April 13, 2024

Last Tuesday I attended my first “Intercambio de Idiomas” – “Language Exchange” – at O’Neill’s, an Irish bar on Calle Principe, 12 (metro SOL). Read some discussion on the topic and find links to YouTube videos in THIS THREAD on our ALL SPAIN Message Board.

The Intercambio is held every Tuesday night starting at 10pm. I went with an English buddy. We first met at “Kilometro 0” in Puerta del Sol and then went to a nearby “Las Bravas” bar for some patatas bravas and a couple glasses of white wine to warm-up the wonderfully cool evening.

We arrived at O’Neill’s Bar at about 9:45pm and were lucky to get an available 4-person table just in front of the bar. O’Neill’s Bar is HUGE, deep, and seemingly very authentic in Irish-Bar-Style with lots of wood, decoration, and few people at 9:45pm.

By 10pm the bar was filling and people were greeting one another, presumably people who habitually attend the Tuesday night get-togethers. To be clear, I don’t believe this is a part of the “MEET UP” network which exists across the globe but rather something independently managed by one person here in Madrid. This one person is named David Poza and he organizes the gatherings all by himself. Wow. What a hobby! No fee is required. Just show up and talk! Irish beer goes for nearly 5 Euros per glass – a little pricey but certainly tasty.

The general idea of the gathering is to practice the language which is not your own – assuming you’re interested in learning! Probably the most common “exchange” is the Spaniard wanting to practice his/her English with an English, American, or Australian who wishes to practice he/her Spanish.

Our table was varied. We had one person from the United States (me!), one from Russia, one from England, one from Germany, and one from China. I spent most of my time speaking with the cute, young Chinese woman at our table. We were BOTH practicing our Spanish as it was the common language between us. She spoke some English too.

Who attends these Intercambios de Idiomas? From looking around, it was my assessment that some people may not be working for a living. Who else can go out at 10pm and stay until midnight if they have a job to go to on Wednesday morning? Others might be students. Others might trade sleep for enjoyment with the opportunity to meet new people in a setting created for just this. Here you can feel more comfortable walking up to strangers and starting a conversation – assuming you speak their language. In a regular bar, upon saying hello to a stranger, you’re more likely to get a “look and turn away” and so you find yourself chatting with their back. At the intercambio, everyone’s there to talk and to meet so it’s much easier.

By about 11:00pm the place was absolutely full and people were socializing like crazy. I couldn’t tell if there was much language exchange going on among them or if they simply joined up with like-language groups but they were certainly enjoying themselves and that’s what counts.

I left at about 11:15pm because I was getting really hot and hoped to make my 11:30pm bus, the last bus home. So I said my goodbyes, shook hands to the guys and gave two-cheek kisses to the girls and stepped out of the bar into the crisp, cool autumn air. Mmmm… I walked 15 minutes to OPERA in my shirt sleeves, coat draped over my shoulder bag, and enjoyed the nighttime walk – albeit a brisk walk – through Madrid’s Old Downtown. I couldn’t help but notice that everyone else was totally bundled up as if it was winter!

Great idea, David! I look forward to attending my next Intercambio!

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