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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Smoked out

Stupid American Cancer Society. Them and their dumb 37th Great American Smokeout to promote quitting smoking reminded me that I’m not a smoker anymore. Of course, I’m not a quitter, because quitting is for losers, but I did stop smoking. In November. Of 2006. And I’m still pissed about it every time I think about it.

I still love you so much

Of course, I try not to think about it because smoking was such a part of my identity for most of my life. If you’d asked anyone to describe me prior to 2007, I feel pretty certain that every single person would have started, “Well, she smokes a lot.” After that may have come that I wear a lot of purple (it’s my black), I’m short or even that I have brown hair. But smoking would have been the top thing. And then, one day, I wasn’t that person anymore. No more Cigarette Princess (one of my college nicknames). No more smoke buddy, as I was at work to many different people. Hell, I even got my first two jobs because I was a smoker.

And all of this sadness was caused by the inferiority of European tobacco. See, what you don’t know unless you’re a Real Smoker is that when you buy cigarettes in the US, you get gen-you-wine tabakky from Virginia. When you buy it in Europe, it’s probably from Turkey or some other place that’s far, far away from Old Dominion.

do not accept imitators

This inferior tobacco made me sick. I didn’t want for it to be what was making me sick, but when I did a little experiment beginning on November 26th of 2006 to see if not smoking for a bit would mean a change in the frequency of my rate of infections (nose and throat mostly) every month, well… I stopped being sick all together. So, then I was healthy but devastated.

I sometimes think that I can’t feel as much anymore, like life got duller, the color of my emotions was muted ever so slightly. Because I = smoking and not smoking means that I’m not me anymore which begs the question of who I am now and, honestly, I have enough identity issues before removing my defining characteristic.

Still. It’s good that people who are losers and want to quit do so. I was genetically blessed with iron lungs, so it’s unlikely I would have gotten cancer, but not everyone is so lucky. And cancer is bad, that much I can identify with certainty.



Giant condoms on the radio

A recent discovery is France Inter‘s “La séquence du consommateur” which is a short consumer news segment that airs on the radio and is then sent out as a podcast. It’s almost tailor-made for me since it features kinda silly business news, often from or about the US since no one does silly like Americans.

Part of the appeal is the vocabulary and language usage as well as the French perspective on things. Last week, the presenter introduced the reporter who began by saying something like, “You know when you walk into those big American stores and you see the huge condoms and you think, ‘That’s so nice of them to provide one,'” and the host assents and then the reporter went on to talk about how the stores aren’t being nice, they’re protecting themselves from litigation… but if you’re like me, you’re still stuck on the huge condom bit.

She clearly said “préservatifs géantes” which I was certain I had translated correctly, but it turns out that what she was referring to was those umbrella bags that magically appear when it’s raining. The idea is that you feed your wet and closed umbrella into a kind of long sleeve with a closed-off end to prevent it from dripping all over the floor as you make your way through the mall or the department store or wherever. Which, when described like this, is kind of like a condom, but giant-sized.

The point of the report was to discuss the general state of American litigation where everyone sues everyone for everything. She cited the 1994 case of the woman who sued McDonald’s because her coffee was too hot as an example of how the US courts allow people to take advantage of the system and she and the presenter tut-tutted about how Americans are clearly too dumb to take care of themselves. This reminded me of an anecdote I read in a book about moving to France from the US: the wife of an executive is being taken around to look at apartments. The woman tells the agent that this place won’t do as the windows don’t have screens and she has children. The agent is confused by the non sequitur but tells the woman that she won’t find screens on any windows in any apartment. “How do you keep the children from falling out the window?” asks the American. “You tell them not to jump,” replies the Frenchie.



Fun French Facts, Vol. II

So, the Seven Years’ War was a conflict too complicated for me to understand, but something I do understand came from it: mayonnaise!

The basics of the conflict, which took place between 1756 and 1763, pitted Britain against Spain & France. The latter two were unified by the Bourbon family, members of whom currently sit on the thrones of Spain and Luxembourg.

