Le cul entre les deux chaises

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


Heart of Darkness

So, this happened:

Carrefour after dark 1

Oh, what? My crappy iPhone picture isn’t good enough? Try this one:

Carrefour after dark 2

Still not clear on what happened? I was in the supermarket when the power went out.

I’ll be honest, my first thoughts were of the Dawn of the Dead/The Mist variety and I was not happy because I do not like those kinds of movies. The store is open during renovation, so I thought someone tripped a fuse and power would be restored momentarily. After a few seconds, I whipped my phone out and fired up the flashlight app. As I scanned my immediate surroundings, I almost screamed because this old lady dressed in very dark colors was right next to me and that was like something out of Drag Me To Hell and I DON’T LIKE THOSE KINDS OF MOVIES!

I kept my cool though and eventually took it upon myself to help people find what they were looking for since most of the patrons mid-morning are older housewives and grandparents who don’t have flashlights. After a half hour or so, we were all ushered to the front of the store where there was light coming in through the windows and the clerks all got together, waiting for orders.

My cart was loaded up with a few things I needed, but my express purpose had been to buy a rotisserie chicken and some Coke for lunch. Some 20 minutes later, I tore into a pack of gum because I was genuinely hungry. One of the stock boys came up to me all aggressive-like, asking me what I thought I was doing. (I really hate rhetorical/sarcastic questions. Total wastes of time.) In my best French “duh” voice, I said I was hungry, obviously, and he started yelling at me, really yelling, asking how I was going to pay because all the machines were down. “I have cash,” I said and then he actually started flapping his arms angrily, saying that the registers were electric and that he was going to stay right by me to make sure that I didn’t leave without paying.

In the end, I got what I wanted because I’d thought the whole thing through in advance. I paid for the gum, the chicken and a bottle of Coke Zero in cash (€11,96) because the manager was a more reasonable person who understood that money is always money and that, because she had a key, she could open the register. She even gave me change back, which I wasn’t expecting.

I also learned an important lesson that day: the cashier from my peanut story wasn’t an angry person after all; the stock boys she works with are just total dicks.

Weapon of Distraction

I finally stopped thinking about scary movies by singing The Clash’s “Lost in the Supermarket” to myself. I read an interview once with Joe Strummer where he went back to the market that inspired the song and couldn’t believe how small it was. Insert Thomas Wolfe-ism here.



→ Even though I think Google isn’t keeping to their mission statement, I do sometimes admire the doodles they put up. Recently, they commemorated the 400th birthday of André Le Nôtre, the guy who designed the gardens at Versailles. The palace is all good and well, but for my money, the gardens are the best part.

Versailles garden doodle

→ It snowed again recently and some crazy French folk took to the Parisian slopes in Montmartre.

→ My mother pointed out that one of the bumper stickers on this car was of a triskelion, a Celtic symbol associated with Galicia (part of Spain north of Portugal). It suddenly seemed much more logical that the VW van in question had traveled through Italy and Spain, collecting stickers. The only question remaining is how they got from one country to the other without crossing some part of France. J’accuse!

SNL Dec. 15, 2012

SNL Dec. 15, 2012

→ I posted a “recipe” for bachelor pasta on February 14 which was a total coincidence. I generally schedule everything at least a week in advance (see the Christmas season mistake), so I don’t even notice that a certain thing is going up on any given holiday. Also, I just don’t really celebrate any holidays because I am a grinch.

→ One of the reasons I included LIFE OF PI in a Word Mystery was to link to this great video of an advance screening they did here in Paris but I totally spaced.

→ I think night tables are important enough that I’ve had to jury-rig ones in practically every place I’ve lived in Europe. Contemporary Americans are taking their use a bit too far, as evidenced by this list of “common” things found therein.

→ Sometime in the past week, this site passed 10,000 views. This seems like a lot to me, but probably half are my mother. Thanks to all of you for clicking, usually more than once per visit. I hope I can keep up the quality of clickable content. (I can certainly keep alliterating!)


Word Mystery: zipper / cremallera / fermeture Éclair

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?!).

I thought YKK invented zippers.

I thought YKK invented zippers.

If I were one of those proverbial typing monkeys who eventually write Shakespeare, I would still never have guessed the origins of today’s words inspired by yesterday’s childhood memory.

EN → zipper — a device consisting of two flexible strips of metal or plastic with interlocking projections closed or opened by pulling a slide along them, used to fasten garments, bags, and other items.
ORIGIN: 1925, probably from ‘zip.’ The trademark taken out on the name that year applied to a boot with zippers, not to the “lightning fastener” itself, which was at first called a zip. [source]

ES cremallera — Barra metálica con dientes en uno de sus cantos, para engranar con un piñón. [Metal strip with teeth on one side and gears on the other.]
Del francés crémaillère [from the French crémaillère: rack and pinion mechanism].

FR fermeture Éclair — Fermeture à glissière de la marque Éclair. [Sliding closing mechanism by the Éclair brand.] The “e” should always be capitalized as it’s a brand name.

The first zippers were developed in the US (U-S-A! U-S-A!) in 1891. You can read more about the evolution of zippers in last month’s NYT Magazine.

UPDATE: How many zipper-related injuries would you guess there were in a ten-year study? If you said 17,616 you were right.


Great Americanism: XYZPDQ

Sometimes America gets it right and when it does, I like to celebrate with an unironic U-S-A, U-S-A! And then write about it here.

no joke

no joke

The Internet has many things, but as far as I can tell, there isn’t yet an origin story for XYZPDQ. This random-seeming and odd-looking string of letters actually rolls off the tongue pretty easily after the first time. It stands for “eXamine Your Zipper Pretty Damn Quick” and is a way to alert people that their zipper’s undone.

barn door

“Your barn door’s open.”

I first heard the phrase in elementary school, where it was used fairly often. At that age, I think we were all still learning to dress ourselves and, unless it was a very cold day, it was pretty easy to leave the restroom without zipping up. As I got older, the phrase somehow went out of fashion and people would say something less clever like, “Your fly’s open” prompting a hasty rechecking of all the fastening mechanisms on one’s garments.

For some reason, this kind of thing is highly embarrassing to Americans. On the same level, having food in one’s teeth is so unpleasant that it merits being told as an anecdote to illustrate how bad your day was. I never understood why these kinds of things were so humiliating. It’s almost impossible to know you’ve got something stuck in your choppers unless someone tells you, at which point you can address the situation. Done. Move on. Don’t make me listen to your story about it.

Are these kinds of not-actually-shameful things considered cringeworthy in other cultures?


New obsession: shallots

Is this a thing? Do other people become weirdly obsessed with bulb vegetables? They don’t even really look that appetizing.

shallots 1

And yet, I can’t get enough of the little oniony garlicy hybrids. I’m worried about what effect this kind of consumption is having on my breath, but I can’t stop myself. A couple times a week, I cook up a batch and then have them on hand to add to a regular salad or on top of soup. My favorite though, is adding them to my (mayo-free) chicken salad.

Le cul’s chicken salad:

  1. Blend a little bit of olive oil with a good quality mustard, salt, pepper and parsley.
  2. Shred warm cooked chicken and add to mixture.
  3. Sprinkle with crunchy shallots.

    shallots 2

    The shallots look a bit like bacon but, sadly, they are not bacon. Mmmm, bacon.