Monday, August 15, 2011

Manners Monday: Avoid Speaking Another Language in Front of Others

I hope you all had a great weekend, I'm picking up the Manners Monday series once again and I have several topics in the queue. Today's topic was prompted by my own personal experience this summer. It's one that many probably don't think twice about but it's good to be mindful of.

A classy woman is warm and makes others feel welcome, doing her best to include others and make them feel included when in conversation or in her presence. Everyone likes to feel as though they are part of the group, whether they are conversing with others or just listening as they may not have anything particular to contribute. One way to make everyone feel comfortable is to avoid using native languages that are foreign to others in the group, it's just good social etiquette.

I live in Florida so many people in the state speak Spanish. While I've picked up a few words here and there, I'm far from being able to carry on a full conversation. A few weeks ago a group of us went out for dinner after church. Because of the size of our group, we waited in the waiting area of the restaurant for ten minutes for our table to be ready and others to join us. A friend that I had driven over with and one of her other friends are both originally from Puerto Rico so they are fluent in Spanish although they both typically speak English the majority of the time.

We all chatted for a bit in English and then the two of them began having a separate conversation in Spanish for a few minutes including some laughter. I knew they hadn't seen one another for a few days but I couldn't help but feel left out. I wondered what they were talking about but just sat quietly waiting  for them to finish. The other woman looked over and noticed that I was looking around the room and said, "I hope you don't mind that we're speaking Spanish". Of course I just smiled and said, "No, it's okay". To me this is the equivalent of whispering in front of others in the group which is equally impolite.

On the flip side, my hubby and I were on a cruise last Christmas and had the pleasure of dining with six others every evening. I love meeting new people and making new friends on vacation. To my surprise everyone at the table spoke Spanish, it was an older couple from Uruguay and another couple with children in their early 20's from Mexico City. I was so glad to have their children sitting next to us as they, although young, were mindful of  the language barrier and had enough courtesy to do some translating to make us feel welcome as they were bilingual. We all became friends over those 14 days and actually looked forward to seeing them each night. That is the difference between making others feel invited vs.excluded.

Funny enough, this week I was attending a work meeting where it was stressed to those that speak a second language to not carry on conversations with their colleagues in front of customers other than in English as it can alienate others. Certain languages such as Cantonese for example have a unique sound that to others could be perceived as yelling or sound angry due to the nature of the tone of the language.

Obviously if someone were in an elevator or around complete strangers, it's acceptable. However, in the presence of others whom you know or are getting to know, the best thing to do is speak in a language you all understand. If something is urgent and you really need to speak in your own native language, it's best to take it to the ladies room or excuse yourself from the group as you would while taking a cell phone call and head outside or to another room.

I've observed situations where others appeared to be excluded from a group for one reason or another and they've whipped out their iPhone and started texting someone or checking their email or facebook page as a way to occupy themselves. However, I don't believe in responding to another's inconsiderate behavior with more inconsiderate behavior. I typically sit tight and and wait patiently or excuse myself to find someone else in the room to speak with instead.

How do YOU handle situations where others speak in another language in front of you when they are capable of speaking English (or your primary language)?


  1. I hate the feeling of being excluded when others speak in a language I don't understand. I have been trying to learn Spanish and Italian. Even ASL so I am more prepared at my job and in the community.

  2. Hi Karla! So glad to see you back here on the blog! I've missed your posts... Yes, I DO have experience with this because over half my family is Puerto Rican, and I am (for the most part) lost in a spanish conversation. You're right - it IS frustrating and alienating...and I agree, it is the equivalent of whispering in front of people.- How are you doing these days?

  3. I totally agree with this post...Especially when in my situation I have extended family that speaks other languages... and they will speak it infront of the rest of the fam who dont understand... and makes us wonder what they are realllyyy saying! Not so classy indee. Great post!

  4. OMG!! This is really one of my pet-hates. My mother-in-law (who is Spanish) used to do it ALL the time to me. Finally, I decided to get up and walk out of the room (if possible) whenever she did it. Now she doesn't do it because I understand Spanish! I think because of this, our relationship never developed in a positive way, and I am convinced this was one of the reasons. I felt it was her way of speaking to her son (my husband) and excluding me.
    You are so right. It is like whispering in front of other people.
    Great to see you back Karla xx

  5. While I haven't really experienced that situation I have been in situations where I was with a friend and a group of her friends and felt left out of the conversation completely. For instance I was with a friend and some of her golf league friends and they spoke for quite some time about different situations at their club and people whom I'd never met. I just sat there feeling uncomfortable.


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