Le cul entre les deux chaises

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

Leave a comment

The French aren’t rude

Despite the fact that a google search turned up 20 million hits (that sound you heard was my mind blowing), this is just not true. I’ve always fought against this stereotype since I have never experienced across-the-board incivility when in France. (That would have been in Italy where everyone is an asshole.) As “evidence” of the Gallic cold shoulder, foreigners cite how they never smile. Not true: the French only smile at people they already know, and they usually have to have met you a couple times before they consider they “know” you.

To my way of thinking, they just know that they have an awesome country with great food and culture, and they don’t suffer fools, gladly or otherwise.  However, I have also found the French to be exceedingly polite, almost to a fault.  These are people who still exhibit remarkable decorum on a regular basis because that’s just comme il fait.

Two examples: Continue reading

Leave a comment

Only in America

aluminum-foilWeird things I have had to teach Europeans, since no one here seems to know:

  • When using tin/aluminum foil: shiny side in to keep warm (since it reflects the heat waves back onto the food)
  • When cleaning a colander, invert it since whatever’s stuck in the holes is not coming out the other way.
  • When pouring beer or soda, tip the receiving container to avoid creating a (foam) head.
  • Tap the top of a can of carbonated drink to dissipate the pressure therein, thus preventing spraying drink all over everything.
  • Hyperlink: click once; Application: click twice
  • You really don’t have to type in “http://www.” before a URL anymore.

Leave a comment

Another dumb joke

Nelson_Ha-HaA few years ago, my sister came across a cache of letters and postcards I’d sent her when I was a kid and she was in college. In one dated around Halloween, I told her a joke that, when I reread it decades later, made me laugh so hard I was crying. Here’s the joke:

Q: What did the carving knife say to the pumpkin?

A: “In your face!”

I would argue that this is a perfect joke: silly, sweet, easy to remember and, despite its brevity, it still manages to include a good pun. When I woke up the other day, the joke was in my head, probably since the previous post about jokes was still knocking around in there.

The punch line of the joke reminded me of when my friends Brendan and Liz came to visit me in Barcelona and Brendan was especially taken with the expression ¡toma! which is what Spanish kids says when they want to say “take that” or “in your face.” I don’t even know how it came up, but during the time they were around, we found lots of things over which to feel superior in such a manner.

It’s a common enough saying in Spain — also used when playing video games à la “suck it!” — but when I asked Anne what the French equivalent was, she said she’d have to think about it since nothing came to mind easily. Until I hear otherwise, I’m going to believe that the French are too bien élevé to revel in such schadenfreude.

Leave a comment


There are a lot of different theories about language learning in children and theories on how to raise bilingual kids, but my parents weren’t having any of that. As a result of this and my own peculiar synapses, I have what I call Rabies Moments.

In Spanish, if something drives you crazy (annoys you), it da rabia [it gives one rabies]. I knew the idiomatic expression my whole life, but I never actually made the connection of the meaning of the words until after I’d moved to Spain in 2005 and started examining every. single. thing. everyone said. Of course, I knew from reading Cujo as a lass that a dog with rabies is “a mad dog” and knew from Shakespeare and other olde English lit that “mad” was the Old World equivalent of “crazy.” Once I’d realized the totally logical (colloquial) connection between the two phrases, I started finding them everywhere.

So, in the future when I talk about Rabies, I’ll probably be referencing this phenomenon. Rest assured that I was frothing mad when I made the link I’ll mention since some of this shit’s so obvious, it’s painful to even acknowledge how totally dumb I can still be.

1 Comment

Bilingual jokes

Nelson_Ha-HaAs Wikipedia is quick to note, bilingual jokes have a limited audience. I like them because they’re like jokes told by third-graders; silly and kinda dumb.

Here are two French/English ones that came up in a recent dinner conversation I had with three other people who get these kinds of things.

Q: Why do the French only have one egg for breakfast?

A: Because one is an ouef. [“An oeuf” is pronounced like “enough.”]

Q: What sound do ducks make in English?

A: Corner, corner. [In French, ducks say “coin, coin.” “Coin” is also the word for corner.]

A quick look online turned up another one I found très drôle:

Un anglais et un français se couchent dans la même chambre. Le français veut s’endormir, mais l’anglais parle sans cesse. Enfin, le français dit “Chut! Je dors.” L’anglais se lève et ferme la porte.

[An Englishman and a Frenchman go to sleep in the same room. The Frenchman wants to sleep but the Englishman won’t stop talking. Finally, the Frenchman says, “Shh! I’m sleeping.” The Englishman gets up and shuts the door.]

Of course none of these compare to the awesome joke Matt and I made up one night after too many beers:

*What did the duck say to the prostitute?

Pongalo en mi cuenta.

[This one continues to be hilarious to us both since it makes NO SENSE in Spanish but is instead a direct translation of the original punch line as told to him by his elementary-school aged brother who hopefully had no idea what it was about.]