I work with a diverse group of people at my new job, which is a good thing.

But I have recently found myself in the break room with a group of people that I cannot understand. Whether they speak Spanish, Chinese, or some Russian dialect, they always seem to congregate around me and speak with each other in their native tongue.

Now, maybe I am paranoid, but whenever I am just sitting there, innocently eating my sandwich, I can’t help but think that they are talking about me. Whether they are criticizing my personality, my looks, or the way I eat my sandwich, one thing is certain: they are speaking in another language, not because it is more comfortable for them, but so that they can encode their shit-talking from me.

Okay, so I'm bad at finding pictures.  Pretend that the girls in the back are actually two bald-headed Russian guys who aren't actually whispering.  The girl in the front is actually a pretty good representation of me.  Minus the socks.  My socks aren't as cool.  But I do hug my knees when I am sad.
Okay, so I’m bad at finding pictures. Pretend that the girls in
the back are actually two bald-headed Russian guys who
aren’t actually whispering. The girl in the front is actually a
pretty good representation of me. Minus the socks. My
socks aren’t as cool. But I do hug my knees when I am sad.

One of the most interesting parts about being around these conversations is the English words that sometimes slip out. I am not sure if the words are untranslatable or if the words come out accidentally, but the English words actually make me feel even more suspicious. In my paranoia, I see it as a tactic used by my foreign-speaking friends, much like the government taking a black marker to confidential papers and only leaving a few innocuous words to leave the reader void of any actual information, and thus completely baffled.

And the words are always so random:

Idag är en sådan långsam dag. Dessa billiga asshole är knappt ger mig några pengar.


???????????????????? elephant?


Estoy tan cansada hoy, porque fui a la cafetería para que mi taza de café, pero tardó tanto tiempo en realidad me dan mi bebida que me dieron una jelly donut.

The English words that slip out are so random that I usually just sit there and try to formulate the conversation around those words. This is a dangerous game for me to play, because it inevitably comes back to me who they are talking about as they call me a fat elephant of an asshole who loves to eat jelly donuts.

While I realize that they are probably not talking about me, it is still somewhat awkward. And it reminds me of a time at my last job, in which I took matters into my own hands.

I was sitting in the cafeteria with Jose (one of my bosses) and Selena (another dealer). The three of us were complaining about certain players. As we so often did, we discussed how cheap they were, how rude they were, or how much they smelled. And as such conversations do, the conversation ended with a collective sigh and we resumed eating our food.

Less than a minute later, Jose said something to Selena in Spanish and she laughed. Then she responded with something in Spanish and he laughed.

This was the beginning of their long-lasting, completely Spanish-speaking conversation. My friend would’ve been laughing at me if he saw me in this situation. He’s been on at me for ages to get some Spanish lessons so I wouldn’t be sitting in awkward silences like this. Apparently, somewhere like UKLP offer Spanish lessons in Leeds, and he wanted to go to a similar place in our area, so he could listen in on conversations. But I kept turning him down, so I sat in silence for a while, pretending to be doing something important on my phone.

But then I realized that there is no reason that I should be left out, feeling awkward and offended.

An attractive girl walked by our table. The girl had a pronounced posterior*, a feature which Jose and Selena took notice.

*A big ass†
†The good kind.

Now, back in high school, Spanish was one of the only subjects in which I struggled. But one of the key phrases that I distinctly remember was ¿Cómo se dice ________ en español?” This translates to, “How do you say [insert English word] in Spanish?” This was a question that I frequently asked the teacher, as I admittedly knew how to say nothing in Spanish.

Jose and Selena’s eyes lingered on the girl who walked by, and no language barrier could hinder me from deducing that their conversation had advanced to the topic of the girl and her most distinguished feature.

That is when I entered the conversation.

“¿Cómo se dice “ba-donka-donk” en español?” I asked.
And I asked the question with attempted inflection in my voice, as if to ask, “Did you see the size of her ass?”

I either completely failed in my translation as well as my attempt at a joke or I completely nailed it. Because they kinda laughed at me and gave me a funny look.

