Le cul entre les deux chaises

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


Catalans in Paris, Part 2

Look at me, remembering a holiday on the day it actually falls! All of the credit goes to Camper which sent me an email prompting me to check out their “Halloween selection.”

Clearly, no one told them that "damn" is a swear word.

No one told them that “damn” is a swear word.

Camper, a Catalan shoe company originally established in Mallorca in 1975, clearly doesn’t understand that while most American holidays* are about spending money, Halloween is only about children getting candy and adults getting dressed up and wasted. Oh, and telling ghost stories, like the spooky one I’m going to relate right now…

It was a dark and stormy night… That’s a total lie. It was a lovely sunny day and I was walking past the Opéra Garnier. There’s a Camper shop near there and, since I wasn’t in a hurry and I am always happy to check out their good quality, comfy shoes, I went in.

A tall salesman at the back of the shop said hello to me and I said hello back. He started a bit and looked at me really hard before making a bee line straight for me.

He asked me, in Catalan, where I was from and I responded, in Catalan, that I’m Spanish and American but that I used to live in Barcelona. I asked him how he knew to speak to me in Catalan and he said that I had done so first. I told him that I didn’t think that was possible since I’d never just assume that he spoke Catalan; we were in Paris after all.

He said, “No, you definitely said ‘bon dia‘ to me, so I thought you were Catalan too.” At this point I actually looked at him and saw that he *did* look kind of Catalan so it’s possible I automatically greeted him as one but I still thought he was pulling my leg. That was the moment when I became wildly uncomfortable because I was doubting everything that had transpired in the previous two minutes and that’s just not something that happens to me. I gave him the sideways stink eye to see if he buckled under my scrutiny but he just grinned really wide and said that he hadn’t found anyone to speak in Catalan with since he got to Paris.

“But *you* started it,” I insisted again and he rocked back and forth on the balls of feet and kept smiling.

At this point I said, “Adéu” and got the hell out of there. And that, children, is why I will never go back to that Camper store again.

Happy Halloween and remember not to talk to strangers, even if they greet you in favorite tongues!

*Non-Americans probably don’t know that President’s Day has evolved into the holiday for big-ticket items, like cars and mattresses. If I were joking, this would be kind of funny. That I’m totally serious should indicate how twisted and consumer-driven American life is.


Word Mystery: flag / bandera / drapeau

Every Wednesday, I explore the linguistic origins of one word in different languages I speak.


Passerelle de Solférino (where there are “lovers locks” too), October 2013

Listening to a podcast about two of Steven Soderbergh’s recent films while crossing a bridge near the Musée d’Orsay here in Paris led to a Word Mystery double whammy: drapeaux!

The connection is that Antonio Banderas co-starred in one of the movies being discussed (Haywire) and the bridge was decorated with colorful camo-patterned flags.

EN → flag — a piece of cloth or similar material, typically oblong or square, attachable by one edge to a pole or rope and used as the symbol or emblem of a country or institution or as a decoration during public festivities. ORIGIN probably Scandinavian, related to Icelandic flag [spot from which a sod has been cut] and Old Norse flaga [slab of stone].

ES → bandera — Tela de forma comúnmente rectangular, que se emplea como enseña o señal de una nación, una ciudad o una institución. [Cloth, generally rectangular, which is used as a sign or signal of a nation, a city or an institution.] ORIGIN From old French bande [strip, band].

FR → drapeau — Pièce d’étoffe attachée à une hampe, portant l’emblème et les couleurs d’une nation, d’un groupe. [Piece of cloth attached to a pole, bearing the emblem and colors of a country or a group.] ORIGIN Previously, the word enseigne [sign] was used but in the 1750s, a word from the Italian drappello [military squad] was adopted in its place. As a historical note, the 18th century was an active one for the French armed forces.

Today’s winner: I love it when Norse shows up ’cause then I start thinking about cool words like Ragnarök and Led Zeppelin so the win goes to English. The real test will be the day a Norse root goes up against a Hebrew word. That’ll be a real Sophie’s Choice moment.

My brain also says

press-your-luck-whammy→ The Whammy on the syndicated game show Press Your Luck was animated by Savage Steve Holland, the man behind the classic 80s movies Better Off Dead and One Crazy Summer.

→ “This American Life,” the popular public radio show/podcast, did an episode in 2010 (“Million Dollar Idea“) about the guy who beat the Press Your Luck system in the 80s to become the show’s biggest winner. Spoiler: he was super dedicated to cheating.

Haywire is a passably entertaining movie as long as you don’t mind an action movie that’s kind of slow. A good portion of it takes place in Barcelona (Visca! Barça!) so a significant amount of my enjoyment came from recognizing places and seeing the little architectural details that I’d forgotten (like how floors in many private homes are tiled with tiny octagonal designs). Banderas probably gives his best performance in English. Here he is having a drink in Plaça Reial where the street lights were designed by a young Antoni Gaudí.

Banderas Haywire Plaça Reial


Interesting Iberian Information, Vol. IV

medievaltimesAnother feather in the cap of Spaniards: one of my countrymen is responsible for bringing the concept restaurant Medieval Times to America. Here’s an email from my best friend (all punctuation his), breaking this shocking news to me:

apropos of nothing: i went to a surprise party at MEDIEVAL TIMES last night. i kept thinking, “jesus, americans are absurd people.” and then i got to reading the fake bios of all the knights  — and they all had spanish names. i did some research on the way home and learned that the whole medieval times thing is a SPANISH concept. imported to the US by a guy called javier romero who staged jousts on majorca.

There’s even evidence in the paper of record that this is true. Under normal circumstances, I’d be disappointed or embarrassed by what a pathetic claim to fame this is, but I’ve actually met and lived among Spanish people and I’m guessing that if they know this, it’s something they boast about.

Worse still, Hollywood has decided that there needs to be a movie about this chain of “family dinner theater” establishments. As we say in Iberia, ay Dios mío.


Word Outlier: lata

You are now entering a place… where one strange word… lives alone… separated from its sibling signifiers. This is The Outlier Zone.

Daylight saving time was yesterday meaning that 1) I am now only 5 hours ahead of EST and 2) anything that could be considered “nice” weather will no longer appear on the forecast. No matter, really, as I love bundling up and have already been rocking some Thinsulate™ and hats and gloves for the better part of two weeks.

It does bring to mind happier, sunnier times, though. Times when I’d hanker for a nice cool beer to quench my thirst. Times when my beer would be so cool, it’d wear sunglasses.

cannette Hoeg

Both the English can (a cylindrical metal container) and the French cannette (Contenant métallique cylindrique pour les boissons. [Cylindrical metal container for drinks]) come from the Genoan dialect’s cannetta [reed] but the Spanish differ, as they seem to make a habit of doing.

In Spain, you get a lata (Envase hecho de hojalata. [Container made of tin.]) but the word origin is, according the REA, “disputed” so I can’t tell you where it comes from.

Huh. Now I’m miffed. I don’t like having unanswered questions. I guess I owe you 25¢ for your time. Put it on my tab.


Things Each Country Excels At

I’m not sure about how accurate the data is, but here’s a map which shows the thing which many countries are good at (as defined by being better at than other countries). Spain came as no surprise to me (even the king is rumored to have a nose candy affinity).

Spain is really good atAnd here’s a spoiler-rific thing for THE DARK KNIGHT RISES which makes sense to put here because “My Cocaine” is what I will think about whenever I think of cocaine for the rest of my life.