Tact filter: How do I handle friend making fun of how I speak?
August 11, 2014 8:01 AM   Subscribe

English is not my native language and I have a bit of an accent, but I have lived in an English-speaking environment for over 15 years and nobody in my life (work or friends) is ever unable to understand me when I speak. I am currently hosting a friend who I haven't seen for a few years. During her stay, this friend keeps making a big deal out of certain words that I'd pronounce differently from her, and I found it rather immature and frankly infuriating.

Here is an example: let's say I had used the word "peculiar"in the sentence "It was a rather peculiar situation." My friend would say, seemingly guilelessly, "her juniper situation? a cubicle situation? a cupid situation?..." and goes on with outlandish guesses that are out of context, while I repeat the word "peculiar" feeling humiliated.

This would happen several times a day during her visit, and if I had introduced a new word that she doesn't already know (e.g. "gimbap"), she would assume it was because I was mispronouncing another word, and proceed to make a big deal out of it ("king pop?" "gimbap" "a gimp hop?" "no, gimbap, it's a loanword from Korean" "his mop?"). She doesn't do it when we are engaged in more complex conversations, and she doesn't do it with other friends of mine that she's met, or other "accented" English speakers we've ran into. When she and I hang out with my other friends, none of my other friends had trouble with words for which she mocked me.

I am totally fine with people not understanding words I've uttered, and it happens from time to time anyway. But I think "pardon me" or "sorry didn't catch that word" would have sufficed. It's the way she handles those situations that really bothers me.

We are in our late 20s. This is not middle school.

Am I being too sensitive and over-reacting? If not, how do I tactfully tell her that I am uncomfortable with her behavior, without souring the atmosphere (since she's here for another couple of days)?

p.s. she hasn't exactly been a great house guest otherwise. So I don't know if I am also somewhat irritated having to clean up after her all the time.
posted by redwaterman to Human Relations (51 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If you like her for other reasons and want to keep being her friend, just say, "it hurts my feelings when you make fun of the way I talk, can you please stop doing that?" However, I have to say that this would pretty much just make me want to ditch her as a friend. Especially if she's a bad houseguest - she doesn't seem very respectful of you in more than one way, and I'm not sure I would want to keep someone like that in my life.
posted by something something at 8:05 AM on August 11, 2014 [25 favorites]

You are not being overly sensitive. This would get on my last nerve too. I would refuse to repeat the word next time, give her a level look with no smile whatsoever and just say "you heard what I said."

And next time politely tell her that she'll be staying at a hotel.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:06 AM on August 11, 2014 [48 favorites]

Wow, your friend is rude. Her behavior is insulting and demeaning, so no you're not overreacting. I'd address it directly but use "I feel" statements so she can't deny your experience. Try something like "When you make these jokey corrections of my speech, I feel insulted and hurt. I'd really like you to stop doing this."
posted by workerant at 8:07 AM on August 11, 2014 [8 favorites]

"Friend, you are my guest. Not only are you being rude to me by not cleaning up after yourself, you also seem to be going out of your way to make fun of me and my accent. Why are you staying with me if you are only going to treat me as though you neither like me nor respect me? I am very frustrated and would like you to know that I'm also very hurt by how you're acting towards me. What's going on?"
posted by Hermione Granger at 8:09 AM on August 11, 2014 [15 favorites]

Even if she was a model guest who woke up early to clean the entire house for you, her constant mocking of your speech and your accent would be rude, hurtful, and unacceptable. Since I don't know your friend it is impossible for me to say if she thinks she's being cute and amusing or not, but it is possible that she has a jerkish sense of humor. That doesn't excuse her behavior, and you are absolutely not overreacting.
posted by elizardbits at 8:13 AM on August 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

She might be getting sadistic kicks out of needling you this way. Instead of appealing to her sense of empathy, I'd make her feel small and uncool for doing this: "Hey, cut it out. Okay?"

Then move right along; don't wait for her reaction. Look annoyed whenever she does it again. "Ugh. Anyway."
posted by magdalemon at 8:14 AM on August 11, 2014 [8 favorites]

"Can you please not do that? It's annoying to get interrupted like that." and move on and keep saying what you gotta say, ignoring her stupid comments. If she keeps interrupting with her ridiculous word suggestions, just say "well, let me know when you're done. I'll be over there."

