It is often implied that Welsh-speakers are rude because they often speak their native language in the presence of people who don’t understand it. This is puzzling in several ways, because hardly anybody ever complains about French people speaking French, Portuguese people speaking Portuguese or Greek people speaking Greek. The reason for that, of course, is that it would be a bizzare thing to be unhappy about. Why, then, should it not feel so natural to hear the Welsh doing the same?
I suspect that the main reason is genuine ignorance of the fact that Welsh is so widely spoken in the first place. Before we go further, I should clarify that “ignorant” in this sense is not meant pejoratively at all. If you’d never been to Wales before (or the western areas in particular), and nobody ever told you about the widespread use of Welsh, then why would you have known? Even when you saw all the road signs with the Welsh bits on top, you may have always assumed that it’s a quaint political token gesture. In many ways, given the absence of information about us in the rest of Britain, the assumption was rational. My English wife started university in Bangor in 2006, but she sincerely had no earthly idea that Welsh is spoken widely in the area until she moved in. It wasn’t her fault: nobody told her. It was never mentioned in the literature or on any open days (which is wrong and irresponsible on the university’s part).
The point is that many people are honestly shocked to hear it. Some are pleasantly surprised and intrigued. Some are probably mistakenly mystified about the large numbers of Polish immigrants in deepest Wales. Others, however, seem to react with suspicion, assuming that something must be amiss and that the locals must have an ulterior motive. Since the idea that people actually use Welsh in their day-to-day lives might seem so implausible, the people speaking it around them must be doing so solely in order to exclude them or to gossip about them.
This is also probably why the myth about everyone in the local pub switching en masse from English to Welsh as soon as a tourist wanders inside is so readily believed by many who who hear it.
Needless to say, many people do speak Welsh, and when they do, they discuss all the same boring day-to-day things that everyone else does. There’s no reason to assume that they must be talking about anyone behind their back. And anyway, isn’t eavesdropping rather rude in itself? Unless the conversation directly involves a non-Welsh-speaker, it seems bizzare – and very bad manners! – to insist that they should switch to their second language in order to placate a third party who wants to listen in.
It should also be noted that a person complaining about hearing Welsh spoken in their presence is – by logical extension – essentially advocating for a ban on Welsh in public spaces. That is unavoidably where the argument must lead. Since most crowds or gatherings, even in Welsh’s strongholds, are likely to include at least one non-Welsh-speaker, insisting that the language should not be uttered within that one person’s delicate earshot is tantamount to decreeing that Welsh should only be spoken in private or by appointment. I would hope that we’ve long moved on from such attitudes!