Right Swiping Your Way to a Second Language

Well guys, I can officially call myself a paid writer. Honored and humbled by the opportunity to write for Listen & Learn. Here’s my first blog post for them:

Allow me to introduce myself:

My name is Aaron and I am an American living and studying in Barcelona, Spain.

img-0

 

Ever since moving abroad, my answer to the inescapable “de donde eres” question has strategically shifted from ‘the U.S.’ to ‘California.’ I must admit, it’s a great strategy. As soon as the word leaves my lips, smiles ensue. The Golden State truly is a golden word that invites much more, well, pleasant and often hilarious queries, like…

“OMG do you surf?”

Or

“Why would you ever leave Cali?” (People who aren’t from California love saying Cali)

And

“Why Barcelona? What do you love about it here?”

My answer is always the same: options.

Barcelona offers so many options. Whether it’s visiting an art exhibit or museum, sunbathing on the beach with friends, catching an outdoor movie on Montjuic, or dancing the night away at a free concert, Barcelona is a cultural and social goldmine. Throw in the fact that the most expensive event I listed will cost you a whopping six Euro and you can start to see why I’m on the constant lookout for a wife with an EU passport. I never want to leave.

Unfortunately, for those who come to immerse themselves in a second language, speaking Spanish is also an option in this great city by the sea. One of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Europe, Barcelona is teeming with English speakers and a local population whose native tongue is Catalan, not Castellano (Castilian Spanish). Even the courses at my university, Pompeu Fabra, named after the linguist who developed the Catalan language, were offered in English.

Want to check your skill level before heading overseas for study? Take a free placement test to see how your level measures up!

One month into my stay I realized that if I wanted to improve my Spanish I would need to make a conscious effort to capitalize on every speaking opportunity afforded. For some examples and tips on how to make the most of your language learning experience while abroad checkout fellow blogger Katie’s post. As Katie alluded to in her piece, the most progress comes when stepping out of your comfort zone and staying there. And what’s more uncomfortable than an awkward first date?

With over 50 million active users, Tinder is one of the most popular dating applications in the world. Let’s pretend you’ve never heard of it so I can give you the basics.

Pulling bio information and pictures from Facebook, Tinder users sift through profiles in their vicinity, swiping their way to romance through their smartphones. A left swipe on a profile means that you are not interested or simply “nope.” A right swipe signifies interest. When two users ‘right swipe’ each other, a ‘match’ is created and a lovely push notification is sent to your phone. The process is a bit shallow, I know, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to doing a little dance every time my phone lights up and says “Congratulations! You have a new match.”

No rookie to the dating app scene (I once met a girlfriend, now ex-girlfriend, through a similar app called Bumble. Heeey Nikki), I initially used Tinder to engage with other Americans living in or passing through Barcelona. While abroad, there is a level of comfort that comes from spending time with people from ‘back home.’ But in the spirit of growth, and like Katie already told you, FORGET your comfort.

Determined to shake off the shackles of complacency, I updated my Tinder profile, switching all of my bio text from English to Spanish. I began left swiping any user from the U.S. or England. I never thought my quest to perfect a second language would lead me down the dark path of racial profiling, but hey… by any means necessary, right? If I got a match, I made sure to always send my first message in Castellano, establishing my ability and desire to communicate in Spanish.

And it worked.

I soon found myself sipping café con leche and speaking Spanish through entire dates. Initially, I was a sweaty mess, stumbling over words as I struggled to communicate with the vocabulary of a nine year old. I’m sure the double shots of espresso didn’t help. However, a couple of months into my Tinder experiment, I noticed that my confidence had greatly increased while speaking Spanish. I am proud to say that my vocabulary grew from that of a nine year old to the level of pubescent teenager, one awkward Tinder date at a time.

Interestingly, my language skills were not the only thing that Tinder helped to improve. As I connected with more local girls, my cultural experience in Barcelona was also enriched. I gained insight into Catalan traditions, cuisine, celebrations, and festivals. Catalans love their festivals. I’ve even managed to learn a bit of the Catalan language through the process.

Yesterday I was giving a tour through the Barrí Gótic (I give street art tours in the city center in an effort to support my Tinder coffee date habit), when I met a beautiful and very Ukrainian looking gal by the name of Justina. I know, I know, racial profiling. Since Tinder has yet to teach me Ukrainian, I addressed Justina in English. Her face strained as I spoke, clearly struggling to interpret my Californian.