No need to talk about being hurt or insulted. Just make it sound like she's being ridiculous.
posted by never.was.and.never.will.be. at 8:15 AM on August 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

Is it possible she's losing her hearing?

If you want to be snarky, maybe she needs a little present of some ear-cleaning solution, or the number of a local ear doctor, or a pamphlet or some printed information about causes of hearing loss and what to do about it (or why early intervention is important).

However, it might be worth treating very gently, just in case she really _is_ losing her hearing and doesn't realize it.
posted by amtho at 8:16 AM on August 11, 2014

Ask her if she has had her hearing checked recently because it seems like she is missing words that other people are not. And when she looks at you kind of confused, say it again, really slow and kind of loud. And then smile sweetly and pat her on her hand in a comforting manner.
posted by myselfasme at 8:16 AM on August 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I recently had some "friends" who kept on imitating my accent in a childish and belittling manner. I asked them to not do this, as it was disrespectful.

They then did it again, in front of a bunch of people. When I asked them to stop again, they continued.

Suffice to say, they are no longer people with whom I associate.

You're not being over-sensitive. You're being human.

There's not a really tactful way of doing this, just tell them straight up that if they don't stop making fun of your language use, they can consider the friendship over. Give this person a chance to get it together. If they shape up, great. If not, get rid of them.
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 8:18 AM on August 11, 2014 [6 favorites]

What is your goal?

If you want to preserve the friendship above all you probably should just let it ride.

If you only want to preserve the friendship if the behaviour changes address it in a roundabout way and keep hinting if it isn't noticed until it is. Directly address it only as an absolute last ditch measure.

If you want to end the friendship be blunt.

House guests can be difficult especially if you are introverted. Your routine gets disrupted, you get tired, you get oversensitive. You both try to balance being helpful and being in the way and likely both fail. Like fish houseguests start to smell after 3 days. Even the friends you love. So be careful about letting house guest irritation play a role in a friendship decisions.
posted by srboisvert at 8:20 AM on August 11, 2014

"Her juniper situation?"
"Yes, definitely her juniper situation."
Eyeroll. Or smile. Depending on whether she's cleaned up after herself lately.
posted by gnomeloaf at 8:20 AM on August 11, 2014 [6 favorites]

She doesn't do it when we are engaged in more complex conversations

If she doesn't do it when the two of you are being more serious, I'm wondering if actually she thinks it's a bit of light-hearted fun or banter? In the examples you gave it sounds like she is deliberately picking words that sound only vaguely like the one you used, and are silly in context, so maybe she thinks this is a cute little thing between you both and doesn't realise it's actually upsetting to you.

Next time she does is just say "Look, it makes me feel humiliated when you pretend to not understand what I'm saying. Maybe it's just a joke but I'd really prefer it if you stopped doing it." If she still keeps it up then you know she is being deliberately mean or insulting, and at that point you can decide if the friendship is worth saving or if it would be better for you not to have to put up with her childishness anymore. But I'd give her the chance to explain herself or change her ways first.
posted by billiebee at 8:21 AM on August 11, 2014 [25 favorites]

Man, this is like after my college roommate took her first linguistics class. It was like everything I said was sooooooo foreign and funny.

I said the word pink wrong.
I said the word pillow wrong.
I said the word milk wrong.

And like 50 other things. But like every fucking time I said something it was "HAAHAA WAIT SAY THAT AGAIN..." I'd say it again "HAHAHAHA PIIIIINK HAHAHHAA."

Gets old really fast. You're not being too sensitive, this shit is annoying as hell.

