If you ever come across a copy of the book English as She Is Spoke, grab it with both hands and don't let go. It's probably one of the funniest books I've ever read -- and it wasn't even meant to be funny! It's a 19th-century publication ascribed to Pedro Carolino, who wanted to do something to help Portuguese students learn English. A noble goal, certainly. The problem was that Carolino himself did not speak English and he didn't have a Portuguese-English dictionary to help him out. So what this enterprising man did was to use a Portuguese-French dictionary and then a French-English dictionary. Portuguese-->French-->English. The result was, of course, hilarious.
"The walls have hearsay."
"These are the dishes whose you must be and to abstain."
"Taste us rather that liquor, it is good for the stomach."
"I did think him Englishman."
"That pond it seems to me many multiplied of fishes. Let us amuse rather to the fishing."
"Silence! There is a superb perch! Give me quick the rod. Ah! There it is. It is a lamprey."
"You mistake you, it is a frog! Dip again it in the water."
Now, English isn't my primary language, but I like to think I'm fluent enough and that I can use it passably well in oral and written communication. I grew up watching Sesame Street (I still think lower case n is one heck of a touching love song) and the Electric Company (it's a word, it's a plan, it's Letter Man!). I remember being stopped by a white gentleman (and I use that word loosely) many years ago. This guy was having trouble finding a certain restaurant and needed help on how to get there. I would've been happy to be of service if only he didn't go about asking for assistance in a very stupid and condescending kind of way.
Guy: Excuse me...
Me: Yes? (friendly smile)
Guy: (speaking really slowly) You (pointing to me) know how go... to... Max's restaurant? (makes a gesture like he's eating)
Me: (left eyebrow disappearing into my hairline)
I was really, really tempted to give this arrogant bastard the wrong directions and take some pleasure in causing him to lose his way. But I restrained myself -- I'm a good girl (or I try to be; I don't always give in to schadenfreude) and gave him the directions he needed. But would it have killed him to ask "Do you speak English?" first? He did thank me for my help, though, to his credit.
And for the record, I'm NOT saying that all Westerners are arrogant bastards, oh no no no no. Take for instance the people featured in Expat Interviews. Most of them are nice folks. These expats in Germany, China, Japan, France, Thailand, etc., are either fluent in the local language or are at least making an effort to learn it. Plus, they're respectful of the local culture and the people. (And the person who runs the site is quite terrific too, btw!)
Of course, if you're a tourist, you don't have to learn the language of the country you're visiting. But you don't have to make a jackass of yourself, either -- by assuming that the woman you stop in the street for directions doesn't speak English...just because she doesn't look like she's a member of the local elite.