Serial Intercambio-ing (1 on 1 Language Exchanging) and Tinder in Madrid

Spanish girls and guys are warm and gracious in a way I was initially shocked by. I am not accustomed to such hospitality and genuine concern for my well being.  My friend Maria, over the three months I have known her, has offered to call the Spanish doctor for me, and has written a full page ad for me in Spanish to post online, offering English lessons for an hourly wage. My friend Ruben has offered to pick me up in his car because my foot was injured, so we could go to the park.  Laura talked to my chirpy landlord who has perfected the art of agitating me every time I see her with her sing songy Romanian accented Spanish, and translated her words for me.  My friends Laura, Maria, and Ruben all came once a week to the bar next door to my apartment for my first two months here when I was immobilized with my foot injury, even though it was a longer trip and more inconvenient than just meeting in the city center.

I’ve been on about 20 of these intercambios in Spain, with new people, and a handful have become friends. It’s a language exchange where we usually practice English for a half hour and Spanish for a half hour. Being new in Madrid, it’s an easy way to meet people.

I posted this ad on in the Madrid section and received 35 emails in 48 hours, roughly half girls and half guys, I responded to three of the guys and all of the girls.

26 year old American Male from NYC- looking to learn Spanish

My name is Peter and I come from New York City. I arrived in Madrid four months ago and I am teaching English here until June.

My level of Spanish is B2 (intermediate). Excited to speak some Spanish! My Whatsapp is
+ – – –


Once we have one or two exchanges I can usually transition to WhatsApp. Most are cheery and unassuming rainbows of sunshine in the typical Spanish way, so when I asked one girl her age, just to make sure I wasn’t talking to a 65 year old woman, it unleashed a bitter wrath, as if wondering about age for practical reasons, like being in search of a friendship and not just a language learning transaction, is unforgivably vain.  The one girl I asked “No picture?” when referring to her Whatsapp profile, ended with me being called the Spanish version of “asshole.” I won’t make that mistake again.

In posting ads on, I’ve created my own version of Tinder, like a niche-Tinder, where I have much higher value as a fluent English speaker than I would on my boring old home turf of New York City.  Spaniards are hungry to learn English because Spain probably has the worst English skills of the white, developed countries of Europe. 90% of these girls reject my advances or friend-zone me, but its a numbers game, I’ll keep taking shots. I am slowly learning the advantages of having more female friends and to not always have a creepy agenda.  Additionally, I am learning to appreciate female friendship for its genuine benefits of shared interests and hobbies.

At the age of 26, I’m just starting to move beyond the perpetual angling to have sex at every and any opportunity.  I need to get off these shallow apps, its indulging my vanity.  Or am I just a vain person? As in, you could define me as vain, not that I just possess some vanity like a backpack or a pair shoes.  I remember the time on the Camino de Santiago, when I was whining to the Danes about being hungry and not being able to walk another step from foot pain.

“Sorry I just get like this when I’m hungry, I get hangry and irritable, it just gets brutal sometimes, the food sucks here.”  I said to Danish Pete as we neared a town after walking through miles of wilderness.

“I think its just who you are, you are just an asshole at times, but your a likeable asshole.” he said, with that anti-politeness of Non-Americans that I have come to relish.

I shrugged my shoulders, slightly, imperceptibly.  I’ll take it, I thought.

Hitting my stride speaking Spanish is pure engagement and flow. All the cogs on the assembly line in my head are working double time.  A mental interval workout is underway with every word uttered and every sentence heard and absorbed. I am exhausted by the end of long day of speaking Spanish, mentally and physically. My brain’s speech center is fatigued, my tongue speed slows, like a boxer at the end of a fight who is powerless to the lactic acid flooding his bloodstream and seizing his muscles, unable to throw another punch.  It feels as if my brain literally can not handle another word of Spanish by the end of the day, its like gutting out the last ten pushups after a long basketball practice with a mega-charged, militant coach.  Even switching back to English can be taxing at the end of the day. My refuge is a large bowl of pasta, the 60 cent large floor tile of chocolate from the supermarket, my couch, Soundcloud playing in my headphones and writing this blog.

Speaking Spanish feels like returning to the child like stages of speech where mistakes are laughed off.  I can say things that would feel inappropriate or clunky in English, but in Spanish, it is all the vein of trying and failing, over and over in the exploratory way that toddlers attack words and misfire for years before mastering language. I’m like an actor in a period piece, adjusting my accent and inflection to blend in with the natives. I make that lispy sound of TH for every c or z – cerveza (beer) is pronounced THer-ve-THa. Sometimes I pretend in my mind I am a secret agent or a member of the Witness protection program, I have an alias and I can express my identity through a different combination of words, fitting like small pieces in a massive puzzle, the sum of which will form the outward expression of a personality.

When gathering money to pay a check on one introductory intercambio at a bar, I said “Estoy embarazada. No tengo en effective” to the girl and the waiter, meaning -“I’m pregnant, I don’t have any cash.” I was attempting to say I was embarrassed. We had a laugh.

The correct Spanish syntax and accurately executed colloquial expressions are like a map with a fixed destination and the way I try to apply my thoughts and emotions to pronouncing them is a unique and roundabout way of traversing the route, like taking a trans-atlantic ship, instead of a plane, or a bus, train, and short flight instead of the more direct route. Alternatively,  a new language can also be like a blank canvas, in that I am oblivious to typical sequences of noun-verb-adverb that have been ingrained in me in my native English since birth. The new words to be learned are seemingly infinite and that is why my passion for it is ever-expanding.

The fire in me is stoked every time I talk to a girl I like in Spanish or a new friend that has a personality that uniquely expresses the language yet again. Fast talkers are plentiful in Madrid so it is a relief to find a more mild mannered, slower talker so I can absorb more of what they are saying. With each new Spaniard I meet, I get a larger peek into the slow Spanish way of living and emphasis they place on loving relationships and quality of life over career and status.

Around every corner and in every crevasse of the sentences spoken by the Spanish people, there is more for me to soak in and internalize.  The exhaustive conversation and exposure to the language keep me up to my neck in new words and continue to strike that chord in my heart, to keep trying and failing, looking stupid more times than I can count, when searching for a word, melting down in frustration, and getting back up again.

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