If I were you, when your friend starts off on one of these tangents, just pointedly ignore her and continue your conversation as usual. She'll be gone soon.
posted by phunniemee at 8:21 AM on August 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think you are perfectly justified in being annoyed by this behaviour. I would ask her politely to please stop. Know too that this type of reaction also happens a lot at first year of college when a northerner meets a southerner and they make fun of how they say certain words. Not sure why, but it happens.
posted by 724A at 8:23 AM on August 11, 2014

I think if she a friend, it shouldn't sour the atmosphere if you tell her the truth (because, honestly, isn't it currently soured for you?). Tell her that it's hurtful, even if she didn't intend for it to be, and that you really wish for it to stop.
posted by inturnaround at 8:28 AM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

"All right, I talk funny. I get it. Enough already." Repeat.
posted by Melismata at 8:30 AM on August 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

She is being ridiculous. If you don't want to act like you're in middle school, then don't engage her. I've spoken English as a second language since I was 8 years old and sometimes pronounce things differently. I don't have an accent at all and I know how it should sound but sometimes the words get stuck on the way to my tongue from my brain. Slip ups happen, no big deal. Most people are polite enough to not even point it out, let alone make a big fuss. Maybe she's jealous you know multiple languages and she only knows one, but I guarantee she's not a master of the English language like she's pretending to be or she'd be teaching at a university. I would say let it go and don't be petty, stooping down to her level because she likes making you feel uncomfortable. Just spend your time hanging out in more civilized company.
posted by lunastellasol at 8:32 AM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

without souring the atmosphere

Lots of good responses, in terms of what to say, for you to choose from. I just want to reassure you specifically that however she reacts to whatever you choose to say, if the atmosphere is (further) soured, it is not your fault.

She is responsible for her own behavior. If she truly hasn't intended to cause you distress (i.e., she has cluelessly thought this was just playful banter), then she will be genuinely sorry to hear that she's hurt you and will want to make the rest of her stay more pleasant.

If, on the other hand, she doesn't care that she's hurt your feelings and she gets defensive or dismissive and the atmosphere gets more uncomfortable, then that reveals that her motives have been pretty terrible all along, and that her behavior has in fact been hostile (with a heaping helping of racist on the side).

Either way, once you tell her how you feel, she's the one responsible for how she reacts, not you. It's absolutely fine if you want to be tactful in saying something to her, but if she reacts badly, it's not because you failed to be tactful enough.
posted by scody at 8:38 AM on August 11, 2014 [18 favorites]

Maybe she likes cultures and accents and thinks your accent is cute. Some accent teasing happens in friendships.

But your friends should also have enough social sense to tell when they've crossed the line. Just let her know it isn't funny or bonding. You don't need to make a federal case of it, just kinda look a little deflated and say "you know, it really bothers me when you tease my accent. can you please knock it off?" Any decent person will quit after this. If she still keeps it up then ice out that friend.

It sounds like you might be annoyed by other things, though, or growing tired of her company in general. If you look for flaws you will find them. Just address each thing in its context if you can.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:39 AM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

"All right, I talk funny. I get it. Enough already." Repeat.

But the OP doesn't talk funny!

It is possible that you have just outgrown this friendship. It happens, especially when you go several years without seeing each other. I would just let the friendship die on the vine after her trip ends. She sounds immature and it seems like you don't particularly enjoy her company.
posted by kate blank at 8:56 AM on August 11, 2014

You are not required to be tactful here. Snapping "what the fuck is wrong with you?" would be perfectly appropriate. But if you don't want to swear at her, just stop talking and wait for her to finish. Ask her if she is finished making fun of you again. Wait for her response. Wait all damn day if necessary. Don't keep repeating yourself, she clearly thinks that is hiiiii-larious and contributes to her little comedy bit she's doing there. Let her speak alone so she can hear herself.

Because if she wants to remain friends with you, the onus is on her to explain why she's being mean, wildly rude, and honestly I would say bigoted.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:56 AM on August 11, 2014 [11 favorites]

Did you know her when you were both much younger? Was she this immature and irritating then? Sometimes with my oldest friends, we can fall into the behaviors that we had when we first became friends, especially if we don't see each other often.

If she knows that she's upsetting you and keeps doing it anyway, then I think you're justified in talking to her less and backing off on the friendship. It's OK to not want to take that kind of crap from your friends. But it would be fair to give her a chance first; make it clear to her that it's bugging you and ask her to cut it out. It's fine to be blunt about it, and if the atmosphere does get soured, that's completely her fault and you absolutely should not feel bad about it.
posted by beandip at 9:04 AM on August 11, 2014

Okay, so I am always trying to be polite to my guests. My suggestion:
1) Sit out this one stay until the end without perhaps getting too sarcastic (well…a "look I get it. You think I talk funny. Hil-aarious. Now, can we just go on talking?" won't be out of place i guess).
2) Fase out this "friendship" as soon a she's gone. People who actively make you feel inferior aren't friends.
posted by Namlit at 9:08 AM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Folks with crummy hearing don't come up with intentionally silly racist trolls. It's something that I, as a person with crummy hearing who often interacts with international folks who are new to the US, am really conscious of. You're not being oversensitive, she's really stepping over a line between friendly teasing and cruelty.

