Is talking in company in a language the other people don’t understand rude if there is a common language you can use? I think it is.

I am thinking about languages.

Learning a foreign language is an important part of emigration, and my life and my writing are never far from the migration question. Question, not a refugee or migration crisis. I think that emigration and mixing of various populations is a good thing.

So, I love and thoroughly recommend the book Open Borders.

 It’s a comic book, doesn’t take long to read. Try it.

I was thinking about emigration from my then communist country many many years before |I managed to succeed. That was partly why I learned so many languages. I speak 5 languages, all of them with a Czech accent. I live in England. I am the friendly alien here. They tolerate aliens well.

They speak English all the time, of course.

I do when they are around. I always felt that talking in a language the others in the company don’t understand is rude. Bad manners. I don’t mean situations when no common language is available.

I always only talked to my family in Czech when there were no English speakers around.

Not everybody does it. When I am in Prague, I sometimes have my nails done. In England, a lovely Romanian woman does my nails, and we talk in English. I don’t speak Romanian and she doesn’t speak Czech.

In the Prague nail salon, the manicurists are Vietnamese, and I talk to them in Czech. Their Czech is usually all right, especially in the view of how hard Czech language is.

The problem is, they only talk in Czech to me, monosyllabically. “Which colour”? “Put your hand inside the lamp…”

It’s OK. But.but but… They all talk loudly to each other in Vietnamese. Nonstop.

No, I don’t suspect they talk about me, but I still think it is rude. I even complained once to the manager (also Vietnamese).

“They need relaxation,” she said.

If they are there for relaxation, they should pay me instead of me paying them, I thought. but I didn’t say anything,paid, and left.

However, last week, I had my revenge, and it wasn’t even intentional.

I always sleep badly, but my insomnia was particularly bad last week. Sleep deprivation makes me slow and irritable at the same time. It also makes me mix languages.

That was the case in the difficult time of my first years in the UK, when I was working ridiculos hours in hospitals. That was before the junior doctor’s strikes and contract changes. I might only sleep 4 hours in 3 days, weekend on call being almost non-stop work from Friday morning till Monday evening. My bleep kept going off, night and day,

So occasionally, I would speak to the British patients in Czech at 4 a.m. and only their puzzled faces told me they didn’t understand.

Last week, when I was having my nails done it was the same as always. The manicurist was chatting loudly in Vietnamese with someone else over my head.

The only difference was, I was tired and sleep deprived.

So, when she asked me a question in Czech, I answered in English, without noticing. She noticed, of course, and rather than saying something, called the supervisor. That is when I realised something was wrong. The supervisor talked to me in slow English.

“Oh, did I speak English? I am ever so sorry,” I apologised when I realised what happened.

The supervisor left, and the manicurist went back to my nails, while chatting loudly in Vietnamese, a language I don’t even know how to say hello or thank you in.

I dozed off, and then I did it again! Only her puzzled face told me I was talking English instead of Czech.

Well, eventually, she finished my manicure and pedicure, and I got up to pay.

I was embarrassed about my drowsy lapses into English.

But then, I started to smile, and my grin was getting wider and wider.

Revenge, sweet revenge!

Of course, I have no doubt that nothing will change. Those loud incomprehensible conversations will carry on, and maybe they DO talk about me, the confused old woman .

I suspect they don’t. I am not planning to learn Vietnamese to find out.

But a least one of them might realise what it is like when people exclude you by talking in a language you don’t understand when you DO HAVE one language in common.

Maybe they will stop doing it.

But nope, some things don’t change. Next time I will bring my headphones and listen to music. Or just see my Romanian manicurist and -pedicurist in England and go without nail care when I am in Prague.

Leaving the salon, I was still smiling. I imagined that next time, I could talk to them in French, German or Russian and pretend not to know I am doing it.

Could be fun.

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