I stopped mid-sentence and asked, “Hablas Español?”

“Of course,” she replied, relieved. “I feel much more comfortable speaking Spanish,” she continued in perfect Castellano.

Surprised, I asked how she, a recent arrival from the Ukraine, had learned the language so fluently.

“My husband of course.”

“Oh wow,” I responded, “and how did you meet your husband?”

Justina blushed and replied through grinning teeth, “Tinder.”

Advertisements

The Terrible Towels

My abuelito thinks I’m gay.

“When I was your age I already had 7 kids!” He teased me in Spanish.

No gracias Abuelo.

But in his defense, it has been a long time since I’ve brought a girl around the family.

My younger siblings getting married and having babies doesn’t help.

Thanks a lot guys.

The final straw took place in January when I went home to spend time with family. Trying to show off my improved Castellano,  I made the mistake of lisping the “c” in Barcelona in front of the old man.

He slapped his knee and pointed his finger, letting out a laugh that I’ve never heard him make, like an ‘I knew it!’ kind of laugh.

I thought it was hilarious. 

Don’t get it twisted guys. This isn’t some homophobic rant, some of my greatest friends are gay. Like they say in Spain, me da igaul. But I know my old man doesn’t like his old man thinking his eldest young man is gay.

Ever-cognizant of this antiquated yet completely hilarious quandary I’ve put my pops in, I wasn’t going to tell ya’ll about what happened to me last month.

But here we goooo.

Sharing a living space is never easy.

After spending my first eight months living in the Barri Gótic with some of my best friends in the city, it was time for me to find a new flat. After a month of some serious searching, I finally found a room in the beautiful neighborhood of Gracia. Although Gracia is often considered the most gentrified neighborhood in Barcelona, a certain charm of authenticity remains. I hit the narrow streets during sunset as the locals take their evening stroll around the neighborhood. The paseo is a delightful tradition, bringing a strong sense of community to the barrio. Young parents chat as their children laugh and play in the street. Sometimes I sit and watch the old men play their pick-up games of bocce ball in the dusty squares. 

The neighborhood more than makes up for the size of my room. “Shoebox” is an upgrade. And I haven’t had a bed so small since I was eleven.

“We’ll share the shelter of my single bed?”

Bob Marley was full of shit on that one.

But I have my own terrace that gets amazing sunlight and a cool breeze. I even strung up lights and bought some flowers and aromatic plants from a local nursery. Please don’t tell my grandfather.

I share a wall and a huge bathroom with Melissa, a rad chica from the U.K. who’s in Barcelona for hairdresser school. Our bathroom has a bidet and I’m not sure how I’ve managed to live this long without one. So fresh and so clean clean.

My two Italian roomies, Franceso and Andrea, best friends since childhood, share a room and a smaller restroom down the hall. After about a week, I noticed that they had begun taking the liberty of utilizing our more spacious lavatory. ‘Not a big deal,’ I thought to myself, ‘mi baño es su baño amigos.’ I’m prone to fits of claustrophobia myself so I understood their need for ample leg room whilst handling their business.

I forgot to mention that our apartment is technically a student housing unit of sorts. I was leery upon finding this out, but essentially the title is just… well… a title. A way for the management company to assuage a community that has witnessed rent prices skyrocket in their neighborhood over the last decade. But the title does come with some perks. Basically, any appliance or piece of furniture that we need is a simple text message away. Need an iron? Text our landlord Sebastian and you’ll have it within a day or two. More plates and silverware? How about a fan in my room? No problemo.

When I noticed some new hand towels hanging in the restroom near the door, I smiled and thought, ‘Sebastian… what a guy.’ 

For about a week I used those lovely little towels with gusto. I preferred the green towel, which was bit more course, for drying my hands.  I reserved the white towel, which had a higher thread count and much finer fabric, for my evening face wash. One night, after plunging my face in that lovely white cloth, I noticed a hint of funky smell emanating from the fabric. ‘Hmmph,‘ I thought, ‘must be time for a wash.’ After finishing up with the green towel, which still had a sweet fragrance, I took the white towel, along with some other clothes that needing cleaning, and started up the washing machine.

