This is a surprisingly hard habit to break

Published 2007-02-24

When we were in Bali, we kept having to remind ourselves that most of the people around us could understand the catty stuff we were saying. Living in a place where almost no one speaks English (and those who do, speak it poorly) has led us to disable the filter that prevents you from, for example, discussing the table manners of diners seated near you, or the child-rearing practices of other people on the bus.

I’m reminded of this one time many years ago, riding on the Max from Tektronix to downtown PDX, overhearing several Mexican kids talking loudly about other riders on the train (in Spanish). It wasn’t particularly awful stuff, mostly comments about who was falling asleep, check out this guy’s shoes, and so forth. I don’t recall them discussing me. Worse, it was mixed in with toe-curling discussions about their own private (read: sexual) lives. When we pulled into Civic Stadium (my stop) and I walked past them to exit, I said something like “¿Piensen ustedes que no comprendemos Español?” They gave me this look of blank terror.