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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My junior high foreign language teacher hated me.

In the seventh grade, my school had “wheel class” which was a period that would rotate each quarter. The class you were sorted into at the beginning of the year determined the order of the subsequent three. The luck of the draw dropped me in Ms. Z’s Spanish class.

The very first day, I made it clear that I did not belong there. The second day, I started correcting her pronunciation which was terrible since she’d never actually been out of the state. The third day, the principal informed me that I would have a quiet study time in the library during that period for the rest of the quarter, which was fine by me.

The following year, we could choose to have one of the wheel classes for the whole year. The options were foreign language, speech, chorus or home ec/wood shop. I opted for language and the same Ms. Z smirked at me the first day and said that she’d made sure I was in French this year. “Great!” I said, “I just spent a month in France.” Her face fell.

Sometime during that first week, we had to choose the names we’d use in class when speaking to her and to each other, our “French names.” In our text-book there were two facing pages with little speech bubbles that read “Je m’appelle” followed by a typical French name like Jean or Marie. One page was for boys, the other for girls. My BFF chose Sylvie and I chose Georges.

When we had to introduce ourselves in class and I said “je m’appelle Georges,” Ms. Z said that Georges was a boy’s name and I had to choose a girl’s name. Instead of speaking up for feminist causes or equality or some other such stuff that I really don’t care about, I looked right at her and said, “Well, George Sand is a woman, so I can be Georges.”

Let me interrupt this blog post with a side note about how I was a pretty precocious kid. Obviously, this was my family’s fault. They never spoke to me like I was a child, so I didn’t act like one. I listened to everything said around me and read as many books as I could get my hands on and, at some point, I’d heard about George Sand who was a woman and a writer. I’d never read any of her stuff (still haven’t), but at 12 years old, I knew that there was precedent.

And so, I became Georges. All through high school French, I was Georges. My first non-school email addresses were variations on Georges. If I’d made a dinner reservation, even friends post-college knew that it would be under Georges. When I moved to Barcelona, I became Jordi (the Catalan version of same) and when I’d go to restaurants, the hosts would smile at me and say “you’re Jordi?” and I’d say “Sí, je sóc la Jordi” and they’d laugh since I’d used the correct female form of introduction despite having a boy’s name. In all these cases, it was just a lot easier to give a name that everyone could spell and that was easy to understand over the phone.

Recently, I stopped by a place to get a pizza. “First name,” the woman behind the counter asked without looking at me. “Georges.” She glanced up, “Georges?” When I confirmed that she’d heard correctly she said, “I’ve never heard that before. Ok, Georges, what would you like?” So, girl at the pizza place, you made my day.

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La salle de… place you get clean

Showers and tubs in France have a weird feature: they’re really high. I’m assuming this is a building code of some sort since I’ve encountered this in all the bathrooms I’ve used, both in private homes and in hotels.

To clarify, instead of just being able to step out normally, one has to kind of step down. This is made slightly more complicated by the fact that I don’t use bath mats (don’t believe in ’em), so I dry one foot while in the shower and then put on a slipper, dry the other foot and step out. This is impossible to do when the act of getting out of the shower involves throwing one leg over the side, mounting a horse-style, and hoping the right slipper is there. Additionally, this is kind of a dangerous proposition since one of the places I really don’t want to lose my footing is in the shower as it’s a great place to slip and break your neck.

My solution:

This thing is actually perfect since the bottom step is exactly the same height as the bottom of the tub. I step out onto that rung, dry my feet and step down into my slippers. Win-win.


I’d always thought that the room where you go to get clean was called la salle de bain, but after becoming proficient in French apartment-listing-speak, I now know that a salle de bain has an actual tub and a salle d’eau just has a shower.

Eau is the French for water and it’s pronounced like the letter “O.” I will never get over the fact that a word composed entirely of vowels sounds like one of the two letters not in it. French is nuts.

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Savage Love

Why is this man laughing?

I got a package from my brother recently, and while I’m very pleased that I was able to parcel out the foodstuffs over a few days, there was no getting between me and the June/July 2012 issue of Esquire Magazine that was in there. He’d included it partly because Bruce Willis is on the cover and I love Bruce Willis beyond reason, but also because it’s Esquire and Esquire is my boyfriend.

If I could create the perfect guy, Weird Science-style, I’d throw in the last couple decades of my favorite Hearst publication (US edition), sans the “What I’ve Learned” issues, and wait for the result. Every issue makes me laugh and teaches me things and introduces me to lots of things that I will love.

This issue includes the Summer Preview and has this for July 6

Pot growers Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson attempt to rescue their shared girlfriend from a Mexican cartel in Savages. Read Don Winslow‘s book before seeing the movie. Or just read Don Winslow’s book.

I’d already seen the trailer which does indeed look incredible, but they twice told me to read the book, so I did just that. I read Savages as soon as I’d finished the issue. It’s that simple. They print it, I do it. No questions asked.

It should come as no surprise that the book is fantastic and Winslow is a guy whose back catalog I will consume in its entirety before month’s end.

The novel starts by one-upping William Faulker, whose As I Lay Dying included the infamous chapter whose entirety read, “My mother is a fish.” Winslow’s first chapter is simply, “Fuck you” which I can totally get behind. On the following page, the narrator begins a book-long run of fun with language by telling us that one character calls her mother Paqu, an acronym for Passive Aggressive Queen of the Universe. There are many funny plays on words throughout the story, some of them in Spanish.

I should note that the plot was pretty well summarized by Esquire in less than twenty words, but in an incredible coincidence, that same week’s NYTimes Magazine cover story was about one of the drug cartels in the book! This is what I’m talking about with me and Esky — I laughed and I learned. This is all I want from the people (and publications) in my life.