Monday, July 28, 2008

The Petty Annoyances Guide for Selecting a Second Language to Learn

Like many Americans, you've long thought about learning a second language. Perhaps you're a college student and want to take a language course as an elective. Maybe you're an adult with some time on your hands and a desire to broaden your horizons. Maybe you're just tired of being monolingual while those around you speak other languages. Or you may be like me. In which case you think there is really only one good reason to learn a second language, and that's to lay 90% of the groundwork for getting laid in that country.

I refuse to believe that I am the only person who has ever considered sex as a primary motivating factor to learn a foreign language. Quite the contrary, I think that it crosses everyone's mind as they scan the list of languages, deciding which one to attempt. Sure you might consider the number of countries where Language A is spoken versus Language B - but don't try to tell me you aren't also considering the possibility of mind blowing coitus with an endless supply of young women who are all stunned that an American is actually fluent in their native language.

Because no one besides myself will publicly admit that this plays a role in second language selection, it falls to me to actually analyze the languages out there, and determine where it is that the least amount of effort expended will yield the highest return of eager young women bouncing on your face.

Here are some of the factors we will be considering:
  • Difficulty of the Language
  • Hotness of the Women
  • Local perception of Americans
  • How sexually open the culture is
  • The relative rarity of an American / White man speaking this language

Because the overall analysis here is so complicated, maybe we should start with the last one first:

Rule #1: No one will be impressed if you show up in Paris speaking French.

Discussion: In France, you are expected to speak French. The French assume that their language is global and cosmopolitan and that if you visit Paris you must have already taken the time to learn a few words. There are a few other reasons why French isn't a great choice, but here's the question to ask yourself: Who is going to be impressed when I show up speaking language "x"? French obviously fails this test. Spanish does too. No one will be impressed anywhere by an American speaking Spanish.

Basically, if you are white, and the native speakers of this language are also white, you are at an immediate disadvantage in the quest to have a woman laugh with delight at your courageous attempts to speak her language at the conversational level. Like say, Italian. Now, if you're an African American, then by all means, go with Italian. But for us white dudes, Western Europe and even South America isn't the most fertile ground to impress anyone.

Now if you showed up in Addis Ababa and start speaking fluent Amharic, cars will screech to a halt and jaws will drop. You might be the first Amharic-speaking white American they've ever seen. Does this mean that Amharic and Ethiopian babes are the way to go? Not remotely. This leads us to:

Rule #2: If the female population isn't already sexually liberated and open, then you're wasting your time.

Discussion: Ask yourself - are they religious? Do they have intensely strong family structures and family bonds? Is this the sort of country where in order to take the girl out for a soda you need permission from the parents, the grandparents, and all uncles older than 16? We're talking about the Middle East here. Many African countries. Some Asian countries. Places that have no casual sex culture. You may impress the hell out of everyone with your mastery of their obscure tongue, but be prepared to live with a dry dick.

Rule #3: On the other hand, there's no point in learning the language if they're going to fuck you anyway.

Discussion: Thailand. Russia. The Balkans. You're an American and you show up with cash? They're going to be breaking down your door to fuck you! No need to learn a single word. Let them struggle with their English. Let's eliminate these countries and languages. We really only want to focus on countries where the knowledge of the language is going to make a huge difference, and in a society with loose morals to begin with.

Rule #4: You're looking for the widest gap between female hotness and male unattractiveness.

Discussion: We're looking for countries where the women are smoking hot, obviously. But less obviously, it's a big plus when the local men are ugly, uninteresting and charmless. It'll make you stand out as an exotic prize. Here I want to be sensitive and not hurt anyone's feelings, so I won't name any of these countries except for South Korea.

Rule #5: Some languages are far easier to learn than others. Don't break your back here.

Korean turns out to be one of the most difficult languages for English speakers to learn. Which is a pity, since it scores great on our checklist in most other respects. Here's a website that gauges the relative difficulty of foreign languages for English speakers. All things being equal, why choose a more difficult langauge?


So which countries and languages are we talking about then? Here are my thoughts.

#1 Greek

Hottest of all Bond girls - the Greek one from For Your Eyes Only

I keep coming back to Modern Greek as being the best choice. Greek women: beautiful, passionate, sensual. They're looking for an excuse to sleep with you. Give them one. And name me one non-Greek American dude who speaks Greek. There aren't any! You'd be the first! Greece is great to spend time in anyway - food, climate, culture - it's a fantastic country.

