A German-speaking man visited us and began talking to Bentley in German. Bentley, who’s quite good with English commands, was as befuddled as I was. “Odd,” said the man, “I thought the dog was a German Shepherd.”
“He was born here,” I told him, not understanding if he were serious or not.
Recently, I heard someone from Spain use “leitmotif” in a sentence. “Wow,” I thought, “what a great command of English he has!” But that’s equally dumb. Leitmotif is a German word that would be used by anyone familiar with it, not only English-speaking people!
We all have to be careful about fluency, in that we can assume someone knows what they really have no way of knowing, or think everything we know is connected to us alone.
Not long ago, a woman of Chinese descent, though her connections, got us into the best Chinese restaurant in San Francisco. I told her what I wanted to order, but she then spoke to the waiter in English, not Chinese. “I could have done that,” I said.
“Well, you should have,” she suggested, “because I don’t speak Chinese.”