Le cul entre les deux chaises

An American Spaniard in France or: How I Learned to Make an Ass of Myself in Three Cultures


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The end of posts as you know it

stand byIf you are seeing this page, this blog has run out of scheduled posts. Most likely, some kind of technical problem like my ISP’s apparent hatred of me is to blame and I’ll resume posting as usual as soon as I can get the damn router lights to all be green and stop their infernal blinking or not blinking, as the case may be.

In the meantime, click here for a random post and maybe read something you’ve not come across before. Alternately, just type a weird word into the search bar and something will probably come up since I like odd things. If you’re crazy lazy (no judgment, I’m wicked slothful), check out a Housekeeping post. They’re generally short, have lots of fun links and give you a good idea of other Internet time-suck-holes you can go down.

March 2014 – I have no idea what could be causing problems this month, but I am going to bet it’s the slow-as-molasses Internet connection I currently have. It frequently decides that it’s just plain tuckered out and will  stop working while I’m in the middle of Important Things, like Skyping with someone or waiting for a movie trailer to load. It’s very inconsiderate and I apologize on its behalf. Come back in a couple days or sign up for email notifications.


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Word Mystery: construction / obras / travaux

zona de obrasEvery Wednesday, I explore the linguistic origins of the same word in different languages.

The first time my best friend came to Europe, it was with me on a mini-tour through Spain, France and Italy. We met up with my mom in Madrid and tried going to lots of places that interested him but were frequently met with signs that read OBRAS.

“Obras, obras. What the hell’re obras and why are there so many of them?” he asked, extremely annoyed that so few establishments wanted to take our money to let us look at stuff.

At the time, I tried to explain to him that things in Europe work or they don’t, are open or aren’t, and that losing money is seldom a consideration. Now, after nine years of Continental living, I can say that it’s more surprising for things to be open and not under construction since Europe is both old and falling apart.

And now that the weather’s turned not-horrible, the obras are back in town big time. Recently, the part of the Line 1 metro that’s in the center of the city has been closed, leading to me being trapped underground for ages. Being stuck under layers of earth with a bunch of idiots who don’t know where they’re going is one of the few things that still makes me Hulk-out, rage-wise, but I just thought of my friend and how he ended up spending much of our holiday mumbling “Obras, obras, obras,” under his breath and how that made me laugh.

EN → construction – the building of something, typically a large structure. ORIGIN late Middle English: via Old French from Latin construere [heap together].

ES → obras – Edificio en construcción. [A building in/under construction.] ORIGIN Latin operāri [to work].

FR  travaux – Ensemble des opérations de construction, d’aménagement ou de remise en état d’édifices, de voies, de terrains, etc. [All construction operations, development or remodeling of buildings, roads, lands, etc.] ORIGIN Common Latin trepaliare [to torture] from Low Latin trepalium [instrument of torture].

Three scoops of Latin today! I have to admit that so much Latin is starting to make me want to study where those words came from, but this impulse could go one of two ways: I don’t understand anything or I become totally obsessed. Neither of these is appealing.

English note: BO-RING.

Spanish note: Poco interesante.

French note: BIG WINNER! In French, “work” actually comes from “torture”. I love this country so much, it hurts sometimes.


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Work to live, live to work

I kind of felt like this the whole time I worked for this guy. (A favorite comic from explodingdog.)

I kind of felt like this the whole time I worked for this guy. (A favorite comic from explodingdog.)

Once upon a time, I walked into my boss’s office and asked for his permission for my summer vacation. It was six months before I planned on going on holiday.

“Depends. Where’re you going?” he asked me.

“Does it matter?” I asked.

“Well, I can’t have you going far away. If I need you, I’ll have to pay for your return flight from our budget, so I’ll only okay it if you’re staying close.”

I was momentarily speechless. In the privacy of his office he had said aloud what both of us knew: I did a lot of his job for him and he depended on me to make things run smoothly. This was a tiny victory for me and about as much recognition as I was going to get since he sure as shit wasn’t going to use that budget to pay me more.

