Yes, People Speaking a Different Language are Talking About You
As a Public Service Announcement, Harlem Fur wants you to know that people speaking a different language are talking about you.
Tourists seem to forget that our little town has a cosmopolitan thing or two about it. People speaking something other than English feel free to openly critique and discuss those right next them. But strange as it may seem, some of us take our understanding of other languages beyond "Donde esta el bano?" (Where is the bathroom?) and "Ich bein ein Berliner" (I am a jelly donut). This evening's subway ride home was one such example.
(A little bit of background: Cheryl speaks 'language.' Having a gift for picking up languages, she studied a host of them, taught a couple, and understands many more than a normal person should. Cheryl's caught people talking about those right next to them, sometimes us, in Spanish, French, Italian, German and more. So, on with the story...)
Packed in this evening with roughly 46.1 million people on the uptown 2, I leaned over and gave Cheryl a quick kiss as a means of saying 'Don't worry, we'll get through this together.' When I did this, Cheryl could swear she heard the mother from a family of four standing right next to us say in some language 'Look, he kissed the black one.' Wondering if she heard it right, she asked me to give her another kiss. I did, and the woman said, roughly translated, 'Oh my God, he kissed the black woman on the lips!'
This wasn't 'Oh my God, we are in this great big diverse melting pot of New York and look, everyone gets along!' It was more like 'Gross!' Always able to entertain ourselves, Cheryl and I started exchanging small kisses and saying, in English, 'Oh my God!'
As the ride continued, the four of them (mother, father and two teenage children) kept talking about us in their language, and we kept doing things in response. Finally, they caught on that we just might understand them.
The mother sent the male child over to stand by us and listen to what we were saying. 'Over by us' meant he moved all of 5 inches. Remember, we were all crammed so close together on the train that I'm shocked none of us are pregnant. So when Lorenzo (because at this point we knew his name) came over and leaned in to hear what we were saying, Cheryl and I looked directly at him and continued lightly making fun of the four. He then made the 5 inch trek back to the group, and told them 'She understands our language.' They then continued to talk about us, but in lower voices.
Anyway, the family stayed on the train until 116th St, and then got off with us. Thinking this was too much fun to pass up, we guessed they were staying at the new hostel on 118th (correct!) and planned to walk behind them all the way. Looking to ditch us, the parents ducked into Fine Fare as the kids continued on to the hostel. Cheryl and I easily lost interest, and headed across the street. We would have continued home, but looking back, we saw the parents come out of Fine Fare, see us, and go back in.
This was too much. We hung out on the other side of the street, waiting them out. When the parents finally emerged from the safety of the grocery store, Cheryl and I walked over with big smiles and asked to take a photo with them. Totally confused, they agreed, and we posted the photo here for your enjoyment.