Holy cow, I wrote a book!
One of the reasons people give for studying a foreign language
is to increase the number of people one can communicate with.
But what people don't mention is that foreign languages can also be used
to impede communications,
and that can be just as useful.
(Be careful, though, because
it can backfire.)
During my visit to Sweden some years ago,
I was walking back to my hotel room from the
Göteborg train station.
I had spent the afternoon visiting the nearby city of
whose claim to fame is that they are the birthplace of
the man who introduced potatoes to Sweden,
although he is probably
more greatly celebrated for introducing a related process
to Sweden: the technique of fermenting potatoes to make alcohol.
Anyway, the reason I was there was not to learn the history of potatoes
in Sweden, but rather to pay a visit to one of my Swedish readers.
Oh, wait, I was telling a story.
I was walking back to my hotel from the train station,
and as I crossed one of the plazas, a man approached me,
speaking unaccented American English.
"Hey, you look Chinese.
We have an organization for Chinese people,
and the meetings are conducted in Swedish so you can understand!"
Okay, let's see if we can add up everything wrong with
I didn't feel like pointing this out to the gentleman.
I just wanted to get back to my hotel,
but he kept following me, repeating his spiel.
I stopped and mentally enumerated the languages I knew how to speak.
I turned to him and said in my parents' native dialect,
"I'm sorry, I don't know what you're saying."
He was apparently not expecting this,
because he paused for a moment before saying
"Oh, Thai people are welcome, too."
I guess he took what I said
and tried to map the phonemes to English and somehow came
to the conclusion that I said, "I'm not Chinese; I'm Thai."
I merely reiterated my claim not to understand what he was saying
and continued onward.
He decided not to follow me any further.
I use this technique whenever I don't want to talk to somebody.
And the trick works both ways:
In Taiwan, when people try
to talk to me and I'd rather not deal with them, I speak Swedish.