A downside to renting an apartment away from the tourist area is that few people here speak English and my Spanish is pretty much limited to 'habla usted ingles?' and 'donde esta el bano?' Hell, even writing Spanish is hard as the bloody autocorrect keeps changing what I type. I am up to Adjectives 1 in Duolingo's Spanish lessons app and autocorrect thinks pinguino should be penguin, which it is, but Duolingo wants the Spanish word so I lose lesson points.
I wonder how useful it will be to know the Spanish word for penguin?
Nevertheless, I press on with my attempts to communicate with the portenos. I plan what I need to say using a Spanish - English dictionary and Lonely Planet's Latin American Spanish phrasebook or, if I've wifi, Google translate. But often my carefully planned Spanish sentence is greeted by a response that is not one of 'si', 'no', or 'gracias'. At this point I'm screwed.
For example, after a long walk today, with temperatures in the high twenties (C) and humidity hanging in the air, I stopped at an ice cream shop to ask for an item straight from the menu, dulce de leche. Simple, eh? But no, the very polite and patient fellow behind the counter replied with a torrent of Spanish. He wanted to know the size of my order. I pointed to the large bowl. Then he wanted to know what flavors as it turns out the bowl holds three scoops and of course no one would order three scoops of the same flavor. Round and round we went, he gave me some ice cream to taste, and we eventually came to a decision that i' d have one each of chocolate, vanilla, and, what I really wanted, dulce de leche. The process is a bit embarrassing and frustrating and exhausting, but I guess that is what it takes to use a foreign language. The effort was rewarded: the dulce de leche ice cream was delicious.