Le cul entre les deux chaises

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

Word Outlier: helmet

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helmet — a hard or padded protective hat, various types of which are worn by soldiers, police officers, firefighters, motorcyclists, athletes, and others.

ORIGIN diminutive form of an Indo-European root meaning “to cover or hide,” adopted by the German as Helm, by the Dutch as helm and Old French as helme.

RIP my bike helmet.

Helmet 1I bought this helmet at a “start of season” sale in the Hamptons in 2005. My sister and I were visiting my brother who was working there in advance of “the season” which is when all the swells and husband-hunters descend on the area from New York and its environs.

I loved it instantly because of the cool design which looked Mayan or Ancient Egyptian but was actually funky animals like octopuses, crocodiles and cats. (The design is fun because it’s a child’s helmet. Adult helmets are boring.)

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We were going to be walking around all day, so I did what I thought was the most reasonable thing: I put the helmet on my head so that I wouldn’t have to carry it. What happened was that all the shop keepers thought I was a person with special needs and everyone was incredibly nice to me and spoke to me as though I was a child. Another classic case of Americans erring on the side of caution so much that they fall off the cliff at their backs.

When I pulled the helmet out of storage recently, I noticed that the foam lining (which cushions your head from the hard shell) was crumbling and making a mess so I emailed the manufacturer to see how I could get replacements here in France. They told me they stopped making this model in 2001. Unwilling to part with one of my favorite things to look at, I dug around some and found the original packaging (always keep the instructions, the packaging and the inserts, people!) and there were spare foam parts there. Hooray!

I asked a guy I know who’s a bike expert to help me place them correctly and he asked how old the helmet was. Sensing this was going somewhere bad, I told him that I’d had it for “a while.” He asked if it felt heavy and solid and I said yes. This was the wrong answer. It turns out that after a few years, the plastic foam the helmet is made of starts to degrade and becomes unified into one piece and that you’re supposed to replace them every five years, especially if you’re riding in the city as accidents are more likely.

So, I have to say goodbye to my old friend and go shopping for a new helm for my noggin. I’ve found a promising place near République but their business hours are 10h – 18h45 (vive la France!) which means I have to wait until next Saturday to go and see what cool kids’ business they’ve got going on.

Another purging tip

“Take a picture, it’ll last longer” isn’t just some snappy thing to say to someone who stares too long. It’s also a way to “keep” something without actually keeping it. I’ll be able to remember my helmet for years to come by clicking through the pics I took and think back on the good times we shared without having to have potentially toxic fumes in my nostrils and crumbled bits of plastic all over my hands.

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Author: le cul en rows

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

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