Essentially, one of four things happened:

  1. I nailed the joke with perfect timing and in perfect Spanish.
  2. I failed the joke with improper Spanish as well as non-transferable inflection. To them, it might have sounded like, “How DOES one verbalize “ba-donka-donk” Spanishly?”
  3. They may have never heard the term “ba-donka-donk,” in which case I sound like the biggest idiot in the world.
  4. I nailed the phrase so perfectly that they didn’t take it as a joke, but rather as a malicious assertion of my presence. In other words, I was essentially announcing the fact that I speak fluent Spanish and understood everything they were just talking about.

It ended up being a combination of all four. Not only did Jose say “Sorry, Youngman,” but he also answered my question: “The only word that can describe that ass is ‘Wow!'”

I felt slightly bad after that.

Of course my coworkers were not talking about me. It is a pretty brazen tactic to talk shit on someone when he or she is sitting at the same table, even if it is in a different language.

But either way, I still feel left out sometimes.

And if I ever hear one of them slip in a word like “supposibly” while they are speaking in a different language, I will know that they have read my blog and are messing with me.

Because that is not a word. In any language.

-Youngman Brown

0 thoughts on “¿Cómo se dice “ba-donka-donk”?

  1. I have to admit that I feel your pain!! I work for a Japanese company and never know what they are saying…even when they try speaking English. lol It took me 6 months to realize that my manager constantly saying “Hi” to me when I asked a question wasn't him being obnoxious…that's how they say yes!!! lol

  2. I used to work with a whole bunch of Mennonites, and they always spoke low German at work, in person and over the radios. I got used to it, but there was one guy, Uncle Erdman, who would get mad at everyone if they did it while I was present. He was a pretty classy guy for explaining how rude it is to do that, but I always felt bad for coming around and making them speak English. After that, I would only go near them when I had something to say, or to get something from them.

  3. Awesome post! I too work in a diversified environment, the biggest language I deal with is Lebonese and the same thing happens, they have a full blown conversation in their language and a few English words come out, usually prefaced by an “uhhhh”.

  4. I've learned that English words interspersed into such conversations aren't always because they're untranslatable. It could be because they're more convenient (or more fun) to say. For instance, I have one friend who talks to her family in Ukrainian, but says things like “kitchen table” in English, rather than the Ukrainian translation of “the table that is in the kitchen.”

    Nah, I'm kidding. They're just messing with you.

  5. In my family, all the old ladies would go in the kitchen and talk in Italian, when they didn't want us to know what they were saying. By the time it got to the point, where I actually understand everything they said, I had become an old Italian lady too, so it no longer mattered! Ha.

  6. Youngman Brown,

    Fear not. I speak fluent Spanish (I am from California, where it is required by law and church and sunshine to do so) but I am a blondie, so no one ever *thinks* that I speak Spanish. Thus, people around me speak Spanish all the time, not realizing that I 100% understand what they are saying. Guess how often they are talking about me? In 588 conversations, 0. So, percentage-wise, that is like, 0%.

    They are, however, usually talking about elephants and jelly donuts. (Some things just don't translate well.)

    ps– HOWEVER, I *know* the Korean girls at the local manicure shop are talking about me!!!! I know it!!! And I might have to learn Korean just to put an end to it!!! and I am not paranoid!!! and I might hire a Korean translator to go with me next time, just to make sure!!!

  7. I speak Spanish, and live in a Mexican neighborhood. Most of the time I do not let on that I speak Spanish. I can tell you that most of the time people are not talking about you. Unless you're a gal with a huge butt and there are a bunch of trucks gassing up getting ready to mow lawns for the day. Then they ARE talking about you. Which is why I try not to get gas early in the morning at my local gas station. Haha.

    My favorite translation was when we went in to Mercado Loco and I asked my friend who speaks WAY better Spanish than me, “Can you ask them if they have any pork hot dogs?” And he said…I shit you not, “Tienes hhhhhhweenies de puerco?” REALLY JESUS? HHHHHHWEENIES? So every time he comes over now I call him hhhhweenies de puerco. It's his new nickname.

  8. Haha, excellent post! I like the breakdown of the possible outcomes of the joke.

    I used to as a line cook with a bunch of Guatemalans so I know the feeling of being the only one who doesn't speak Spanish in a room. They tried teaching me some Spanish, but sadly, the only phrase I could perfect was “You have super titties” (No idea how to spell it out). Whenever they would talk to one another in Spanish, I would break in with that phrase because it was fun to say or I was just feeling lonely.