A couple of hours later, Andrea returned from work after a long day at the pizzeria. He changed clothes and made his way to my (our) restroom, newspaper in hand. But before the door closed Andrea muttered something in Italian and remerged into the hallway, angry, quite uncharacteristic of the ever-chipper and gregarious Italian. “Aaron, what has happened to my towel? Have you been using my towel?”

Taken aback by his aggressive tone, I responded in a like manner, “What are you talking about, bro?”

“If you mean our hand towels in my restroom… then of course I have.”

Clearly frustrated by my response, Andrea barked back in Spanish (his Spanish is better than mine, another fact that would probably make my abuelito laugh and point in my direction), “you should not use other people’s towels Aaron.”

“Listen buddy, you and Fra have been using my restroom for weeks and I haven’t said a word. And now you want to claim our community towels too?”

“No. You do not understand. Those are our towels. From Italia. They are for the culo. You have been using our ass towels.” The anger in his voice had subsided into a menacing laugh.

“What?” I asked, feeling a bit light headed.

Apparently, a bidet is no mere luxury for Italians. Nearly every home in Italy has a washroom fully equipped with toilet and bidet. Next to each bidet you’ll find a rack with small “hand” towels. DO NOT use these towels. Like, ever. Don’t even look at ’em.

For Francesco and Andrea, pooping in my restroom was not about leg room. Utilizing a toilet without a bidet would be outright barbaric for them, and leaving their ‘booty towels’ on the rack near the bidet was nothing out of the ordinary, something they never even thought to warn their ignorant roommate from the USA about.

Awesome.

After regaining my composure all I could do was laugh and tell Andrea how Francesco’s booty had a much sweeter fragrance than his. Like fresh lavender and honey.

You can laugh, just don’t tell my old man.

Schmidt.gif

Baseball IS Life

cunb8i4weaae2f2-jpg-large

 

I am a Dodger fan.

It’s no secret.

Anyone that has a pulse within a 5000 mile radius knows that I bleed Dodger Blue.

All emotional investment in this season’s outcome was washed away when my boys were eliminated last week. But as I sat and watched game seven of the World Series, I couldn’t help but lose my shit. I couldn’t stop myself from jumping and hollering as momentum swung from team to team, like some cruel, sadistic pendulum.

The tortured faces of Cubs fans flashed across my screen and their suffering oozed through the pixels. Grown men wearing inside-out caps with hands on their faces, watched the game unfold through trembling fingers, the weight of 108 winless years bearing down on their drooping shoulders. Bill Murray looked catatonic one moment, on the verge of cardiac arrest the next. From Lost in Translation to Caddyshack with every pitch.

39,466 days of hope and suffering relived in a five hour ballgame…culminating in one beautiful moment of shared jubilation. There will be no sleep on the Northside of Chicago tonight.

What a game. What a ride.

Two days after the Dodgers were eliminated from the postseason my dad called to talk about the game. (He knew I needed some time to process. Thanks Pops).

“Did you cry when they lost?” he asked. A strange question from my father who usually shies away from sentimentality.

“Uh… kind of.” I replied neutrally, unsure where he was headed.

“Well your brother did. He took it hard. He went into the kitchen and wept like a baby. What’s up with that?” I laughed as my heart swelled with pride.

Baseball is a marathon and an investment. Each season blossoms in spring and stretches deep into the year as the air turns cold and leaves begin to fall.  Every team suffers injuries and enjoys winning streaks. Beloved players are traded and unknown rookies emerge into the limelight. Dedicated fans sit back and experience it all, each loss… each victory… every pitch. Together.

For the past three seasons, my brother, roommate and I have done exactly that. We would rush home from work to eat dinner and watch the ballgames together. We cursed players when they underperformed and danced during walk-off victories and Kershaw no-hitters. We took naps and ate burritos, too many burritos. The whole while Vin Scully’s voice echoed through our apartment, the beloved narrator of our shared experiences. We carpooled to Chavez Ravine, sang “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” to the organ of Nancy Bea and stuffed our faces with grilled Dodger Dogs. How spoiled we truly were. You may scoff, but it was the best time of my life.

My European friends gasp when I tell them how many games are played each year. 162 games? 6 months? That sounds horribly boring. And they’re right. Baseball is fucking boring. And so is life, regardless of what your friend’s Instagram account leads you to believe.

OMG Susie I want your life! You’re always going on adventures! 

