So, here's a post with the intention of being a break from the mundane tales of my travels in South America.
Let's imagine for a minute that you are a gringo who doesn't speak much Spanish, and has come to Argentina (or some other Spanish-speaking place, perhaps a mythical one called "Remolacha" - my favorite Spanish word! It means "beet") for a finite amount of time to live. You may want to interact with the locals. Sure, you "know" Spanish. As in, you can get by in the first minute of conversation without any awkward, long pauses or a lot of "can you repeat that please?". There are some dangers, however, in speaking only Spanish with a cab driver you just met when you don't really know the language, after getting a few key phrases perfectly correct. Here they are, in no particular order:
1) People will think you actually speak Spanish, and will answer you enthusiastically, and probably really quickly and in more detail than your limited vocabulary can grasp. You'll get unnecessary news updates about what's happening in Remolacha and launch into a conversation about their cheating wife, when all you wanted was to sit in the cab peacefully on the way to meet your friends somewhere.
2) In said responses, you will pick up every other word. You may understand what they are saying, but you probably won't. Here, you have two choices on how to react and continue: 1) nod and smile like an idiot, changing your facial expression slightly every time you think they begin a new sentence, or 2) ask them to repeat themselves "más despacio, por favor" until they give up and stop talking to you.
3) You are absolutely shocked when they answer your "Cómo estás?" with anything else than "Bien, y tu?" You freeze up. Turn red. Stop talking. And pray that the cab ride is short and they don't try again with asking you something that you don't know how to answer.
4) He realizes that you're a gringo and you get a grand tour of the city instead of being brought straight home - complete with the extra fare. Jackass.
Then there's the opposite scenario: When you know too much Spanish after a few months and you use it often. In this case, you have impressed the cab driver with your extensive verbal skills. There are several problems that can come from this situation. In no particular order, they are:
1) The cab driver will ask you out on a date, or if you have a boyfriend. Then they will ask you out on a date after they find out you have a boyfriend.
2) You will be grilled about American politics and are asked if you know "Miguel in Houston" or "Facu in Dallas", because you say you are from Texas. You also get to hear about they "went to Idaho once" and so they are an expert on American things. Also, do you like the Simpsons?
3) You get an extended interview about how you like Remolacha. Do you like it here? It's very much like Texas! How long have you lived here? What are you doing here for so long? Do you have a boyfriend? Do you like asado?
Of course, there are worse things in life. You have to practice your language skills so that you get better, and you don't lose it once you've got it. Practice with cab drivers and waiters/waitresses in restaurants, and anyone you know. But be prepared for the scenarios above. It's not just me. But it's pretty funny :)