DEAR ABBY: I just read the letter from "Edith in Sweden," regarding the American woman who was talking loudly in a restaurant there, thinking no one could understand what she was saying. You commented that Americans need to understand that many people in other countries can understand English. I have had the opposite experience. Foreigners need to understand that sometimes Americans can understand them, too.
My daughter was assigned to NATO security, and while I was visiting her in Italy, the two of us went shopping in a town near Naples. The owner of a pottery shop was talking to a friend as we browsed. My daughter translated the conversation for me, in a whisper. "She's saying she can't stand the Americans and the Brits, and wishes they would leave." The woman then approached us, all smiles, and asked if she could show us something. My blue-eyed, red-haired daughter replied in fluent Italian, "Thank you, but there's nothing in this shop that we could possibly be interested in," and we left. -- AMERICAN MOM, NAPERVILLE, ILL.
DEAR AMERICAN MOM: I don't blame you for leaving -- I couldn't have gotten out of there fast enough, either. The reactions from readers about that letter are amusing and fascinating. Putting a foot in one's mouth appears to be a universal trait. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: My son, an 18-year-old college football player of Italian/Irish heritage, was sitting in an airport in Austin, Texas, during a layover. A family from Japan was sitting next to him, complaining about their flight and their food, and finally, that someone nearby smelled bad. My son turned to them and, in perfect Japanese, said, "Yes, something does smell funny." He said they looked at him in shock, got up and literally ran away. He said the same thing your writer did: People shouldn't automatically assume others don't speak their language, even those visiting our country. -- DORIS IN KAILUA, HAWAII
DEAR ABBY: That letter reminded me of an incident in Munich. We were invited to dinner at a nice restaurant by a German friend. Our host, as is customary there, brought along his miniature poodle. As we passed one table, an American woman said loudly to her companions, "I wonder why the Germans always bring their pets to a restaurant?" I leaned over and said, "Probably because they have better manners than some of the people." She was speechless. -- RALPH IN SANTA BARBARA
DEAR ABBY: My mother is from Germany, and I speak German. I vacationed there with my husband, two children, my mother and my in-laws. On the way home, my father-in-law and I went to the flight desk to check in. The woman behind the counter told us our plane had left two hours before! Then, in German, she said to her co-workers that we were stupid Americans, and she'd make us stay another night and take a flight the next day. I replied in German that we were not stupid, and we'd take a flight that day. Her jaw dropped, and her boss came over and ran with us to the next flight. -- CAROL IN PORTLAND, ORE.
DEAR ABBY: Our local paper ran the letter about foreign languages from a woman in Sweden, and your reply, which alluded to "bi-" and "trilingual" people.
If people speak many languages, they are multi-lingual. Three, of course, is trilingual. Two is bilingual. But what would you call a person who speaks only one language? American! -- DAVE IN ST. JOSEPH, MICH.
DEAR DAVE: Not necessarily!