I love reading the comment section. People only post highlight reels. No, Susie isn’t always going on adventures. She was probably sitting in traffic or pooping when she posted that picture under the Eiffel Tower. Modern attention spans, or lack thereof, don’t appreciate the intimate, slow unfolding beauty of baseball. They don’t value long innings or double-headers. They just want Paris and slam dunks, touchdowns and hard tackles. Not me… I love pooping.

Baseball, unlike anything other sport, has the beautiful capacity to mimic life. The boring innings and thrilling highlights, an intricate and interdependent patchwork of the sweet and mundane. And victory wouldn’t taste so sweet without the investment of time, life’s most precious commodity, that true fans make each season. So when we lose, it hurts. The end of a season marks the closing of a chapter of our lives. We simultaneously mourn and celebrate the passing of our shared experiences.

Baseball, like life, isn’t so much about the end result. It’s about the in-betweens. The ups and downs. The ride. For 108 years Cubs fans have stamped their tickets. This is the narrative that has taken over your social media feed. Cubbies Nation takes pride in their investment, as they should. But don’t be fooled, the World Series is not the fruit of their toil. The prize lies in their struggle. A century of time spent hoping and cheering together.

And when the celebrations end and the confetti is swept, we will do it all over again. Baseball doesn’t end, it marches on.

Baseball is pain. Baseball is beautiful. Baseball IS life.

 

Summer at the Beach

sunset

July in Huntington Beach-

Two sun kissed girls, perhaps four and five years old, run from a public bathroom toward the inviting sea in their swim suits. Their bundles of clothes underarm, hastily stuffed in floppy sun hats. The younger stops dead in her tracks, examines her heap of clothes and exclaims,

“Oh no! I dropped my underwears.”

Without looking back, she begins running again, a smile stretched across her face and yells,

“Aghh, I don’t need them anyway!”

I laugh to myself and continue up the path.

Further up the trail, a young father, slows his gate as he approaches a pair of white underwear lying atop the sand.

He hesitates.

I smile and say, “I’m pretty sure those belong to your daughter.” He laughs, shakes his head and stuffs the panties in his beach bag.

 

 

*Like the photo? Go double tap my friend Zilly’s photography @laurenzillyphoto 

She is so talented!

The Sunny Side

For the record, this egg is not over easy, it's sunny side up. I just learned the difference, but the Sunny Side sound good so I'm stickin' with it.
For the record, this egg is not over easy, it’s sunny side up. I just learned the difference, but the Sunny Side sound good so I’m stickin’ with it.

 

I’ve done it.

The odds were heavily stacked against me.

People said it was impossible, that I was wasting my time.

But I shrugged the “haters” off and used their negativity as motivation. Every morning I’d try, and fail, but return the next day with a new sense of optimism and determination. My father’s mantra looping in my head as I focused on the task at hand, “perseverance through adversity son, perseverance through adversity.”

This morning, on the fourth day of December, in the year of our Lord 2015, I finally succeeded in cooking two, not one but two, beautiful and completely intact over easy eggs.

Now, some of you may scoff at this feat.

You could be thinking, “My eight year old daughter can make over easy eggs, dude.”

You might even be laughing as you read this. But trust me, there’s nothing funny about preparing the perfect breakfast sandwich every morning, fully equipped with the finest of ingredients: freshly baked whole grain bread, organic tomatoes and spinach from the local market, a thick slice of gouda cheese and savory pieces of world-famous Spanish ham, Jamon Iberico. Only to fail miserably with the piece de resistance and pop the damn yolks in the crappy hostel frying pan.

No amount of olive oil or butter can make the pans in any hostel “non-stick.”

The pans are beat up and tired, any trace of Teflon scraped away long ago by the backpackers of yesteryear.

The deplorable condition of cooking surfaces in hostels makes runny egg-yolks a much desired commodity. A mirage in the desert that can never be reached. But this morning I did it. When I bit into my sandwich the rich yolks exploded into my mouth and dripped onto my plate, like puddles of liquid gold.

A moment I shall never forget.

The lesson is simple friends: Never give up, never surrender.

Or… if you like over easy eggs and have the room in your backpack, bring a small non-stick frying pan.

 

The man, the myth, the legend.
The man, the myth, the legend.

 

Lift Off

Annnnnd I’m off!

This post comes to you from the land of fog, black tea and Yorkshire Pudding, which I recently discovered isn’t pudding at all.

‘ello London!

