Check out my article on Thought Catalog!
When you agree to teach English in a foreign country, it’s usually implied that you know English. What I speak is a mixture of fast-paced-Jersey-bred mumbling along with a few choice words taken from Urban Dictionary. Most English speakers have trouble understanding me.
Although most of my time teaching 6th grade Spanish children has been spent trying to get them to think I’m cool enough to know all the lyrics to an Ariana Grande song (I don’t), I’ve also had to study up on my English grammar.
During one particular class where I spent an hour explaining the first conditional tense versus the second (to no avail), I realized the philosophical analogy of this basic grammar concept.
For those of you who slept through 4th grade English, the first conditional and the second are relatively simple ideas. (Forget about the third conditional, it’s just baffling.)
1st: If I have money, I will never intern without pay again.
2nd: If I had money, I would never intern without pay again.
Although both of these statements are highly unlikely in real world, they are very straightforward in the grammar world. First conditional implies a probability in the future whereas second entails a theory. In this breakneck speed of the 21st century, most people live by the first conditional rule. If I quit my job, if I move cities, if I meet a (semi) decent person on Tinder, then Y will happen. Basic cause and effect drives our daily lives and this thought process makes the world (or at least capitalism) go round. First conditional thought is a socially acceptable, if not always healthy, way to live.
And what happens to those stuck in the second conditional? Here’s where life gets tricky. If I had studied more in college, if my parents hadn’t gotten divorced, if I hadn’t eaten that whole jar of Nutella, if I hadn’t made all those mistakes, maybe I’d be in a different place than where I am now. This constant living in the “what would have happened if” is torturous for the mind and soul. You start to question everything you’ve ever done and where you are today.
I think about my favorite book, the one I reread at different points in my life because each time I realize something I hadn’t noticed before. Milan Kundera says in The Unbearable Lightness of Being: “We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come.”
Are we bound to live mistake after mistake without ever improving?
I have spent my whole life trying to abide by the rules of the first conditional that I didn’t even see that hole of quick sand masquerading as intact dirt known as the second conditional in the jungle of life. And yet I fell through.
I am constantly at war with my mind wondering what would have happened if I had made different choices in my life. If I had stayed in LA/Boston/NYC, where would I be now? If I hadn’t left the film industry, if I chose a different major in college, if I had different friends, if I took more/less risks, if I had a different childhood, how would my life be different?
Then everything starts to open up, like the time I cut my foot on a huge piece of glass at a nightclub and had to get stitches because nothing could stop the effusion of blood. Everything just pours out. I start to question If I had been a different person, been more social, more driven, kinder, more mentally stable, then would i be happier now? This vicious cycle has no end.
A much as I try to reject the second conditional, speak in the definitive present or future tense, I can’t seem to get this dancing reel of ‘ifs’ and ‘woulds’ out of my mind. Oh, English grammar, I’d have one less problem without you.
After only recently moving into the hostel in Buenos Aires and meeting every group of people from Brits to Aussies to Brazilians to Danish, and Austrians to Slovenians, I am surprised to discover the most unfriendly, distant, and even borderline rude people here. It surprises me most because I’m one of them.
The same God who created the rest of humanity obviously made some kind of error when creating the minds of American girls. When first seeing that there were a handful in the hostel, I felt a breath of relaxation escape me, knowing that I would have people somewhat like me. However, when I first walked into the overcrowded and sloppy bedroom, it was clear that patriotism did not extend this far south.
I first felt their eyes scan me as if I was a secretly a virus, an unwanted and dangerous threat to their reckless lifestyles. After a few “friendly” remarks, all through a guarded smile and clenched teeth, I knew that any hope of make-up sessions and late afternoon shopping trips were out of my reach.
I tried to wrap my mind around why out of all the people I met, it is the Americans who act the least trusting and the most guarded around me. I wanted to scream to them, “What’s the deal? I’m just like you! Can’t we bond over our awesome Americaness in Argentina?” Apparently no.
I have always known that girls are the most guarded, the most judgmental, and the most distrusting, but I foolishly thought that living in a foreign country would create some sort of unspoken, immediate friendship.
It’s not like these girls are particularly appealing. They are loud, talk as if they have an IQ to match Bush, and party to all hours in the morning then come in shrieking and cackling while everyone else is sleeping. Despite all of these qualities, it’s impossible not to want to be in their inner circle. It’s not that I mind going to lunch with an Australian guy who mumbles and a Slovenian who is overly friendly, or going on a walking tour with an Austrian chick who incessantly talks, it’s just all those encounters are at best, pleasant.
Part of me misses the intense connection between American girls, the drama, and the wild lifestyle. Part of me wants to stay the hell away from them. As of now, I’m concerned that the window of opportunity of forming a bond is drawing to a steadfast close and I am out of ideas of how to make nice with these girls. If only I were Canadian.
I arrive in the city of Buenos Aires not unlike a recently woken coma patient: confused and disoriented. After a lengthy flight from JFK and a layover in Sao Paolo that involved me passed out while gripping my luggage, I sit in a stick-shift taxi that takes me through the reckless streets to my new home in Recoleta. After being dropped of with my two saran-wrapped suitcases, I look around at the “upperclass” barrio with rundown houses and uneven sidewalks.