I usually find it infuriating when someone says "never mind" when I haven't heard something. In this case I think it's perfectly appropriate. "They make delicious gimbap there." "What?" "Gimbap." "Flip Flop?" "Never mind. How was your day?" Shut down her game right away.
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:08 AM on August 11, 2014 [8 favorites]

She is being mean to you. You are not required to be tactful. I am an Australian living in the US, I get friendly teasing and not friendly teasing about my accent or word choices all the time. What she is doing is not friendly teasing. You shouldn't worry about souring the atmosphere, because someone treating you like that is not respecting you and the atmosphere has already been soured.

I have found the best solution is to simply confront the person. I have actually just taken to going "Stop it." firmly like talking to a small annoying child while they are in the middle of what they are doing. It is surprisingly effective, I have never had to do it twice. I am however a very confrontational person who doesn't have time for that shit. To avoid confrontation do the slow fade and phase her out of your life, do not have her over to stay ever again, she is not your friend and honestly sounds like a racist idiot.
posted by wwax at 9:20 AM on August 11, 2014 [9 favorites]

Confront her, in your native language (assuming she doesn't speak it). Then say nothing for a moment. Then repeat yourself in english, .
posted by Good Brain at 9:25 AM on August 11, 2014

See if she understands it when you say, "Christ, what an asshole."

Barring that, I'd tell her this joke isn't funny, it comes off as mean, and you'd appreciate it if she'd cut it out.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 9:49 AM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Personally I think she's being racist. Tell her to knock it off because it upsets you. She should respect that, or she isn't really a friend.
posted by fireandthud at 10:01 AM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

There is a long-standing social convention that decent people do not make fun of things one cannot change about themselves, such as race, looks, class background, and so on. Non-native pronunciation is one of these things: you are not choosing to pronounce things differently, you simply do. What your friend is doing is no different than, say, ghetto jokes around someone who grew up poor. It's really a privilege issue.

Next time your friend takes a jab, say, "You are not being a very good friend taking constant jabs at my pronunciation, you know". Then leave the room. Give her 5-10 minutes to cool down, reappear, and graciously accept her profuse apologies. I don't think it should put a damper on your friendship - if anything, she will stop taking you, and your hospitality, for granted.

(If she doesn't offer you truly sincere apologies, run - it's a good indication that there is a fundamental lack of empathy and things will only get worse as time goes on).

FWIW, I started speaking English at 25 and I've had friends make fun of my accent but always after it was established that I enjoy that type of humor. If anything, people who only speak one language seem to admire/envy the bilingual thing, and people who speak more than one language... well, they just know better.
posted by rada at 10:09 AM on August 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

How is my pronunciation of "knock it the fuck off?"
posted by 26.2 at 10:10 AM on August 11, 2014 [20 favorites]

My high school friends make fun of my accent ("say that word again!" / "what did you just say?") and have for years. My reactions over the years have ranged from thinking it's funny to ambivalence. It doesn't bother me, and I've never asked them to stop, so it doesn't stop.

Make it clear to her that it bothers you. It doesn't even matter why it bothers you - everyone has the right to not be made fun of, even if she thinks she's just being funny. If she continues once you've told her to cut it out, then she's a jerk and tell her to stay somewhere else.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 10:10 AM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Maybe she likes cultures and accents and thinks your accent is cute. Some accent teasing happens in friendships.

People think my accent is 'cute', too. It's still embarrassing and humiliating to be called out because I don't have a bland newsreader voice.

