A Little Thing That Makes Me Crazy


Aug 15, 2010
This is a completely trivial expat rant, and I apologize in advance.

I find it incredibly rude when I have engaged with someone in castellano, and even though they understand perfectly, they insist on switching to English.

I've lived here on and off 2.5 years of the last 5. I speak 4 languages. I can hold a conversation in castellano without breaking a sweat, my porteño friends understand me, my pronunciation is decent, I can function perfectly in day to day life... and suddenly, a waiter in Palermo hears an accent, and *although he knows damn well what I want* he INSISTS on switching to English.

Yesterday, after greeting the waiter and asking for the merienda special, he said "with ham and cheese, right?". I answered in Spanish, and off he went. He brought my order, and I said, "gracias". To which he helpfully replied, "you're welcome".

Today, I ordered and the waiter said, "something else?", like I could navigate getting seated, asking for the menu and ordering with an allergy question somehow without understanding "algo más?". So, prepared for the possibility of this happening, I answered in castellano that I don't actually speak English, I speak French. What is freaking bizarre is that although he understood, he continued to try to engage me in English. "I sorry I do not speak francés", etc.

Why does it bother me so much?

1. Because it is demeaning, unnecessary and completely unhelpful if the person speaking castellano is understood, and understands what is being said to them.
2. Because, why English? Whenever I've engaged with a porteño stranger to the point where they're comfortable asking personal questions, they often say, "you're from France, right?", so whatever accent I have is not particularly "English".

Over the years I've been patient because I've figured that people are either wanting to practice their English when they can, or trying to be helpful. But I'm not buying "helpful" or that any "English practice" is happening, because when I've actually tried to engage in English, they've freaked out and disappeared.

I once asked a stranger for help on a train in Belgium when I was just learning Dutch and my pronunciation was atrocious. Even though it was perfectly obvious that I was a beginner, she responded in Dutch and when she could see I was having trouble, asked, in Dutch, "Would you prefer I answer in Dutch, English, or...?". So that is the polite way to handle it. If you're engaging with someone in the language of the country you're in and you can understand them just fine, leave it alone. If they are clearly struggling, and you want to move things along or be helpful, ask what language they speak and offer to speak in that language. A beginner in a language will generally know how to say where they're from and what languages they speak.

So what is happening here?

Is anyone with me on this? If so, how do you deal with it?
Is anyone with me on this? If so, how do you deal with it?

Don't let it bother you.

They are either trying to help or trying to practice their english. Neither of which is a bad thing.

Also be patient, I found that this was a stage, once your Spanish becomes markedly better than their English you stop having this problem. It used to often happen to me, but rarely does anymore.
I think they just want to show off their English / brush it up.

When I say I am Italian they simply say "non parlo molto bene" or "mio nonno era di....." And then they suddenly switch back to Spanish (my Spanish is not that good).

Anyway, I feel for you. Once I met a crazy lady, I was feeding stray cats and she approached me and said "do you believe in God?" And I replied "I am not sure he's even out there!" And then she asked "where are you from?" At which I replied in Spanish "soy italiana", she kept speaking in English and I kept replying in Spanish. WTF?!

She was so convinced I couldn't possibly be Italian!
Do not let this bother you. Once I was working at a well known company in Silicon valley, there was this Caucasian dude who married a Chinese woman, and he was speaking perfect Chinese already. He tried to use his Madarine to every Asian he met(which was a little annoying at work place), and people always switched back to English after a few seconds, for many reasons, like people like to show their English, people are afraid that the conversation is not 100% understood, people do not want to be a Chinese grammar teacher, people do not like to go deeper in conversation ... If you are not a native speaker, it's tiring for the native speakers to talk to you for just a normal chat. So it's universal and I have to break potenors a break here.
I've never had anyone talk to me in English. Your "perfectly good" may not be as perfect as you think? ;) I'm kidding... most likely they're just trying to be accommodating or showing off their English skills. Maybe they're hoping you'll speak to them in English so they may practice a bit. Who knows? Certainly nothing to take personally, though. I think the most surprising thing out of your conversation with the waiter was the fact he said "you're welcome."

You could always pull the "Que? No hablo ingles" and throw them off.
It happens to me sometimes, sadly never where matters, like offices or bank :) The only problem is, that many times deeper in conversation their skill is not sufficient, so we use some kind of spanglish. I appreciate the effort, even if it takes a bit of patience on my side (most of the time patience have to be on Argentinian side anyway, since my spanish is quite terrible) ...
Don't sweat it mate.
The most important thing I've discovered about people here is their innate politeness and charm.
When people come into my shop and prefer to speak English instead of Spanish, I no longer try to fight it and just go with the flow.
Argentines love to practice their English (or French or whatever) and frankly, if it's better than my Spanish, what the heck.
I connect with what you're saying, I really do, but it's really no big deal.
It doesn't bother me much, but...one thing that makes me chuckle. Particularly in tourism centers, we will pass an entire meal in Spanish with the server. Right at the end we ask for the check. Then in English, they say "Tip is not included."

I get it, but they could really say that in Spanish.
Here's an example I've encountered while visiting this week:

I visited the casa Rosada with one of my friends who is Argentine. We chose the castellano tour as we didn't want to be patronized and desired the whole casa peronismo experience. The woman mentioned the times, and we discussed them amkngest ourselves and picked the one we wanted. We did this in English, and she asked us if we were sure, in Spanish, that we wanted the Castellano tour. We said yes. This of course made sense, but if we understood the times you told us and the length, wouldn't it imply that we were able to understand Spanish as well? Let's chalk this up to being helpful.

Later, in the tour, we were instructed to form a straight line for entry in to Evitas rooms (eye rolling a plenty). We were speaking in English amongst ourselves, and the guide proceeded in the most haggardly butchered English to say "p-please uh uh uh geet ummmm" we interrupted him and said we understand, we did choose the castellano tour after all.

Lastly, as always, whenever someone here says they speak English, I prepare to use castellano. Its always the people who say their English is no good or are embarrassed that I understand without problems.