Guest post: Anna David
For Falling For Me, I had committed to spending at least a year following everything Helen Gurley Brown recommended in 1962’s Sex and the Single Girl. And I’d decided to end that year by traveling by myself for a month to a place where I didn’t speak the language because it seemed the ideal way to put into practice all that I’d gleaned. But there was also quite a bit that I could only learn once I really tried to fend for myself in Seville, Spain—all of which could serve any foreign traveler. Such as:
It’s important to befriend people who want to practice their English. This was key, as it transformed me from that ignorant American who couldn’t say much beyond “Hello” and “Thank you” in the native tongue to a wise and utterly patient ambassador of the English language. On my second day in Spain, a new friend explained that her greatest desire was to become fluent in English and asked if I would mind allowing her to practice with me. This not only meant that all the conversations at all the events she invited me to took place in English but also that I got to feel like I always knew the answers to difficult questions; basically, whenever anyone started a sentence with, “And what is the word for,” no matter what followed allowed me an opportunity to feel like a genius.
Setting myself one—and only one—new task every day was key. I don’t know about you but at home, my To Do lists typically contain a good 30 or so tasks, the majority of which a team of 10 couldn’t complete in a week. Because I was on vacation, I knew I needed to cut down on that number significantly (because I’m, well, me I knew that excising a To Do list altogether simply wasn’t in the cards). So I decided that every day I was there, I was going to accomplish something—whether it was to locate the local gym (and then exercise there), find the poster store all the websites devoted to the city raved about, or get a cook book and make the local delicacy. I can’t believe how fulfilling it was, for once in my life, to pick just one thing I wanted to accomplish in a given day and do it to the best of my ability.
I could brush up on my vocabulary—and feel better about myself—at the gym! There are, I discovered, serious advantages to working out in a gym in a foreign country—the first one being that it gives you an unexpected language lesson. Because I assumed—correctly—that exercise was enough of a universal language that I could pick up everything I needed to know for my work out simply by watching and mimicking the movements of my teacher and fellow students, I went to aerobics, spinning, stretching and yoga classes that were all conducted in Spanish. What I hadn’t accounted for was what a great Spanish class it was going to be; whether I was doing tres leg lifts or cinco squats, it gave me a chance to work out the brain and body at the same time. And more delights awaited me on the gym’s treadmill: because it tracked kilometers instead of miles, I could put the machine on a much higher number than I ever could at home and pretend that I’d somehow transformed into Lance Armstrong overnight.
Books I didn’t want to carry home made great gifts. I’m as guilty of wanting to pack light as the next person but I discovered when I was in Spain that because I’d brought books both on my Kindle and the old-fashioned way—as in those antiquated things called books—the actual books made excellent gifts for my new local friends when I was finished reading them. Since they were eager to practice English (see above) and books in English were more expensive there, something I didn’t want to lug home anyway made a personal and intimate gift. On a related note, while there, I loved reading books that focused on where I was—not whatever outdated Lonely Planet guide I could find but novels that gave the essence of the place (for me, it was Hemingway, an experience I topped off by getting a tour of the local bullfighting ring).
Reaching out to those friends of friends paid dividends. Okay, this one is obvious but I still wanted to give a little ink to it because it amazed me how helpful and lovely friends of friends turned out to be. I ended up getting invited along on a beach holiday in Spain, to stay in a private riad in Marrakech and being the guest of honor at a barbecue simply because I made the effort to reach out to people who were strangers to me but not to those I knew. It’s a radical generalization but outside of the United States, people often seem to be proud and eager to show a visitor their home city. Why not take advantage of it?
About Falling For Me:
Like most women, whether they’ve chosen the Fortune 500 career path or have had five kids by 35, Anna David wondered if she’d made the right choices. Then she came upon the book Sex and the Single Girl by Helen Gurley Brown, Cosmopolitan’s fearless leader from the mid-sixties to the late nineties. Immediately connecting with Gurley Brown’s unique message of self-empowerment combined with femininity, Anna vowed to use Sex as a lesson plan, venturing out of her comfort zone in the hope of overcoming the fears and insecurities that had haunted her for years. Embarking on a journey both intensely personal and undeniably universal, she becomes adventurous and spontaneous—reviving her wardrobe and apartment, taking French lessons, dashing off to Seville, and whiling nights away with men she never would have considered before. In the process, she ends up meeting the person really worth changing for: herself.
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