#2 Something Nordic

I think Norwegian, Swedish or Finnish aren't bad choices. Again, these aren't languages anyone bothers to learn who doesn't a) have some family tie to the country or b) have a really compelling reason to be there. Nobody picks up Finnish for fun. And the women? Gorgeous. The kind of women you'd take on a spaceship to colonize a new planet. Now, according to that difficulty website, Finnish isn't easy. Maybe Swedish is the way to go.

#3 Japanese

Ya ta!

Then you've got Japanese. It's one hell of a hard language. But the rewards are potentially staggering. I've never been to Japan, but if all that violent, wild-ass-crazy tentacle-porn-cartoon stuff is even remotely grounded in truth, then I can't even fathom how awesome it would be. And you can't beat Japanese women for strange, exotic hotness. Those schoolgirls outfits. Those tomboy haircuts. That small, supple physique that's so intoxicating that you can't help but think NAMBLA may be onto something. These girls already love you because you're American. Now you can really blow their minds.

So have I missed anything? By all means add some suggestions.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Carnevino is in Trouble

Mario Batali Update

Loyal readers know that I intensely dislike Mario Batali the chef. His sin was that he composed the most asinine, incoherent, treacly piece of pious bullshit I've ever seen on a Starbucks cup. I mean, all of those Starbucks cup quotes were bad, but the Mario Batali one towered over the rest for its 100% pure-cut Colombian stupidity.

Then I actually bumped into him at the Palazzo in Las Vegas outside his new restaurant Carnevino. Not initially realizing who he was, I missed the opportunity to grab his ridiculous hat and run away.

I had meant to eventually eat at Carnevino but I never got around to it. I had actually wanted to sample the food of a man who, according to his Starbucks cup, was no more than two generations removed from a guy who shook hands with another guy who picked the peas of the first guy. But the word now is that the restaurants at Palazzo are tanking. Apparently you can walk in and be seated immediately at any of them, any time of day, any day of the week. Just yesterday I read a scathing review of Carnevino and I'm glad I stayed away. Oh, this is awful. I almost feel bad for Mario. Almost. Check it out (courtesy of Eating Las Vegas):

And speaking of not-so-nice prices, be prepared for some serious sticker shock and some seriously over salted food, should you or your dining companions mindlessly insist on enduring a meal at Carnevino. This Mario Batali meat emporium has all the charm of a bus station, and is so massively overpriced that you’ll feel like one of Adam Perry Lang’s overstuffed cattle being led to slaughter when you get the bill. For example: I just returned from New York where a prime, well-aged steak for two, at Wolfgang’s Steakhouse on Park Avenue South that gives Peter Luger’s a run for its money, cost $82.50….at Carnevino it’s $150.

What's the air and soil telling you now, fat boy?

The Dark Knight: A Fictional Story

Did anyone see the Dark Knight? Yeah? So did I. Skip this section if you don't want spoilers. The always dependable Moriarty wrote one of the best Dark Knight reviews on Moriarty doesn't bat 1000 - he enjoyed The Love Guru for instance, but he's a capable reviewer and I agree with his take on Batman.

But hold the freakin' phone. In the review, he discusses the scene on the ferries where each group of passengers is given the option of blowing up the other group to save their own lives. He mentions the part where Tiny Lister (big, imposing black guy, here playing a convict) takes the detonator and throws it out the window. Moriarty writes:

When he steps forward and demands the detonator, I did exactly what Nolan wanted me to do: I judged Lister on his appearance. I looked at him, and I knew full well what he was going to do with the detonator. Nolan really milks the suspense, too, as Lister talks about the difference between someone strong enough to make the awful moral choice and someone who is too weak to do it. He takes the responsibility and the detonator out of the hands of the warden... and then throws the detonator out the window and returns to his friends so they can pray. It’s not a moment I would have ever expected to see in a summer blockbuster, but more than that, it’s a moment that made me realize that no matter how enlightened I like to think I am, I harbor prejudices like anyone else. I leapt to a conclusion I had no business making, and the reversal made me feel terribly guilty.

Um, Moriarty... a couple of white, non-convict screenwriters wrote that scene. Tiny Lister, an actor, was hired to play a fictional man who does a fictional thing with a fictional detonator, with hundreds of fictional lives at stake. In other words Moriarty, IT DIDN'T ACTUALLY HAPPEN. Therefore, it does not present some kind of striking counter-example to challenge your conventional prejudice. Tiny Lister's behavior in the scene does not reflect the behavior of an actual person, and thus does not create a basis for your self-doubt and introspection.

