Aseo. /a.’se.o/ n. Language: Spanish. Meaning: Toilet. In Spain, “baño” refers to a full bathroom, complete with shower. It’s best to ask for el aseo at a restaurant, so they don’t think you’re trying to bathe before the first course.
While I was still struggling to become fluent in Spanish during my year abroad in Granada, Spain, I often turned to the restrooms at my university for relief.
By studying bathroom graffiti, I was killing two birds with one stone: avoiding an unintelligible lecture on Spain’s royal lineage; and closely examining grammar in a casual, street-style context. Er, stall-style, more like.
Every culture seems to deface bathroom walls. It’s like the private time spent in there conjures up deep thoughts that demand an audience. (Bathrooms are like blogs, in that way.) Similar to rap music and clothing trends, bathroom graffiti is a direct channel to understanding youth culture in a particular region. From any given defaced stall, you can glean societal pressures, gender roles, and relationship struggles.
And it goes without saying, this bathroom graffiti can help you learn Spanish. While girls rant about their on-again-off-again relationship with Pablo, or why they chose to study business when their heart lies in fine arts, they’re also employing an exemplary use of varied lexicon, slang, and sentence structure.
My History professor probably thought I had an intestinal disorder for the amount of time I spent in there the first semester.
Bathroom Graffiti at the University of Granada
Like the girls who wrote them, no two bathroom messages were the same. Sometimes they were decidedly uplifting and cheerful:
“Vine a España de Erasmus y encontré el amor de mi vida.” (I came to Spain to study abroad and found the love of my life.)
It’s so wonderful that a foreign girl lived out the fantasy and met her European better half. What a joy it is to mull over the details of such a dream come true as I take a leak, sans toilet paper, in the 95 degree heat. Such are the bathrooms at the University of Granada.
Sometimes the bathroom graffiti presents real moral dilemmas, and you may spend more time in the stall than anticipated trying to figure out how to resolve them:
“Quiero a mi novio, pero no paro de pensar en otro….me atrae mucho mucho, que hago???” (I love my boyfriend, but I can’t stop thinking about someone else….I’m so attracted to him, what do I do???).
Luckily for any subsequent readers, someone has already taken the liberty to respond with some proper advice:
“Fóllatelo y ya está y a seguir con el novio.” (Fuck him and that’s that, and continue with your boyfriend).
If only we all have such a clear moral compass.
I even learned new vocabulary from the bathroom stalls, although I’ll admit I would have liked to discover the word for “bleach” in a context that didn’t involve such a vulgar sexual reference. I haven’t been able to do household chores the same way since.
Then there are those times when it’s like a running dialogue between bathroom users, in which a sort of free therapy service emerges and the entire female university community can benefit. One girl posts something gut-wrenchingly profound, such as was the case in Stall #2:
“In order for long distance relationships to work, you need three things: love, trust, and patience.” Thank you, Dr. Phil.
Then another girl responds, acknowledging the previous claim and adding a personal anecdote:
“I agree with you on this. In my case, we lacked two out of the three.”
A third writer joins in, expressing her condolences that the previous girl’s relationship fell apart, and sharing her fear that hers is heading down the same path.
It’s like a Facebook thread, only with Sharpie.
Then finally, once you tire from the effusive advice columns or from squatting for three minutes straight, your eyes drift to a remote lower corner. From the looks of it, someone (surely in the middle of finals month and at the end of her emotional limits) had enough of the toilet talk:
“DEJAD DE DECIR Y ESCRIBIR GILIPOLLECES, TRABAJAD Y ESTUDIAR QUE VUESTROS PADRES SE ROMPEN LA CABEZA TRABAJANDO CONOOOOOO” (STOP SAYING AND WRITING SUCH BULLSHIT, WORK AND STUDY SINCE YOUR PARENTS ARE KILLING THEMSELVES WORKING FUCKKKKKKKKKK!!”
It’s a wake-up call. This doesn’t quite cut it as “studying,” does it. I head back to my real class, where I’m positive my History professor won’t teach us euphemisms for vagina or slang terms for sex.