What I thought would be a pleasant-albeit-thrifty student dorm turned out to be the shittiest of shitty hostels where I would have to spend the next four months sharing a small room with four other girls with no space, no privacy, and toilets that barely flush. Worst of all, I had the top bunk.
Now, I don’t consider myself extremely high maintenance when it comes living situations. I’m as messy as the next 20-something-person and I honestly don’t require expensive furniture or flat screen TVs, but if the owners of this place seriously thought I would be content living with a kitchen that constantly smelled and all the dirty plastic dishware, then they must have been high off the mate. Over 20 people lived in the dorm and people were constantly moving in and out everyday. The furniture in the common room looked as if someone went a little knife-happy and the bathrooms had no locks and no space to do your business.
An immediate rush of regret filled with disgust overtook my jet-lagged mind and I was close to tears after meeting my cliquey roommates. If matters couldn’t get any worse, my supposed orientation session which was going to introduce me the house and the city was postponed until Monday. Therefore, I would have to spend the entire weekend alone in a city where theft was as common as the name dropping of the famous soccer player Messi in a conversation. I was ready to book my flight back to the States.
Fortunately for me, a woman who worked in the program gave me the necessary information to survive for the weekend. In addition to her kindness, she also asked a group of guys if I could hang out with them that night since they weren’t going to the soccer game either. I shamefully tried to hide my red face as she explained to them that I was brand new. This was no different than the time my mom called up my teacher when a girl in the 3rd grade invited almost everyone in the class to her birthday party except me.
One of the guys was kind enough to go out with me and I spent my first night in a bar talking to a socialist-Texan-English-teacher with the soccer game blaring at us. Even though my brain felt it completely shut off due to exhaustion, it was the perfect way to spend a first night out. He was one of the nicest and most open guys I ever met and our conversation flowed at ease. If only it was a date, I could say I met my soulmate on my first night in Buenos Aires. Obviously here, however, you have to make due with what comes your way.
There’s a semi-amusing joke about where the soul goes when it dies. Christians may go to either heaven or hell (depending on their saint/sinner behavior), Jews go to Florida.
Welcome to South Florida.
Most people my age cringe at the thought of the enclosed gated communities where the only people under the age of 65 are the pool cleaners. Here, where each blade of grass shines too green that you’re sure it’s fake until you run your unmanicured hand through its unabashed superiority and realize that it’s just overly tended (not unlike the women of Boca).
It’s impossible not to be reminded of a totalitarian society with its vital rules such as always wearing shoes or keeping the garden gnomes hidden in your garage where they belong as to not ruin the identicalness of the neighborhood. The average 20-something-year-old would not call this an ideal vacation.
I, too, would turn up my nose in disgust at the thought of places that are meant to exclude everyone from teenagers to minorities. To these carbon copied mcmansions that spring up from the ground, burying the trees and the animals and all that comes from nature. These towns where the most exciting place is the local deli where the line of people stretches out the door for the early bird special.
However, after years of visiting the geriatric paradise that is South Florida, I am forced to admit that I actually kind of love it here. Who would have thought that the simple joys of the 78 degree weather and the sight of a palm tree would bring such bliss to my life? Maybe I really have a 72-year-old soul trapped in a 22-year-old body. The stress of the urban, freezing, northeast life has been cured with afternoon naps by the pool and a casual tennis game with a local. My insomnia has transformed into a distant memory as I now sleep over ten hours a day.
I think about the rat race of everyone else in their 20s, the constant anxiety revolved around the unsolvable question: “What the fuck am I doing?” and I feel that I have discovered the what I should actually do with the rest of my life. How great would it be to skip all of the bullshit in the middle and just go straight to the golden age of retirement? I could easily spend everyday burning in the sun, reading under a palm tree, getting my skin pruney in the hot tub (need to match the locals, right?) Do I really need the constant stress of finding a job, paying back loans, and figuring my shit out?
Of course, the residents of the retirement community look at me with disgust when I explain my brilliant plan. What kind of hoodlum am I to think I could be rewarded with something they spend their whole lives working for? Don’t I know that they struggled through wars, economic depressions, and the death of John F. Kennedy, jr just to make it to their golden years? I my blush at my naive idea of finding happiness at such an early age, mumble something incoherent, and walk shamefully to the pool. I sit on the edge and swish my legs back and forth through the clear, turquoise water. I’m in purgatory.
Most people are extremely negative nowadays. Is it really that bad that the unemployment rate is more than uncomfortably high for recent graduates? Or that we can be expecting to pay our college loans until to we begin our then-most-likely-nonexistent medicare stage of life? Or that our only inkling of an actual paying job could possibly begin with an internship that leads to another internship that leads to another, which all inevitably end with a slap on the back and your boss’s affirmation: “Good luck, kid.”
No need to worry! When life seems impossible and you are living off your measly day job which pays just slightly above minimum wage (thank God for that 15 cent raise!), you don’t need to start contemplating taking on another $100 grand loan for grad school, or finding a night time job as a security guard. All you need to do is pack up your debt, your useless English degree, and your last semblance of dignity, and find a new country that surely won’t reject you as fervently as this one does! After all, the old adage can’t be more applicable than now: when you have nothing, you have nothing left to lose!