  9. Oh, this was a great Seinfeldy post! I hate that feeling as well. I love it when I go into the local donut shop and the staff begin speaking in some Indian dialect. In my paranoia, I always see them imperceptibly nodding in my direction. Fortunately, I don't like or ever order jelly donuts, so either they are making fun of that, or they know you personally….

    Way to work supposibly into another post (which auto spell decided should be suppository) as you work towards getting websters to add it!


  10. I speak just enough Italian to pick up every forth word and piece together the sentence from there. So when my ultra-gossipy Italian grandma starts talking about me I can generally figure out what she's saying without her realizing.

  11. I used to go to a Vietnamese bakery where the workers would talk non stop to each other as they served you. I was curious so I took a friend with me one day who spoke it fluently. Turns out they were bagging out every customer that walked through the door. When we got to the counter she ordered in Vietnamese. Their faces … it was awesome 😀

  12. There's a David Schwimmer look-alike who had little old women gossiping about him in Hebrew in an elevator. He left the elevator first, turning to them and speaking in Hebrew to let them know that no, he isn't David Schwimmer but thanks for also calling him cute.

    I have no idea why I remember that celebrity-look-alike episode of Oprah. Maybe for such a moment as this!

  13. I married an Indian guy when I was 21. We had lots of Indian friends, and needless to say, I didn't speak any of the languages they were fond of speaking to each other right in front of me. Let me tell you, it brought on the paranoia big time. After a while, I got better at both understanding what they were saying (eavesdropping – an excellent aid in learning a language!) and just ignoring it. The worst is when you KNOW someone is talking about you. The other day, I had an old man at the bus stop actually point at me and start talking to the lady next to him in a language I don't speak. I just stared at him with my jaw on the floor because hello, that's just rude.

  14. Try being married to a guy who speaks another language. And I never know what he's talking about to his family or his friends. And then someone will say my name. ARGH! (But really his family is lovely!)

  15. Love the picture, love the blog. I used to have a Russian cube-neighbor who would speak to her mother in her native tongue She'd pepper the conversation with words like “microwave” and “McDonald's.” To this day, I'm still convinced she was a spy.

  16. I speak moderate conversational Spanish. As I work in a hospital ICU that in this week alone has served someone from Laos, Mexico, and Wilkes County, I have to speak many dialects. They always glare when I respond in Spanish. I don't speak anything Asian except “rangoon”. As for Wilkes County, Galifiankis is not the prime example.

  17. I have experienced much of what you described here….and it drives me nuts! This kind of stuff brings out the inner racist in me and I just want to scream “Speak English or get the f**k out!” ….and I'm not racist!

  18. How have I not been reading you before? Freaking hilarious. I did a stint as a temp worker… factories, kitchens, whatever, and this happened to me… oh… all the time.

    I started reading a book at work during my breaks, which is the surest way to get someone to stop whatever you are doing and ask what you're doing in your own language. It's like a magic talisman.

  19. Hehheeh nailed it, man, I'm sure! But the whole “speaking another language” – it happens quite often here in Denmark too.

    Danes can start talking Danish to each other even when they're perfectly aware that their friends, who are also part of the group, don't understand it. I find it quite rude myself, although I understand the urge people may have to speak the language they're better at.

  20. The Korean lady at my manicure shop doesn't allow her employees to speak their native language in the shop in front of customers because she said it is rude and makes everyone uncomfortable. I really like her.

    Of course, if I go to Korea, I am speaking English.

  21. I love it how you have a picture of Serena Williams. She has THE badonkiest donk on the planet. Love the title. I am still cracking up.

    Anyways, I'm thinking your coworkers got EXTREMELY freaked out when you started talking to them in Spanish, because of reason #4 you listed. I know I freak some of my cowokers out who speak Spanish or French and a throw a phrase into the mix. They have sense stopped talking in their native tongues around me.

    Great post bud!

