I’m standing right here!

We all know that feeling when you are involved in a conversation and the other people start referring to you in the third person. Before you know it, they’re telling each other what they think ‘(s)he’ should be doing with ‘his (her)’ life, or relaying a story about you complete with analysis. I’ve definitely said “I’m standing right here!” more than once in my life.

Last night I was at a restaurant and needed to order a couple of things that I didn’t know the local names for. I incorrectly assumed that the waitress didn’t speak English. She politely stood there and listened while I fumbled my way through the order with my companions, and then she patiently said ‘yes, one Diet Coke’. Embarrassment. Hopefully I made it up to her by telling her I didn’t know how to say it and asking her what the correct words were. She took it all very calmly.

Later on, I was in a taxi having a discussion with my friends. There were a few slightly-scary moments and we naturally discussed how fast we were going (and whether we might be seriously injured on the way to our destination). There was an unspoken assumption that the driver didn’t speak English, and I started to think about that (as I have done before). It was unlikely that the driver knew much, if any, English. He likely didn’t know complex English. He most likely understood when we made exclamations after he did particularly tight turns at speed, or braked really hard (although we kind of wanted him to understand these things).

So, here’s the question: is it rude to talk about and/or around someone with the assumption that they don’t understand you? Does it make it worse if they do understand? Or does it help the situation? I suppose it depends on what the conversation is about.

I have heard some embarrassing stories where people have assumed people around them don’t understand (e.g. a couple of Russian girls having a very private conversation in Montreal, only to realise an old man nearby could understand Russian). Do you have any?