[Necessary disclaimer: there are of course REAL reasons to not be prejudiced against big imposing black guys like Tiny Lister. His Christopher-Nolan-scripted behavior in The Dark Knight is merely not one of them]

American TV and film are relentless in the way they purposefully defy racial stereotypes. If some group has a stereotype of being lazy, Hollywood will portray them as industrious. Poor? Hollywood makes them wealthy. Criminals? Virtuous. Not so smart? Geniuses. Greedy? Generous. etc. etc. But what I don't usually see if someone pulling a "Moriarty": citing these fictional portrayals as actual evidence that the stereotype is unfounded. Now that takes stupidity.

Monday, July 14, 2008

My Pistachio Story

Here's the story. I really really like pistachios. They're definitely in my nut top 5. They share elite space with cashews and pecans, and they easily beat other high-profile premium nuts like walnuts and macadamias.

The only problem with pistachios, as we all know, is that they are a bitch to get out of the shell. Only about half the nuts in the bag will open easy. Another 40% will be a real hassle, and the final 10% impossible. We've all been there. And yet prying open a stubborn shell and claiming its salty reward has a certain satisfaction that is undeniable. When I eat pistachios, the dilemma is usually: eat this single nut now? Or open three more shells so I can pop four of them into my mouth at once, peanut style? It is a subtle but serious test of my will power, because the desire to eat the nut in hand is always so strong, but the pleasure of having a mouthful of pistachios is that much better.

And that's the thing. I've never experienced the bliss of stuffing my face with mouthful after mouthful of de-shelled pistachios. I've crammed many a mouthful of cashews into my maw, believe me. I've grabbed and eaten peanuts by the bowlful. But pistachios? No, I've never known the experience of grabbing a handful and stuffing my face - due to the labor factor.

And so for years, I have dreamed of doing just that - stuffing my face with de-shelled pistachios. Maybe you, reader, have different dreams. This one was mine. And every time I would visit a supermarket, I would casually scan the produce and nut section, looking for the elusive holy grail - a bag of de-shelled pistachios. But in years of looking, I never found it.

Until last weekend, where at a trip to Trader Joes I spied what I had searched for, at long last: a bag of raw pistachio nutmeats.

Now, a word on Trader Joes and hippie supermarkets in general. I'm of mixed mind here. I like the product that they sell. But I have two issues. Why do Trader Joes shoppers have to be so insufferable? And secondly - why the exclusivity? Consider: I like Chef Boyardee mini raviolis. I like fruit loops. And, I also like local artisan cheeses and Orangina. Why can't I have both at the same place? Which is to say, why is it not enough that Trader Joes carries a great stock of organic, local, environmentally safe hippie food - why do they also have to exclude doritos? Whole Foods has the same problem. I like Whole Foods, I really do. But I also like Diet Coke. Why can't I have a one stop shop? But anyways....

Back to the holy grail of nutmeat. I had my de-shelled pistachios, finally. Courtesy of Trader Joe. You really have to imagine the excitement as I got home and poured a generous helping of the de-shelled kernels into a broad and deep nut bowl. I switched on the TV, grabbed a soda, and prepared to do what I had never done before: stuff my face with huge handfuls of pistachios, with no labor involved at all.

And now here is where we get to the point of the story. For believe me, I did indeed stuff my face. Over and over. I was barely graduating the previous mouthful of nuts before I was introducing the next freshman class. As Fat Bastard said in Austin Powers: "Get in ma belly!"

And then it hit me: this doesn't taste that great. I mean, it was all right. They weren't bad. But the explosion of flavor from a single nut fresh from the shell didn't seem to translate well to the face-stuffing experience. It was a bit like drinking a cold can of cream soda. The taste is exquisite on the first sip, but then rapidly loses flavor on each subsequent sip, until the bottom of the can just tastes like carbonated sugar water. (Maybe I'm the only one who experiences cream soda that way). But it was the same with pistachios. Now that I finally had my unlimited supply and could scarf them down to my heart's content, I discovered that the flavor doesn't hold up at all. In the end, eating these things became a crunchy chore.

Apparently, some foods are enjoyed best in small, dainty quantities. The pistachio shell, which to me had always been an annoying speed bump in the pistachio experience, turns out in hindsight to have been crucial to the enjoyment. I would have never guessed that. From now on, I'll enjoy my pistachios the old fashioned way: one at a time.

(But I'll still stuff my face with the spicy jalapeno-lime cashews. I can fucking drink those things.)