Le cul entre les deux chaises

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

La maison is where the…

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“Home” is a concept I really like. You can ask people over to your house for dinner, but if you do the same and say “home,” it’s a totally different proposition. You put yourself on the line a little bit when you offer to share your home and just by saying it, you’re granting access to something private, personal, intimate. Lots of things happen at home — homework, homecomings, home runs — but my favorites are the things that are homemade.

“Made from scratch” is all good and well, but “homemade” says that there’s love in there, that someone went through the trouble to make something just for you. The Spanish don’t have a word like home. Sure, they say casa, but that’s just a house. There’s no way to express the same feelings of nostalgia, longing, happiness and comfort that are tangled up in “home.” In French, they use chez, which is okay if you’re talking about chez moi or chez toi — object pronouns add a little more welcoming and cozy tone — but you also go chez le médecin and chez le boulanger which begins to sound a bit sordid.

In many Spanish restaurants, it’s common to serve pre-packaged desserts. This usually means the desserts are no good, so it’s important to learn early on if a chocolate cake was homemade or frozen. The way to determine this is to ask if something is casero [adjective of home, though not like homey-cozy or homey-from-my-hood] or if something is de la casa. This second phrase [of the house] struck me as really odd until I stepped back and considered menu items in English like “house salad,” “house wine” and “specialty of the house.”

In France, this seems to be less of an issue. It’s safe to assume that the ice cream originated somewhere other than the kitchen, but I have yet to see a place where they serve the little cups with crappy wooden spoons that are ubiquitous in Spain. One night while dining with a friend, I asked the waitress if the desserts were fait à la maison [made by the house]. My companion gave me a quizzical look that I’ve gotten used to over the years. Turns out that questioning a dessert’s provenance isn’t so common here. That’s ’cause the French know how to make dessert, unlike the Spanish, but that’s a topic for another day.


Author: le cul en rows

I'm an American Spaniard, living in France. I like to tell stories.

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