Le cul entre les deux chaises

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


A cell phone story

Cell 1 Samsung slideUntil recently, this Samsung E370 (right) was my phone. I bought it in December 2006 for 166€, which my Spanish and Catalan friends thought was an extraordinary sum. I know this because their general response was, “Pero, ¿eres una idiota?” I had researched for several weeks and thought it was a pretty good deal. The phone was unlocked so I could use it in any country I traveled to and it wasn’t under contract to any carrier so I could just add credit when I needed and not sign my soul over to the phone company.

In the end, it was an incredibly good investment. I used this phone in three countries over six years at a cost of 27,66€ a year (2,30€ a month) which is a price that can’t be beat.

But all good things come to an end. After those many years of use, the keys weren’t as responsive as they once had been, the sound quality had fallen from very good to garbled on the best days and voice mails were completely unintelligible. And the truth is, I wanted to have a more advanced calculator in my pocket because, and I cannot stress this enough, I am super bad at number things.

cell iphoneSo I got an iPhone 4 from a friend who upgraded to the 5 the week it came out. It took me a while to find a cell phone shop in Paris where I felt comfortable (many of them are really shady) and that would unlock the phone for a reasonable price. (It’s technically illegal to do so, but just go up and down Boulevard Voltaire and you’ll find a place.)

Shortly thereafter, my mother got a couple Samsungs in a promotional offer run by the newspaper she reads, so she sent me one.

cell samsung

My wallpaper is from here

After a few months of using both, I have to say that I basically hate the iPhone and can’t really figure out what people like about them. And I’m a person who’s been “a Mac” for over 15 years. As fellow globetrotters/expats, I’m posing the question to you all: what do you like about the iPhone? Have you tried other phones?

Learn something

In English, a phone that is not tied to a specific phone company is unlocked. In Spanish, it’s liberado [liberated] and in French, it’s désimbloque [unblocked SIM]. Of the three ways to express the same idea, I like the Spanish best because I anthropomorphize everything and I like the idea of a phone being all, “I’m free at last!

Next Week

I’m gonna spin you right round, baby, right round! Like a record baby… but in French!

And it’s Daylight Savings in Europe tomorrow (Saturday), so don’t forget to set your clocks ahead one hour before you go to bed!

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Quartino: great bathroom in Paris (4è)

Quartino street

Street view

A while back I wrote about how much I like Quartino Pizza in the 4è. Today, I want to highlight that they also have a great bathroom. Technically, you can get away with using it if you don’t patronize the shop, so if you’re in the area and need a clean bathroom, stop by. (You’ll probably still get some pizza though. It’s really good.)

So many hooks to hang things on!

So many hooks to hang things on!

Sink and Dyson-esque hand dryer.

Sink and Dyson-esque hand dryer.

Clean toilet with easily accessible paper dispenser.
Clean toilet with easily accessible paper dispenser.


Word Mystery: to be / ser / être

Word Mysteries are where words in languages that I know don’t correspond to each other at all despite those languages often sharing lexical histories. These words are both mystifying (why are they different?) and annoying (why must you be different?!).

chickenhamlet2The last time I was in London, a city I don’t generally care for, I went to see a performance by the Royal Shakespeare Company. It was pretty incredible and made me think that perhaps I should go back more often just to see the stories done justice by actual Brits.

Of course, my favorite of the Bard’s works is “Hamlet” primarily because it’s eminently quotable and can be interjected into everyday conversation. However, being a sick puppy, I also love it because it checks two boxes on the list of things I like in stories: the lovers are never together and everybody dies or is miserable at the end. Unhappy endings are the best.

And so, on to today’s Word Mystery, inspired by Hamlet’s most famous line, “To be, or not to be.”

EN → to be — exist. ORIGIN Old English bēon, an irregular and defective verb, whose full conjugation derives from several originally distinct verbs. The forms am and is are from an Indo-European root shared by Latin sum and est. The forms was and were are from an Indo-European root meaning ‘remain.’ The forms be and been are from an Indo-European root shared by Latin fui ‘I was,’ fio ‘I become’ and Greek phuein ‘bring forth, cause to grow.’ The origin of are is uncertain.

ES → ser — Haber o existir. [To be, to exist.] ORIGIN Latin essere [to be, to exist].

FR → être — Avoir une réalité, exister. [To be real, to exist.] ORIGIN Latin essere [to be], from Latin stare [stand].

I think English wins today’s WM, just on the basis of complexity.

Hamlet - Calvin and Hobbes



My best friend sent me the following video:

Cinematically, it’s really impressive, requiring really complicated camera choreography (note that you can’t see the camera reflected in any of the dozens of mirrors). The dancing, which is what he wanted me to see and be amused by, is also pretty striking but after a minute, it was the song that stood out.

“That sounds like English but it’s totally not,” I thought. The singer, Adriano Celentano, confirmed my suspicion in an interview last year:

“Ever since I started singing, I was very influenced by American music and everything Americans did. So at a certain point, because I like American slang — which, for a singer, is much easier to sing than Italian — I thought that I would write a song which would only have as its theme the inability to communicate. And to do this, I had to write a song where the lyrics didn’t mean anything.”

This reminded me that the word “barbarian” came from how the Greeks interpreted the language of foreign invaders. It all sounded like “bar-bar” to them.

According to my dictionary, the following are all ways of expressing gobbledygook in English, and they’re all great words.

gibberish, claptrap, nonsense, rubbish, balderdash, blather, garbage;

mumbo jumbo, drivel,tripe, hogwash, baloney, bilge, bull,

bunk, guff, eyewash, piffle, twaddle, poppycock, phooey, hooey.