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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Mark Twain is one of my heroes

I had a lesson plan based around Mark Twain‘s Extracts From Adam’s Diary when I was an English teacher. Without fail, every student who read it was completely delighted. They were also shocked to learn that the story was published in 1904 since the prose is so modern, fun and playful.

Twain was witty and clever and for these things alone he would be one of my heroes. But there are many others: he wasn’t just a self-made man, he was a self-invented man (born Samuel Clemens); he was a Midwesterner who went East; he embodied many good American ideals and not many bad ones; he was a great great writer.

If you come across any of his books, do yourself a favor and take one home. You’ll laugh so much and then be happy for so long that you’ll wonder how you ever lived without him. I’d go with a title you don’t recognize (no cultural baggage), especially the short stories. They’re just wonderful. Really.

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Arthur, King of the Britons

Sometimes, I don’t know why I doubt myself. The Monty Python boys have way more education than I ever will and they done tole me and tole me that the citizens of the United Kingdom were British, but I just didn’t trust them. This handy video about the UK vs. Great Britain vs. England explains the whole thing quite well. The part that’s been troubling me my whole life is cleared up by looking at this

They’re all British! Unless they’re (not Northern) Irish.

My confusion stemmed from people preferring to be called Welsh or Scottish, but they’re all Brits. Now all I’ve got to do is stop the violence inherent in the system.


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The French may love to read…

Apparently, the French are big readers which I find a bit surprising. According to some figures, they buy a lot of books, which isn’t the same thing as reading them. (I know I’m a pedant, but without clarity, there can be no accurate communication.) Quoth the Times (without citing a source)

France boasts 2,500 bookstores, and for every neighborhood bookstore that closes, another seems to open. From 2003 to 2011 book sales in France increased by 6.5 percent.

I see people reading in public all the time: in bars and restaurants; on the Métro; on benches; in parks. What I have yet to see is an apartment with a nightstand which is where people generally have books.

My stylish solution

This has mystified me for however long I’ve been in France. (At this point, it’s been more than a while.) I’ve sublet a whole hell of a lot of apartments and not a one has had a place to park a book at night, never mind other important bedside items like a lamp, an alarm and a box of tissues.

And I just don’t get it. Why don’t the French read in bed? I suppose the joke answer is that they’re all too busy having sex, but I’ve never heard any neighbors getting it on, though I do hear their phones ringing, their alarms going off and their dishes being put away.

I’ll quote Jerry Seinfeld here (whose new web series is promising) and say, “What’s. The. Deal. With. That?”

UPDATE: Ha! I’m not alone!


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Google Street View, I love you but you’re freaking me out

Let me be clear: I was minding my own business. I had innocently put the little Google man on the map to see the name of a local establishment. I did not intend to ENTER A STORE ON GOOGLE MAPS.

And yet…

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This is easily one of the creepiest things I’ve seen online. Has anyone else ever been INSIDE a store (and with NO PEOPLE) on Street View?

(And yes, I meant to make you think of this.)


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Bilinguals understand made-up language better

In a shocking announcement, Northwestern University researchers revealed that bilinguals learn other languages faster. Apparently, people who already speak more than one language are better at “inhibiting” which here means the skill of

blocking out outside thoughts and distractions and a better overall ability to focus.

I buy that. There’s something about the bilingual brain that’s bifurcated so that we can alternately compartmentalize or combine things as necessary.

My sister recently asked me what “steering wheel” was in Spanish and I said “manillar” which I immediately knew was wrong but I also knew it was close somehow. A manillar is the handlebar to a bike which is my way of getting around. It actually took me reading “volant” in a French magazine later that afternoon to remember that a steering wheel is un volante.

I don’t know how other bilinguals sort information in their brains, but to me the above anecdote signifies that, somehow, things used to control the direction of modes of transport are related in my head on a more basic level that I understand. This idea seems connected to the work being done at Northwestern’s awesomely named Bilingualism and Psycholinguistics Lab, which I hope will be the secret lair of a generation of bilingual superheroes.