A Singaporean woman used her language skills to mediate a misunderstanding between an African American man and a group of Chinese tourists in France's Charles de Gaulle airport on Saturday (Nov 5).
Ms Nuradillah Zakbah, 31, was in Paris for a seven-hour stopover, enroute to Portugal where she was attending a conference. She works as a creative technologist at an advertising agency.
She was in a queue at immigration in front of an African American tourist and a group of Chinese tourists when she heard a commotion behind her.
“As I turned around, this rather tall African American man made eye contact with me and said ‘Can you believe this? This group of people just called me a n**ger!’” she told The Straits Times.
The Chinese group, comprising two men and three women, were puzzled as to why they were being scolded, and the two parties started quarrelling, she said.
“And a man I assumed to be the grandfather of the group was pointing his fingers and shouting back at the American man,” she added.
"That was when I realised that the Chinese tourists had said the word ‘that’ (na ge) in Mandarin a few times in their conversation, which sounds like the word 'n**ger'. Therefore the American tourist might have misunderstood them."
Ms Nuradillah, who is Malay, told The Straits Times she intervened on the "spur of the moment".
“I had to explain to him (the American man) that he misunderstood - and had to explain to him that I understood a little bit of Mandarin to know that they were saying or pointing to 'that thing' (na ge) instead of calling him the derogatory term,” she told The Straits Times.
She also explained the misunderstanding to the Chinese group “in the best broken Mandarin” she could. She asked them to forgive him and move on from the situation.
After her intervention, both sides were slightly embarrassed and shook hands and apologised.
She also explained to an airport security guard in her “broken French” that the incident was just a misunderstanding.
Where did Ms Nuradillah pick up her language skills?
"I picked up Chinese from friends growing up, reading subtitles on Channel 8 dramas and also went to a basic Mandarin course at 18 - to prepare myself for the workforce back then,” she said.
Ms Nuradillah recounted the incident on her Facebook on Saturday and the post has since received numerous comments that praise her act
Through this episode, Ms Nuradillah also realised the importance of living in a multicultural society.
"I thought that it was just really cool to be able to help others out because I’m a Singaporean. That was the time that I was extremely thankful to have lived and grown up in a place that exposed me to a diversity of cultures and languages,” she said.