OP, your friend is being a jerk and you have my permission not to worry about souring the atmosphere because a free-loading jerk thinks it's funny to mock you to your face.
posted by winna at 10:19 AM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another vote for a huuuuge, annoyed sigh and an "Are you done yet?"
posted by pineappleheart at 10:19 AM on August 11, 2014

I have a friend who does this when I mumble. I think she thinks she's being clever or interesting or something, as if the free-association in her head should be amusing to other people. (Spoiler alert: it isn't.) When I repeat myself more clearly, she doesn't persist in deliberately misunderstanding me, though, and I'm a native speaker of the language we share, so while her behavior is about a 29/100 on my irritation-o-meter, I think you're totally justified in being highly offended at how your friend is treating you.

I imagine that she doesn't know how hurtful she is being, and she may just need to hear it from you. I wouldn't mince around trying to be clever or subtle, and certainly wouldn't be sarcastic or snarky. If she's a houseguest-level friend, you should be close enough to share your feelings honesty, and say, "When you mock my pronunciation, it hurts my feelings. I wish you wouldn't."

And if she doesn't immediately apologize and stop, then you know that she doesn't value your feelings and is not a good friend. If you think there's any possibility she'll take it badly, I'd hold back until near the end of her stay with you.
posted by BrashTech at 10:20 AM on August 11, 2014

I do not think your friend is being racist, but that is irrelevant because she is being incredibly rude. (and even more so in the context of being a guest under your roof)

I have experienced this and it is infuriating. It is very hard to eliminate a foreign accent (which monolinguals seem not to understand), but I think that is a waste of time anyway. There is nothing wrong with having an accent so long as it does not make it hard to understand your speech. You don't have that problem. Your problem is a rude house-guest. I had the same thing happen to me recently when the son of one of my wife's friends was in our house and repeated something I said in Japanese in an exaggerated American accent. Never mind that I've been speaking Japanese for more than twice his age and he is a struggling student at Japanese school, but he had to give me a hard time in my house. It was a challenge to be gracious and that was just for an evening, not days of a live-in guest.

There are two viable options. One is to just wait out this unpleasantness for the remaining few days and then address when the dynamics are not so tense (you could also just let the friendship fade away, although I don't think this alone is worth losing the friendship if she is contrite). The other is to address it the next time she does it, and I think Hermione gave a wonderful script for doing that.
posted by Tanizaki at 10:22 AM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh boy. I think she thinks she is teasing you in an affectionate way.

Similar to what BrashTech and winna and others have noted upthread, she isn't as cute as she thinks she is, and she is refusing to catch on to the fact that you are not actually participating in her immature jokey game.

Try to break her out of the "game," the next time she does it. For instance, give her a point-blank stare and say "What are you doing?" or "How are you expecting me to respond to that?" She very well may play innocent at first and laugh and try to needle you in to playing along. Keep going with the long awkward pauses and serious (but not mean) tone so that you can get to "Seriously. Please cut that out, it's really not funny."

And then drop it.
posted by desuetude at 10:43 AM on August 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I mean, "drop it" as in "don't prolong the moment." Make the correction and then change the subject and move on.

In the interest of the greater good, tact, and not-souring -- a whole long defensive argument right there on the spot is going to go badly, as she'll be embarrassed and you'll be irritated. If she wants to argue, put her off to talk about it later. Embarrassment makes people dig their heels in defensively beyond any reason.
posted by desuetude at 10:52 AM on August 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Re: her being a bad houseguest: this is not a deal-breaker unless she is actually destructive of your things. Next time, just have a reason why she has to stay at a hotel, or accept that you will have to clean.

Re: making fun of your accent: she is being a terrible person. Perhaps it is something she can stop doing; maybe she is so confused that she thinks you enjoy it. You can, out of your own graciousness, give her the chance to stop doing it.

To do that, you have to call her on it and tell her "It hurts my feelings when you mock my accent. I need you to stop." If she refuses, laughs you off, or simply keeps doing it, you can repeat your request as many times as you think it necessary. If that still doesn't work, well, your choice is clear. You don't need people in your life who value you so little. You deserve better. Whether you actually tell her that you are going to stop communicating, or just do a fade on her, is up to you. If you have a large mutual circle of friends, it might be easier to tell her and them what is happening and why you can't be friends with her. It may or may not go well after that. But this is about your self-respect; don't let her take that from you in exchange for a not-that-great friendship.
posted by emjaybee at 11:00 AM on August 11, 2014

This is so rude. And, it also has a disturbing racist undercurrent. Her ignorance or thinking that she's cute and funny is not an excuse. There are a number of great options in the comments above for telling her to cut it out. You are absolutely not being overly sensitive.

