They say the measure of being fluent in a foreign language is when you can tell jokes and be funny. I don't agree. I was funny in Spanish a long time ago. I think it is when you can argue successfully with the phone company.
Being a foreigner is a challenge. When you move to your new home you need to learn how to speak all over again. Everything you know in one language needs to be transposed to a new language. The older you are the more difficult it is.
Even if the language is the same, it still can pose problems. I remember once talking to a friend of mine who moved from London to the USA. She told me although it was English, it was American English. She said she had a difficult time understanding people and they at times could not understand her. "Americans yell." she told me. "People would always tell me to speak up." Her first few years were a cultural nightmare.
"I had a hard time asking for things." she said. "Who knew that cling was Saran wrap, that chips were those things that came in bags and not freshly fried and salted. We called those crisps, and no one knew what the hell I was talking about. People wanted to know where I was from, did I know the Beatles. It was crazy."
Now imagine, a completely different language. I had learned Spanish in high school. I loved the sound of Spanish from the first time I heard it in 4th grade. All the girls wanted to learn French. Not me. I wanted to learn Spanish. I couldn't wait until 8th grade when I could finally take Spanish 1. I took Spanish all throughout high school and 1 semester in college. I learned Spanish from Spain.
When I moved to California, my Spanish became Mexican with pieces from other countries. Although I could carry a conversation I was never really fluent. I thought I was, but really I was not. I worked in Mexico. I installed systems for manufacturers in Spanish. I trained people how to use them. There was always someone on site who spoke enough English so if I got stuck with the Spanish they could help me out.
Then I moved to Argentina with my Mexican, Colombian, whatever mixture of Spanish. That was when I learned I was not fluent. At least not in Argentine Spanish. Here in the Capital Federal they have their own version of Spanish - Rio Platense. The accent is completely different. Yes, accents are different everywhere, but not like here. The Argentine accent is ledgendary. They use vos instead of tu. The Spanish is mixed with Lunfardo. The difference is stunning. Even native speakers from other countries have problems.
My language skills have taught me all about discrimination. While many people are kind, considerate, and interested in why I moved to Argentina, there are many more, that are resentful and do not want foreigners here. It was something I never figured on before my move.
When I stop to think about it, my speaking and comprehension abilities came in 3 waves. The first wave I could speak, but not like an Argentine. I used words from Mexico - like platicar instead of charlar. (to chat) One Argentine told me I made up the word platicar, that it did not exist. This was in the middle of her chastising my Spanish. I had to get my dictionary to show her, yes, indeed, this word did exist. She still refused to accept it. The typical arrogant Porteño response.
At times people would walk away from me, not willing to hear my accent or wait for me to stumble through what I needed to say. The phone was a horror story. They would just hang up. No explanation necessary. There were the people who would talk about me as though I was invisible. Hello, Pelotudo, I am standing right here, I can understand every nasty thing you are saying about me. I just could not defend myself all that well.
The next phase of my Spanish was better. It was the Sandra phase. By then I was friends with Sandra and she had a big influence of my Spanish. She was teaching me lunfardo. I am also fast at learning. I had also made the decision to stop reading in English. I started with children's books and moved up slowly. My vocabulary and grammar improved.
Unlike many foreigners who come to a new country, I did not insulate myself. I made mostly Argentine friends. My foreign friends were people who spoke almost no English so the only common language we had between us was Spanish. I immersed myself in my new culture. I needed to learn who was who. Actors, actresses, music groups. The only thing I did in English was the Internet.
In this wave I could actually use the phone. I could make appointments without people hanging up on me. People began to compliment me on my Spanish. I was reading on the level of a 14 year old. I could swear like a drunken sailor, compliments of Sandra and a few other friends.
Now I am in the third wave. I find this the most interesting. I begin to speak and before I finish I am interrupted "De donde sos vos?" Usually I answer with my barrio, Palermo. This usually puts the person off balance. "No, but where are you from?" they insist. If I am in the middle of a business transaction and/or in a mood, I might answer many different things like "Is this important?" or "From the dark side of the moon."
Don't get me wrong. I have no problem telling my story to someone who is polite and interested. It is the boors, who get under my skin at times. I get told things like "You speak weird." or "Your Spanish is good but you sound funny when you talk." or "I knew you were foreign because your skin is so white." Then there are the idiots who want to know if sex is better with Argentines or Americans. I ask them if they really want to know. That usually shuts them up.
I think in Spanish now. I open my mouth and Spanish comes out. Even when I speak English mostly Spanish comes out. I am forgetting my English. I now read on the same level in Spanish as I do in English. My grammar is far from perfect, but many times it is better than some of the people I speak to who are born here. I get complimented all the time.
The funny thing is I get asked more now where I am from than ever. People say it is because it is weird to hear Argentine Spanish coming out of a foreigner's mouth. One woman told me she thought I had Argentine parents but was brought up in another country. Others just cannot figure me out. I just wish they were a little less aggressive about it.
This brings us back to the begining. Am I funny in Spanish. Oh yes. I was with some local big wigs a few weeks ago. They thought I was hysterical and want to get me a radio show. I said to them "With this Spanish?" They said "YES! That is part of your charm." I guess I would be like a female Ricky Ricardo or something. I told them I wanted my own TV show. I could compete with Susana Gimenez. DEBY!!!! They told me I had to start with radio. Vamos a ver. Being funny is easy for me.
Arguing with the phone company is another thing. In any language. Today I got my phone bill. Those boludos at Telecom charged me AGAIN for Arnet. After 90 minutes on the phone last month and promises and 5 million numbers that it would not happen again. The suckers lied. I did get a notice they would be turning off the service I never ordered.
So I called them. Again. Person #1 tried to play the I-don't-understand-you-game. I made her understand so of course she transferred me. Person #2 once she had my 5 million numbers from last month transferred me again. This person tried to tell me, everything was OK from last month and would be OK NEXT month, BUT I had to pay for this month. ¿COMO? Are you out of your mind? I am not going to pay for a service I never ordered. She started tell me that I had to pay for August. I shut her right down. I told her I was going to call and go down to the Defensa del Consumidor and make a denuncia against them for charging me for a service I never asked for and for continuing to charge me after I asked not to be. That shut her up. She asked for my codigo de gestion. Within moments I had another reclamada. This call took 22 minutes.
Of course, there is next month's bill to look forward to.