The story behind mayonnaise may be apocryphal, but as I learned in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

Armand de Vignerot du Plessis, then the Duke of Richelieu, led the French troops against the British in 1756 in Minorca, one of the Balearic Islands off the coast of Catalunya. (The others are Menorca and Ibiza.) The Brits eventually surrendered and Richelieu, it is said, was hungry and ordered food. The chef didn’t have any cream on hand (the island had been besieged by one force or another for a long time), so he substituted olive oil when making a sauce and Richelieu loved it. He dubbed the creation mahonnais [of Mahon, the capital city of Minorca].

Try it yourself

Real mayo is super easy to make at home and has a flavor that’s very unlike the jarred variety. Alton Brown‘s is pretty basic and can be mixed up in lots of ways by adding just about anything you want. I stopped eating mayo after I made it once because, while it tasted delicious, I was severely grossed out by what it actually was (olive oil + raw egg).

Americans swear by the taste of Hellmann’s, even fancy chefs. I also insisted on it for every turkey sandwich I ate for probably 20 years. It’s one of those things where I’m not sure if we love it because we all grew up with it or because it’s actually, empirically better than others.


Daft Charleston

From ages three to thirteen, every Thursday of the school year, I went to dance class. The only time I didn’t object was the very first day, since I didn’t yet know that it would be the single most loathsome part of my youth. All these years later, I still get all stiff-jawed and sweary when I think about the goddamn nightmare that was ballet classes.

At the end of each season, there’d be a recital at the big performance center in my town. Huge. Almost 3,000 seats. Annually, I endured THE WORST three days of my life as we had to perform four times over the course of a weekend. It was unadulterated misery for me. Honestly, I could go on for the rest of the day enumerating the many and varied ways in which I hated dance class, the recital weekend, all the girls in my class, the stage makeup, the bright lights and the preposterous costumes. Basically, it embodied everything that I am not about, most notably being girly and an attention whore.

But that’s not what we’re here to talk about today. We’re here to talk about how, even now, all these years later, I still remember some of the choreography. One year, there was a dance medley (if you can name anything worse than a medley you win a prize) and the Charleston was among them. For one brief moment, I had fun in class because we learned it to Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” which is just such a great song. We got to freestyle a bit during the really jumpy part and dance class was the opposite of horrible for five minutes.

The Internet put the Charleston dance together with Daft Punk, which, being a French group, I think qualifies as appropriate subject matter for this blog. The two guys are really jiving in a way that makes me so happy, I almost forget about how much I hated dance class for a few moments. They’re that good.

According to the Interwebs, the guys are Al Minns & Leon James from the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem.

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Pharmaceutical phull circle

If you know what this is, you have an old person in your life.

This is exactly the model I had. A whole month of drugs fit in here.

If you don’t know, it’s like an advent calendar for sick people. You put all of your pills in the corresponding window to make sure that you know when you have or haven’t taken your medicine.

I had one for almost ten years, during my twenties, to get a handle on the FIVE pills I had to take daily just to be able to walk around. This excessive dosing was to cope with the insane allergies I suffered while living in DC. Honestly, the place was built on a goddamn swamp which is a sure sign that it wasn’t supposed to be populated, but that’s where my job was, so multiple doses of antihistamines it was.

When I moved to Spain, one of the things I was really looking forward to was getting off my meds, but that proved to be a poor decision. The climate there almost exacerbated my condition even more, but the drugs were stronger so I only had to take three a day.
Through all of this, I held on to the dream of a drug-free life. My arrival in France meant another attempt at not being so doped up all the time and I succeeded. For months, I only took a regular pill to control what my dictionary says I can legitimately call “the curse” and that was it.

A less-bad day

Until The Knee Incident happened. Now, I’m taking prednisone (steroid), an industrial antacid (to protect my tummy from the steroid), an anti-inflammatory and a pain control thing (as needed) in addition to my daily pill. Were you counting in your head? I didn’t need to because I can visualize them in my hand every morning: there are four if it’s a good day, five if it’s not.

So, I’ve come full circle and relearned a lesson that I really should have gotten through my thick head long ago: the universe hates me and/or it wants to keep me heavily medicated so that I can’t anticipate what it’s going to do to me next. Well played, universe.