Le cul entre les deux chaises

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


Burger King came to Paris

The hottest eating establishment in Paris for the past few months has been an unlikely one: the Burger King in the Saint-Lazare train station. The American chain pulled out of France in 1997 after the competition, McDonald’s and the Belgian QuickBurger, proved too tough, but they finally came back in December of last year.

The first time I tried to go, I honestly could not comprehend what I was looking at. There was a huge line — over a hundred people long — outside the main doors. A glance inside revealed a more compressed line with more people all crowding the ordering area. I decided to come back another day.

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Second attempt, same story. I still couldn’t figure out what was going on. If the people had all been expats, I might have understood (recall the madness of Chipotle‘s opening), but these were definitely French people, most of them young, urban types. And they were waiting ages to get into a Burger King. In Paris.

When I got home, I did some research. One blogger reported that the wait to order was 90 minutes. At Burger King. In Paris. She listed many problems with the layout and conception of the space which I hadn’t been able to see since I had been so freaked out by the sight of so many people waiting to go in a Burger King. In Paris.

She very intelligently noted that since most of these people had never been to a BK before, they didn’t know what to order, but you couldn’t actually see the menus until you were at the spot from which to order. Additionally, the menu was mounted near the ceiling but if you were standing in front of the part with the salads, you couldn’t read the one with the burgers or sides or desserts. A total fail, design-wise. Also, people seemed to enjoy just hanging out in the space instead of allowing their tables to be occupied by the newly be-Whoppered.

I decided that the third time would be the charm and can report that the maxim that 3 is the magic number held true. By this time, a couple months after opening, the people behind the operation had gotten wiser, installing an additional eating area out in the concourse, as well as a cordoned-off waiting line. There were also security / bouncer types (at Burger King. In Paris.) who waited until people had left before letting in new groups of 10-15 people.

I went mid-afternoon and was in the outside line for less than 5 minutes. I was behind three very smartly dressed French business types and couldn’t for the life of me figure out what the hell they were doing there. I could have asked, but honestly, this whole thing was so weird to me that I felt like I was in some kind of parallel universe / daydream state.

Once inside, the crush of people was overwhelming. Everyone was taking photos of the space and selfies and texting their friends that they were actually in the Burger King.

I took a pic too but it was for journalistic reasons!

I took a pic too but it was for journalistic reasons!

Finally at the counter, I ordered what I’d been getting at Burger King since I was a kid: a Whopper Jr. with cheese combo. Since I’d made “a special order” I was asked to wait. (Apparently having it my way isn’t part of the French way.) There was no space to the side so I was squeezed between two scrums of people placing orders. The experience was unpleasant.

When I got my tray of food, I hightailed it out to the concourse because it was super loud inside the BK proper. My first reaction was that the fries looked like they were cut too thick. The first bite proved me right. Not good. The burger looked all right and I eagerly bit in. The bread tasted like it had been frozen and treated with some kind of chemical. I still can’t figure out what it reminded me of, but it was also not good. It had a weird undertaste, like when you bite a piece of tin foil.

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Food snobs at this point are probably thinking something like, “What do you expect it to taste like? Burger King is all processed and chemical! If you want something good, eat in a real restaurant!” To those people, as usual, I say, “Shut up.” I went to BK expecting to get BK and I got a much lesser product. My little expat heart had been craving a very specific taste for weeks, one that I’ve eaten hundreds of times before. I wanted to have that same experience, to travel through time to the favorite BK of my youth, to the one my boyfriend and I used to go to, to the one in Kenmore Square in Boston, to the one in DC where I’d go when I was hungover. I wanted that and instead I got something that looked like all the other Whopper Jrs. I’d eaten but didn’t taste like one at all.

the noidVerdict: Don’t go to the Burger King in France. If you are in Paris, take advantage of being in Paris and eat good food. If you’re homesick, go to McDonald’s — the meat is actually better than in the US — and the fries are just like you remember them.

Would you like to know more?

  • Sortir À Paris had an avant-première.
  • A great photo accompanies a report about the immediate success of BK.
  • The free Métro paper, 20 minutes, has a video.
  • An interview with a social anthropologist who studies consumer behavior on BK in France.

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Saturday Special: how may we hate you?

[IMPORTANT PUBLIC ANNOUNCEMENT: Tomorrow, Sunday March 30, is when Europe springs forward for Daylight Saving. Remember to set your clocks ahead an hour before going to bed. We now return to your special Saturday programming.]

Please join me in laughing at my new favorite thing on the Internet, how may we hate you?, the Tumblr run by two Times Square concierges. It was one of Tumblr’s most viral blogs of 2013, but I don’t spend a lot of time over there, so I just came across it. It’s like my Spanish screenplay crossed with even ruder people who don’t speak English very well.

Here are two of my favorite posts.