I would not invite this person to stay with me again. Totally inappropriate and hurtful "jokes" and a poor houseguest? Nope. Never again.
posted by quince at 11:09 AM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Don't look for malice when insensitivity can explain the situation. I agree with those who encourage you to be civil, but direct. Her rudeness won't justify yours. You don't need her cooperation, yet you don't need to passively endure her hurtful jabs. A simple "No, that's not what I meant" ought to cover the ground, then move on with the conversation. Next time saying "I don't thinks that's funny anymore" ought to suffice. Next time "Please quit making fun of my accent" should do it. The idea here is to give her a chance to save face while complying with your sensibilities. BTW, you are not oversensitive. She's acting like a dick, but you don't really know why.

I don't believe it would be good to interrupt the conversation to have a heart to heart discussion about this. On the other hand, if she approaches you later, privately, and wants to talk about it, then you will not have closed the door on her being able to come to grips with her actions, at least so far as you are concerned.

I guess any of these, or similar responses, in any particular order should be enough. After all, you are talking about how you feel, not trying to deal with why she thinks it's okay to act the way she does. Obviously she thinks it's okay. Once you establish that you don't like it, then the ball is in her court. If she then disrespects what you've clearly expressed, you can cross her off your list of friends, or else move her out to the periphery of those you associate with.

As for her slovenly ways: maybe take a look at her mess and say something along the lines of, "I hope you don't expect me to clean up after you." You may word this in as neutral a way as you can manage. I would have a bit of trouble trying to find a civil way to do this, so good luck on that part.
posted by mule98J at 11:17 AM on August 11, 2014

I vote for complete silence accompanied by sustained eye contact. That should get her to stop "riffing" on your speech patterns. Then, depending how annoyed you are at that particular moment, you can either go on with your sentence, or say "you know what I said" and wait for her to start back pedalling. You are under no obligation to ensure this person's comfort.
posted by rpfields at 11:55 AM on August 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

I dont think she's deliberately setting out to hurt your feelings. It sounds like she is trying to be playful with you, and she just doesn't get how much of a complete clod she is being.

I am American, and I see this happen a lot with friends or family who have never lived or traveled outside the US. It's a holdover from being raised by parents who were raised in a very pro-America society, before we became more involved in a global economy.

Your friendship would benefit from having a short, to the point conversation. "Friend, we both know my pronunciation isn't that bad, and it hurts my feelings when you make fun of me like that. Please stop it." End of conversation.

As for being a bad houseguest, again, she may not be well-traveled enough (or more probably, hasn't hosted enough) to realize how bad her manners are. Try just asking her to help out.
posted by vignettist at 12:39 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I love a) accents (because I think they sound beautiful AND they're proof that whoever I'm speaking to knows enough of a second language to communicate in that language and be understood pretty easily, which I think is an AMAZING intellectual achievement that I really envy) and b) sharing the stupid/wacky/nonsensical way I misheard a mundane sentence ("For a minute, I thought you said he threw away his BALL SACK, not his book of French short stories! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! LAWL!").

Guess what, I had to specifically learn to not say those things out loud, because no matter how nicely I meant it or how funny the joke was, there was a less-than-zero chance that it would make the other person feel kind of shitty. So your friend has to learn this. If she's actually your friend, she'll stop as soon as you tell her to knock it off because it makes you feel shitty. If she's not, then at least you know for sure?
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:53 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

You might point out that there is not maid service and that adults clean up after themselves.
posted by Cranberry at 12:58 PM on August 11, 2014

Best answer: Others have covered the possibility that she's maliciously or cluelessly mocking you for your accent, and how to respond in those cases. I'll introduce another possibility - she may be completely genuine in not understanding what you're saying, and may have been taught that repeating what you hear is more effective than saying "pardon me", since it gives the person more clues about what was misheard. I do exactly what you describe here ("outlandish guesses that are out of context"), have never had anyone comment on it before, and before now it had not crossed my mind that it's more offensive than "pardon", let alone racist. Needless to say, I don't think calling her a racist or an asshole is very helpful. She may very well be one or both, but that is not required to explain her behaviour, and that's the problem here.