I recovered pretty quickly from my momentary elation to address the next issue, namely that he had no right to deny me and I knew it, even if he didn’t.

“I haven’t planned it yet,” I lied. “Besides, according to the employee handbook, it’s against company policy to deny a vacation request if it’s made within a reasonable time period to find a replacement. Half a year should be long enough to line someone up, I think.” I let that sit there. Watched as he slowly started to realize that I had that handbook almost memorized.

“Well, try to stay close anyway,” he mumbled as he signed the form.

My best friend and I went to Europe for just over two weeks and I didn’t even leave him hotel contact information, despite his repeated “casual” and “humorous” mentions that I do so.

***

This story prompted for your reading pleasure by the news that some French labor unions are moving to prevent some workers from being required to answer email after work hours.

There was a ton of misinformation online about this, apparently started by those French-hating bastards over at The Guardian* but cooler heads prevailed at places like the NYT. FastCompany went crazy with the specious headline but NPR actually did some of their own reporting, coming up with a better researched post.

* The bastards I’m referring to are les rosbifs, generally speaking. I actually like The Guardian and read a lot of their entertainment coverage which is quite good.

The funny (sad?) thing is that many of the English-language stories cited the same data point about how American productivity levels are 400% higher than those in France. Even if this is true, so what? No mention is made of how low American health, happiness or well-being levels are, nor how high the stress, obesity and heart disease rates are. Joe Walsh sang it best: There are two sides to every story.


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EXT. CORNER RUE DE LA PÉPINIÈRE AND BOULEVARD MALESHERBES, PARIS — DAY

Pretty much right here.

Pretty much right in front of the yellow awning.

GIRL is in an incredibly good mood. MUSIC blasting through her iPod, she’s strutting down the street, happily thinking of eating her Oops! All Berries when she gets home. GIRL sees a MAN and WOMAN ahead of her. THEY are looking anxiously at a tattered map. MAN is spinning the map in his hands, trying to make it match the corner they’re standing on. GIRL sees these people for what they are: Spaniards lost in Paris. GIRL decides not to be Spanish to these people. Instead, she will be American and offer her services.

GIRL 

Je peux vous aider?

MAN

¡No!

WOMAN elbows MAN in the ribs. THEY are lost and SHE knows it. MAN exhales loudly through his nose, unconsciously mimicking a bull.

MAN

Si — ah — ¿Sant Lazare?

HE pronounces it in Spanish, “San Lathar.” GIRL was totally right about THEM. HER day just got a little more awesome because GIRL loves being unequivocally right.

GIRL (in Spanish)

Yes, it’s straight down this street on the left. Do you see that big pink banner that says “the gallery is open”? It’s right before that.

MAN and WOMAN smile, relieved, pleased.

MAN

We were so confused! There are so many streets here!

GIRL

Yes, these intersections can be complicated, but to get your bearings, just look for the street signs. They usually have the district number on them and you can orient yourself by looking for the sun. As long as it’s daytime, of course.

WOMAN

But, you! Your Spanish is very good, too good!

MAN (to WOMAN)

Don’t you see that she *is* Spanish? It’s obvious!

(to GIRL)

But you have been away a long time, haven’t you?

GIRL (shocked)

Yes . . .

MAN

I can tell because you speak with a little French accent. Not much, your Spanish is perfect, obviously, but I can tell you haven’t been back in a while. There’s just a touch there, just a little French.

GIRL (staring)

. . . It’s been a few years, yes.

MAN is doubly pleased to be right about this. He smiles broadly, rolling forward on the balls of his feet, making himself a little bit taller, just for an instant. WOMAN beams at how clever he is. WOMAN hooks her arm through MAN‘s as they thank GIRL and begin walking east, toward the train station. (Maybe they are going to Burger King?) GIRL continues on her way, even more pleased than before because she was doubly proven right. Only in France is she both 100% Spanish and 100% American. It all depends on who’s asking.

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