How May We Hate You Ass tour How May We Hate You Maria

I’m even willing to forgive the mis-capitalization of español because a) I am not a monster and b) these people are clearly doing God’s work by putting up with such assholes.


Spanish commonality

I love when someone else breaks down data into ways I can understand it. If you give me a spreadsheet with a bunch of numbers, I will have no idea how to interpret it, but put that same stuff on a map and suddenly, it comes alive.

Here’s a map of “the most common surnames in Europe” as collected by some person on Reddit.

most-popular-surnames-by-country-europe_0I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the information presented, but it’s kind of fun to think about. I should note that everyone in Spain has two last names, one from each parent, so I’m not sure which one was taken into account here.

As an aside, when people in Barcelona heard where I was from, they invariably remarked that my last name wasn’t characteristic of the area. When I mentioned another family last name, they would respond along the lines of, “THAT’s more like it!” People move away from their home town / region so seldom in Spain that their last name alone often indicates where they come from. As an American, this freaks me the hell out.

Since I’m all about equal-opportunity-insulting and don’t think by any means that only Americans are idiots (I think most people are idiots), here’s a list of the most common spelling mistakes Spaniards make in English according to the people over at Cambridge English. (They run the English certification exams in most of Europe and have collected an impressive amount of data on ESL.)

Wich instead of “which”
Confortable instead of “comfortable”
Becouse instead of “because”
Accomodation instead of “accommodation”
Posible instead of “possible”
Belive instead of “believe”
Diferent instead of “different”
Bycicle instead of “bicycle”
Enviroment instead of “environment”
Beatiful instead of “beautiful”
Recomend instead of “recommend”
Begining instead of “beginning”
Responsability instead of “responsibility”
Demostration instead of “demonstration”
Recived instead of “received”
Oportunity instead of “opportunity”
Advertisment instead of “advertisement”
Until spelled correctly but regularly misused
Ruber instead of “rubber” (US: eraser)
Bussiness instead of “business”

As you’ll notice, a lot of the mistakes are from double-lettering, something that isn’t common in Spanish. In fact, I’m pretty sure the only correct doublings are “ll” and “rr.” (This excludes loan-words.) Other things  which trip them up are French-based words (always tricky) and words with difficult-for-them letter combinations like the “nm” in “environment.” This last thing is something that always confounded me since Spaniards are used to pronouncing every letter in a word and yet, in English, they often omit whole syllables or add letters where they don’t exist.

The article from which this info came notes that Spaniards have come up with 237 different ways to spell “because.” This is genuinely shocking to me. I don’t think that even if I tried for a week I’d come up with 100 different ways, but the Spanish are a special lot of individuals. (Especial is the colloquial way Spaniards express that someone is “difficult,” “touched in the head” or “generally impossible.”)


Architectural weirdness

Does anyone know what’s happening structurally under these buildings? They are located along the train tracks that lead to Saint Lazare station. The photo was taken from the Rue de Rome.

I understand (on some level) that these supports exist to protect the buildings from the vibrations of passing trains, but I’m curious about what, if anything, is inside. Like, is there storage in there? Parking garages?

Rue de Rome buildings


Word Mystery: street / calle / rue

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

A Paris street (technically an avenue, whatever). Nov. 2013

A Paris street (technically an avenue, whatever). Nov. 2013

At this point in my Word Mystery game, I’m starting to think that I should take a beginner’s language book and go through the vocabulary, looking for the most basic mysteries. Why? Because I had somehow not gotten around to “street,” an elementary word in modern life. At least yesterday’s look at how dumb I am streets here in Paris finally got me on the right track.

Please check your side- and rear-view mirrors before proceeding.

EN → street — a public road in a city or town, typically with houses and buildings on one or both sides. ORIGIN Old English strǣt, from Latin strāta [paved way].

ES → calleEn una población, vía entre edificios o solares. [In a populated area, the way between buildings and vacant lots.] ORIGIN Latin callis [trail, path].

FR → ruevoie de circulation routière aménagée à l’intérieur d’une agglomération, habituellement bordée de maisons, d’immeubles, de propriétés closes. [Throughways arranged inside a populated area, usually bordered by houses, buildings or closed lots.] ORIGIN Latin ruga [line, wrinkle].

This is another word / concept that I’d never thought to define before, but reading through these it totally makes sense that a street is something you’ll find only in a semi-planned, urban-type setting. Out in the country, there are roads, routes and highways but no streets.

It’s also one of the few Word Mysteries where all the languages have Latin roots, even if they’re totally different ones. I would venture to guess that the English root is the most recent and is due to the Romans introducing the concept of paving to the Anglo-Saxon world. (The Romans loved building roads and any other kind of urban improvement projects.) The Spanish and French would have evolved more naturally from the natural paths that people and animals made as they shuffle around this mortal coil.

Today’s winner is Latin, especially since I can’t decide which evolution of the idea I like best.