Le cul entre les deux chaises

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

Overheard on the bus


Just after school got out one day, four young guys, probably 14 or 15, got on the bus I was riding. Deviating from my normal routine, I was neither reading nor listening to something, so I couldn’t help overhearing their animated discussion. They were talking about the chemistry test they’d just taken and were doing the type of academic postmortems that I remember from my youth. As they settled into the aisle beside me, they’d all agreed on the answer for the third question and moved on to the fourth. Among them, two had reached the same conclusion but the other two had come up with completely different answers.

All four began arguing for their own answer and it quickly became apparent that they all remembered the question differently. One of the boys suggested that they replicate the question precisely so that they could pose it to “his” pharmacist when they got off the bus. Without a word, they all whipped out their cell phones and started drafting versions, comparing with each other and making corrections.

I got off before their story ended (it would have been really creepy if I’d followed them) but the whole scene struck me as some kind of milestone in my French life. If their conversation had been in English, I would have understood exactly as much as I did in French. This would be a bigger deal if I understood chemistry but I don’t. At all. I’m worse at it than math.

My Guy owned the Sambar Market on Mt. Pleasant St. in DC

My Guy at the Sambar Market in Mt. Pleasant (WDC)

The second thing this story illustrates is how people over here “have” a kind of person for every profession. In the US, there was a Korean man whom I called My Guy (all my friends and family knew him by this name) who owned the corner store nearest my house where I always bought my milk and beer. He was the only person I “had” the whole time I was living in DC.

Now, I “have” a bakery and a green grocer but beyond that, I go to whichever business is most convenient to wherever I am at the moment. Of course, when I went to stock up on cough drops after my recent bout with Near-Death flu, the woman at the pharmacy recognized me from three months ago, so maybe that means that she “has” me and that I’m a local.


Author: le cul en rows

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

2 thoughts on “Overheard on the bus

  1. Understanding a conversation in another language about chemistry is quite a feat. Well done! (I’m extremely jealous)

    Have I ever had a “my guy”? Hmmmm…. maybe kinda sorta in Cambridge, England where I always went to the same butcher. But even then, I’m sure to him I was just one of the many transient faces passing through that neighborhood who happened to order a turkey for Thanksgiving in November rather than for Christmas.

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