Learning to ‘surf’ in Spain

Learning to flirt in another language is an exercise in perception, patience and gesture.

by Ashley Dresser

If the upcoming holiday season is causing you to lament your âÄúloverlessness,âÄù donâÄôt sweat. You still have plenty of time to snag someone to drag to all those awkward family festivities. Even more promising, it is highly likely that you and your future love interest will speak the same language. Yes, thatâÄôs right, the same language, as in English. Smitten souls donâÄôt actually realize that fluency is their finest weapon until itâÄôs gone. The day I arrived in Bilbao, Spain âÄî where everyone speaks a hybrid of Basque and Castellano âÄî in a matter of seconds, I realized my flirt factor had dropped to zero. I simply did not have the words to be a vixen, and even if I did, my delivery would be comparable to a 2-year-old attempting to cross a raging river with a glass of milk. And so, in order to secure my current boyfriend, I am learning how to surf. Not only because he is a surfer but because flirting in another language is a helluvalot like surfing: ItâÄôs all about the body. âÄúYou have to lean into the wave and tell her that you want her,âÄù my surfing instructor said to me once. âÄúPut your hands on her hips and dig in. Paddle hard. And if she spits you out, get back on. Bat your eyelashes and roll.âÄù At that time, none of his advice really made sense to me. I just assumed it had been a while since he had last had a woman âÄî thus the âÄúmujerâÄù metaphor. But now, lost in translation in Spain, the wisdom of my surfing instructor is obvious. There are brief moments of clarity when I am riding on top of the wave when all of my actions are mirroring his own, and we are communicating in some weird way, even though I belong on land and he belongs in the water. But just as quickly, I stutter, and I am back underwater, choking on the sand of all that I cannot understand. Fortunately, the BBCâÄôs âÄúRelationshipsâÄù Web site section says not to worry about the verbal communication part. Fifty-five percent of our impression of a person actually comes solely from their body language, 33 percent is picked up from the tone, speed and inflection of their voice, and a mere 7 percent is derived from what they are a saying. Good news for me? Yes, certainly. But what the BBC forgets is that there is a difference between showing someone youâÄôre interested and proving your individual intelligence. For the latter half, I have learned to communicate in new ways. An exchange of iPods has uncovered layers of individuality, evidence of world travel and a depth of emotion that wouldâÄôve taken me years to fully understand in Castellano. Careful examination of his room and physique allowed me to discover that we read the same books and we both carry a creepily similar tattoo. And when I want to be kinky, I say terribly dirty things in Castellano and then pretend like I have no idea what they mean. Right now, itâÄôs pretty much my only trick, but itâÄôs working beautifully. So if youâÄôre stuck in a love rut this winter, have no fear. âÄúSay what you mean to sayâÄù is still as easy as it gets in English. And if youâÄôre feeling bored with your significant other, I suggest shutting the hell up. It is an exercise of patience with another that I am discovering often puts you deeper in love. Ashley Dresser welcomes comments at [email protected].