I was dropped into the whole Spanish thing more or less cold turkey. We arrived around midday, sailed through customs and immigration with perfect fluency, and in the early afternoon, Mis Suegros took us out into the city to find some lunch. We started off with a hiccup – in the cafe, the lady at the cash register launched a flurry of Chilean accented Spanish in my direction, and was completely unintelligible. I’d been feeling pretty good after my success in the airport, and now my self-esteem was plummeting into my boots. I revealed my secret identity – a bewildered and ignorant gringa, and she vanished into the back. She returned with a roll of paper, and in graphic pantomime explained that the roll of paper that prints out the receipts in the cash register had become jammed – and here she was, fixing it, wasn’t that nice – so she’d had to go into the back storeroom and look for a new one so that she could give me, as was my due as a nice customer, the correct change.
Now HOW was I supposed to have gotten all that? It's been seven years since I lived here last!
Over the next few days things improved fast. My Spanish isn't actually terrible - less non-existent than mostly rusty. My vocabulary needs work, my subjunctive is atrocious and my use of indirect articles isn’t all that it could be, and I tear around the city dropping indefinite articles on the sidewalk and tying taxi drivers up in inappropriate verb tenses, but despite the frustrating refusal of the patriotic Chilean to comprehend ANY Spanish spoken by a gringo (regardless of how pure the accent - and I learned mine in a Chilean high school, valley girl slang and all. My spanish teacher has an issue with that. 'You've GOT to drop the slangy sing-song intonation! You're an ADULT now!!!" ) I'm getting along swimmingly, and only stop for cascading confusions of "Que?" "QUE?" "Le prugunte YO!"* two or three times a week!
"I asked YOU!")