I seem to remember seeing a TEFL-type job description somewhere — it may have been for lettori in Italy — that specified that all candidates must be fresh meat. Okay, that wasn't the actual expression that they used, it may have been something more like "linguistically and culturally fresh off the boat". Okay, it wasn't exactly that either, but you know what I mean, they didn't want anyone who'd been living abroad for any length of time and had gone more or less native. And I also seem to remember sucking air in through my teeth in exasperation. Poor people, did they really think that one could forget a language that quickly; become cut off from one's native culture that easily?
Well, no of course you can't, but you can very rapidly feel yourself slipping out of the loop of knowing what people at home are actually talking about (who is this Davina McCall?) and knowing what terms are actually acceptable. After all, when I first moved to France it was still perfectly all right to say someone was handicapped and coloured.
Even more importantly how can I tell which terms are cool.... or should that be hip? When my brother and I were teenagers, I remember my Mum asking us things like "So, is he going with her?" and we would dissolve in disdainful laughter. What a fool she was; didn't she know that you could only say "Is he going OUT with her"? For goodness sakes, wise up woman, we're in the late seventies, don't you know?
Well, I am that woman now. I'm middle-aged and I have the added disadvantage of living in a non-English -speaking country. I think I managed for a while to keep up but got stuck at the "I am so enjoying this..........not" stage which I no doubt picked up from a rerun of Friends.
There's only one consolation: my children probably won't know any better, just so long as I deprive them of any authentic English-language interaction with young native-speakers for the next ten years.