to find out that I was actually German. Heh. It was fun while it lasted :-D.

  • Graham May 24, 2008

    Haha, those are hilarious. The closest thing I’ve got is when I took an ASL class for a quarter in college. We actually had an assignment where we had to go somewhere like a restaurant and pretend to be deaf and mute, to see what it’s like trying to get by that way. My sister, her boyfriend, and I stuck in ear plugs (supposed to look like hearing aids? I don’t know) and had brunch at Hobee’s. Somehow I think the waitress actually bought our act. Gave us free coffeecake, even. (Because we were deaf? I don’t know.)

What do you think?