My first foray in Europe landed me in Heathrow Airport on a dreary April morning. As the sun rose, I peered out of the enormous airport window in the direction of London, I could sense the great Western city on the horizon. So close. I’ll be back, I thought.

I was right.

As I hopped on the train from Gatwick to London proper yesterday, I felt like Harry Potter on his way to Hogwarts. Embarrassing, I know. To my dismay they did not hand out any Chocolate Frogs or Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans.

So here’s the plan:

3 days in London

3 days in Paris

3 days in Morocco for a surfing safari

After Morocco I fly to Granada, Spain for my first Workaway experience.

I plan to spend a month in Granada and then it’s back to the UK where I have been invited to pass the holidays with my friend and his family in Scotland.

I will be accompanied by Sir Fraser O’Neil of Scotland for the first leg of my trip. Fraz is a great friend from high school, more of a brother really. Fraser was a regular guest in our family home and practically lived in our living room for months at a time. Fortunately for him, my mother always loved the guy, entitling him to unlimited stay on our couch and an all-you-can-eat-pass in her kitchen. Our fraternal bond is personified by a derogatory banter that can prove a bit much for the unacquainted pedestrian.

Example:

After getting lost in the city for hours in search of me and our hostel, Fraser burst into the room, bags in hand, and exclaimed,

“There’s my bloody Wetback! How the hell are ya brother!!?”

“Oh Jesus!” shrieked Chris, a mellow backpacker hailing from Canada that had been napping on his top bunk and apparently wasn’t used to be woken by such blatant racial slurs.

Let the adventures begin.

PS: I lied to you, this post actually comes to you from Paris, France. I have been here for only 24 hours but the City of Lights has been quite impressive thus far. More to come….

 

 

DCIM101GOPRO
DCIM101GOPRO

 

Blue Mournings

When I opened my eyes yesterday morning my insides hurt.

My body ached from head to toe.

I like felt I had just went three rounds in the octagon with Ronda Rousey.

Nausea was a loyal companion all day long, never leaving my side like some damn golden retriever.

I sat glued to the couch for hours watching the Major League Baseball Network, forcing myself to relive the painful details of the season’s final game, over and over and over, as if changing the station meant admitting the season was really over.

Even the weather reflected my grief. A blanket of dark clouds hung low in mourning, blocking the sun, as a cool breeze blew through Los Angeles for the first time in weeks.

God must be a Dodger fan.

Yes, I know… this is a travel blog.

But this blog is also about my mission to live with zeal and passion. Like I’ve said before, the Gap is about “squeezing the juice out of life… every last fucking drop,” and nothing gets my juices flowing like Dodger Baseball.

It may sound silly to you. It’s just a game, you might be thinking. Not for me, not for my family. Baseball, and the Dodgers in particular, bring memories of sweet experiences shared with loved ones. For a group of Angelenos living in the desert of Arizona, the Dodgers became an identity. When I hear the famed broadcaster Vin Scully’s voice, my chest fills with warmth.

You can read more about my love for the Dodgers here: Viva Los Doyers!

So before I made the life altering decision to quit my job and book a one-way ticket to Europe I had to check one thing:  Major League Baseball’s postseason schedule. The November 5th departure date was no coincidence. If the Dodgers would have advanced to the World Series, the last possible game, Game Seven, would have been played on November 4th. I could think of no better send off then witnessing a World Series victory with my brothers and loved ones. The elation would be so great I wouldn’t even need a plane ticket, I would just point my fist in the air and fly off to London like Superman with a Dodger Blue cape.

But the Dodgers lost and I can’t fly.

Even as I sit here, brooding in the darkness of defeat, I am pleased with my decision. I mean, just look at this picture of my brother and at Dodger Stadium for what would prove to be the last game of the season, our level of excitement oozing from the pixels:

 

Mexican Greinkes

 

For three hours Chavez Ravine rocked with emotion. As the game swayed like a pendulum, we cheered in moments of  triumph and prayed to the heavens when all seemed lost, searching for hope in the bats of our diamond heroes.

When our fate was sealed we walked through the parking lot like wandering zombies, hardly exchanging a word.

And that, my friends, is what it’s all about. No, not the zombie apocalypse, the ride. The memories of loss are as vivid as the memories of victory, and I’ll forever recall the day my brother and I went blonde for the Doyers.

Not a bad look right?

There’s always next year. But until then… I think I’ll do a little traveling.