In Madrid, there are several bars that offer “intercambio nights”. Intercambio refers to a language exchange (normally Spanish and English) and is supposed to be mutually beneficial for a pair of people who are both trying to learn each other’s language. What actually occurs at intercambios is Spanish men hitting on American women.
In the almost two weeks I’ve been in Madrid, I have accidentally been to every intercambio night in the city.
I don’t even like intercambios! Some like to go because they feel like they don’t speak enough Spanish and want to practice and possibly meet Spanish friends. I already have Spanish friends, and spend so much time each day trying to think, listen, and speak in Spanish that my brain often tells me it is time to take a long nap.
I ended up at all these intercambios on accident. I followed a friend or two, and we ended up there. At every. Single. One.
Here’s what happens at intercambio (so you never need to go in case you are curious): You are standing in a group of friends, trying to decide who–if anyone–to talk to. Suddenly, the ugliest, most awkward guy in the bar (city) squeezes into your group and begins talking to you. Intercambio has given him an excuse! He is not invading your conversation, he is simply talking to you for educational purposes.
The conversation goes exactly like this (every time):
Awkward guy: “Hello. Are you speaking in English or in Spanish.”
AG: “Wheere are you frooom?”
Me: “The United States. Colorado.”
AG: “Ah. You know the Grand Canyon?”
Me: “Actually, it’s in Arizona.” (All Spaniards think the Grand Canyon is in Colorado because in Spanish it’s called “El Canyon de Colorado”. Someone should start some sort of educational campaign.)
AG: “What are you doing in Spain?”
AG: “How long have you been here?”
Me: “A week.” (I could go into how many times I’ve lived in Spain but at this point I like them to compliment my Spanish, if that is the language that awkward guy has chosen to speak in.)
On and on the conversation goes with this mundane questioning. Then, some of his awkward “friends” will join and we will go through seriously the EXACT line of questioning over and over.
Last night, I got stuck talking to 1. The most awkward guy in the room. 2. The oldest guy in the room. 3. The most hitting on me guy in the room. All at once. I gazed over at my friend Annie who was surrounded by young, good-looking, and apparently socially capable guys. I said I needed to get another drink and popped over to enjoy some of her intercambio.
I started talking to one of Annie’s new friends. Can’t remember his name. At any rate, I discovered that he comes to Madrid once a month for guitar lessons, but he actually lives in Valencia. He told me his dream was to someday go to Berkley School of Music. I told him it was cool that he had goals, because I don’t.
He bought me a drink. Then, I was in the middle of asking him if he liked The Fray (you know, the band, because we were talking about music.) I was leaning in and pronouncing the name very slowly and loudly, and suddenly he kissed me! I was completely shocked slash offended that he thought I had given off any vibe whatsoever that I was interested in more than speaking badly in both our languages. I guess I should not accept drinks from now on, and also try to not be so witty and charming.
I left the bar immediately and am scarred for life from intercambios. Although, the one I went to tonight wasn’t so bad.