  22. My favorite conversations to try to figure out are the ones spoken in an Asian language by the employees at the nail salon. I always wonder if they talk about our feet as we get pedicures or comment to each other over which client has the most leg hair ; )

  23. Okay, that's a hilarious story (and the perfect photo to describe “ba-donka-donk.” Although Serena Williams has more of a “ba-donka-damn.”

    I've always thought people who clearly speak English, yet choose to revert to their native language, are talking about someone in the room. I remember hearing a story about a co-worker of mine, military brat, who spoke Vietnamese fluently. She was getting her nails done in a place with Vietnamese employees who were insulting someone in the establishment. She told them, in their native tongue, that if they didn't give the insulted lady free services, that she would reveal to her what they were saying.

    Of course, the insulted lady never knew why her pedicure was given to her for free, but I thought it was poetic justice.

  24. Nailed it, all four I'll say

    My girlfriend is from Hong Kong and when i have dinner with her family, more than half the conversations are in Cantonese. So I know how it can freak you out

    But people have better things to talk about than me.

    ” ____ jung mann dim gong ah?” <-> “how do you say ___ in Chinese/Cantonese” (just in case 😉

  25. It is easy to think they are talking about you but that is either an ego thing or a paranoid thing. In reality they are talking about elephants eating jelly donuts. However, I think it is rude for anyone to speak their native language in front of someone who doesn't understand even if the native language is English unless they cannot speak the foreign language. In that case they should apologise and explain that they can't.

  26. I'm with MOV on this one. I don't know Spanish, but my wife does, and even though she's Mexican she's pasty so she looks like she could be white. People always speak Spanish around us without knowing she can speak it, and not once have they been speaking ill of us.

  27. They probably were not talking about you, BUT I do think it is rude if you are in a small group like this enjoying lunch together and then all of the sudden the others start speaking in a different language–it is an obvious attempt to cut you out of the conversation. They should have at least asked 1st if you speak spanish so that you COULD join the conversation, but they didn't, and I believe that is quite rude.
    Saw your name on my blog comments and also that you are following me–thank you very much for that. I just signed up as a follower on your GFC but it appears under the name Marcia Doyle, just so you know it's me. Thanks for sharing!

  28. Young man . . . I have been in this place before and I know how uncomfortable it can be, but the truth is they are probably not talking about you at all. They just find it more comfortable to discuss their private business in their native tongue. If you know that they know English, then take the first step and talk to them . . . make some new friends. Once they warm up to you, they will probably speak in English and include you into their circle. I worked seven years in a community of Spanish speaking women, and it took months and even years with some of them to warm up and consider me a friend, but when they did, I found that they were the warmest, kindest women that I have ever met. It's not easy being the outsider . . . but smile and be warm and friendly to them, they will come around. Thank you for following my blog. I am happy that you liked the little travel trailer tour. Have a great day. Connie 🙂
    P.S. I am following you, too.

  29. Lol! Great story. It can be hard enough with another accent, let alone another language. When I first moved up to Scotland from England, I had a hard time understanding a lot of people. I'm a bit better now.

    And “irregardless” is another annoying made up word. So it's the opposite of regardless? That doesn't make much sense.

  30. I hear ya brother. I constantly find myself in elevators with people talking Spanish, and the same things happens… they drop a random English word or phrase and keep on talking.

    Nice read!

    Michael A. Walker
    Defying Procrastination

  31. I started reading a book at work too, but I keep it in my locker and read it in the locker room, which is far away from everyone else. I kinda feel like a loner when I do that, but oh well.

  32. I actually went to Babelfish to translate your foreign sentences. Hey, what can I say? I just wanted to make sure you weren't talking about me. 🙂

    I actually do get paranoid in Mexican restaurants, thinking the staff is talking about me. The reason is, they all think I'm Mexican. So, they start talking to me in Spanish (which I don't speak). When I informed them that I'm actually Asian and do not speak their language, they look at me strangely before scurrying away… to, I'm sure, talk about me.

  33. At least he acknowledged your comment. I took Spanish for 8 years but can't hold a conversation. As you know, here in NJ we're a densely Spanish speaking area. It makes me insanely crazy when I hang out with a group of people and out of nowhere the convo just jumps to all Spanish. I just find it incredibly annoying.

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