When I was practicing pediatrics in Florida, I had this experience more than once. Some new patients wouldn’t know that I spoke Spanish, so often couples or a mother and a grandmother would be speaking Spanish between themselves, sometimes making derogatory or critical comments about me. I would just listen and not reveal that I understood everything they were saying until finally I would ask, “¿No sabían qué yo era puertoriqueno? (“Didn’t you know that I’m Puerto Rican?”)
Their mouths would always drop. I wish I could have had a picture of that moment! Then they would ask me where in Puerto Rico I was from. I would always answer “Ponce” even though I was never in that part of PR. We would then have a good laugh and they would be wondering what they had previously said. Most of the time it was just innocent criticism like, “This new doctor doesn’t know what he’s talking about!”
2 thoughts on “Foreign Languages Overheard”
MANY years ago, on the subway in New York, two young Puerto Rican men were speaking Spanish, discussing the various parts of my body and what they would do with them. After they finished, one asked the other for a pencil. He shook his head that he didn’t have one. I quietly removed one from my purse and handed it to them. “¿Ud. habla español, señorita?” “Sí, hablo español”
They got off at the next stop.
My mother loved to tell of a very large woman she knew who sat in front of 2 Norwegian sailors on a tram in Durban, South Africa, many years ago. They discussed her size at length and likened her to an elephant. When her stop came up she turned to the men and said, in perfect Norwegian, for that is where she too was from, ” The elephant is leaving now”. I would have loved to see their faces!