The offering of out of context words, in my case, is me repeating what I heard in an attempt to get closer to understanding. I don't intend any racial or mocking overtones to my frustrating lack of comprehension. The "what? what? seriously, I still have no idea...?" method seems to make people feel bad too, so I didn't realize that this method was worse. Given the consensus here, maybe I'll go back to my "I'm sorry, but I have no idea what you're saying" repeated indefinitely rather than guessing. I assure you I feel like a horrible human being no matter how I approach my lack of comprehension, if that helps.

Anyway, your friend is not me, and may have entirely different motivations, which may or may not be in line with what others here have suggested. I'm just suggesting another possibility for her actions. If I were your friend, I would absolutely want you to tell me, as soon as possible but without making it into a huge deal or assuming bad intentions - just like "can you not guess what I'm trying to say, it makes me feel bad. Just ask me to repeat myself instead" or something.

I don't think you're overreacting to the behaviour - you have every right to feel bad about it, and to ask her to stop. At the same time, you (and others here) may be misinterpreting her intentions when she says this kind of thing.
posted by randomnity at 1:50 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd ask, "Are you making fun of me?" If she admits that she is, do her the favor of telling her that it's really irritating. Sadly, it may be that she thinks it's cute but what she is doing sounds obnoxious.
posted by BibiRose at 2:02 PM on August 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Since she seems to be doing this out of a misplaced idea that it is funny, I would keep it on the humorous side, with adequate amounts of eye roll:

Friend: "Her juniper situation?? Her cubicle situation?"
You: "NO, YOUR MOM. Now can we move on?"

Friend: "Her juniper situation?? Her cubicle situation?"
You: "Yes, her cubicle situation. You know me not speaka English. Now what was I saying..."
posted by Ender's Friend at 3:34 PM on August 11, 2014

This tactic assumes you have repeatedly asked her to stop and she hasn't and you've had enough. Picture this, you're in the apartment the next time this happens.
You: "It was a rather peculiar situation."
Her: "Juniper situation?"
You stare at her, say nothing, and place one item of her clothing in her suitcase.
Her: "A cubicle situation?"
You pick up another item of hers, stare pointedly, and place it in her suitcase.
Her, again: " A cupid situation?..."
You: "Oh, for Pete's sake, I'm done, I want you out. Here."
Grab everything she's got, shove it in her suitcase, give it to her and be done. She's not your friend, she doesn't care and why would you want her around anyway if she lives to humiliate you? Life is too short.
posted by Jubey at 4:36 PM on August 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I would ride out the visit by inventing ways to stay late at work or school, send her off on her merry way, then fade out and eventually never talk to her again.
posted by mibo at 6:20 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's annoying, for sure, but agreeing with some of the above that she probably thinks she's friendly/cute (even though she isn't).

The thing is that aggressively confronting her feels good, but for her it just prolongs the game...now she has gotten a rise out of you, so you are "playing" back with her. It's better to either give a least reinforcement or to try to train a better behavior.

For a least reinforcement: ignore her with ZERO reaction when it would be socially plausible to do so, when it's not (one on one conversation) then clarify your meaning quickly and without any flourishes and move on. (DON'T: Reply snarkily, like "I said peculiar, are you deaf?" DO: Just reply like someone asked you nicely to repeat something, "Peculiar or unusual".)

To train a better behavior, you need to figure out what the behavior you want is. If she genuinely can't understand some word that you said, how do you want her to react? Then tell her, "If you don't understand a word that I say, can you please just [ask directly for me to repeat that word, without joking]?" Then least reinforcement for the old (bad) behavior as above, although you can be more obvious about it even in one-on-one conversation (just flat out ignore anything that's the old, bad behavior), and LOTS of positive reinforcement, smiling, head nod, enthusiastic conversation when she uses the new behavior.

It can take a while, but consistency is key.

(On a side note, I think this is somewhat regional, but "gimbap" isn't a loan word in my region, it is just a foreign word that some people might know. But it's uncommon enough that I would feel like you were talking down to me if you acted like I was an idiot for not knowing it. So if you're using a lot of words that she doesn't know and maybe which most people don't know then she may feel like you're the one who "started it" [acting aggressive] and she's just responding.)
posted by anaelith at 5:15 AM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

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