Le cul entre les deux chaises

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


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Euro Adapter: Americans at Notre-Dame

This may be the end of this feature since I think it pretty definitely proves that I’ve become European.

The scene: the second level of Notre-Dame, where many of the most famous gargoyles watch over the city of Paris. It’s also the midpoint, stair-wise, if you want to go to the top. Originally designed as a service area for the men who worked the bells, there’s not a lot of space.

This ugly mug is here.

This ugly mug is here.

I’m near the front of the group waiting to go up the second stairwell to the top. There is only one narrow stair so access is staggered — one group of 50 goes up then one group of 50 comes down. Coordinating the alternation is a very tall French man wearing a uniform, holding a walkie-talkie. At the moment, he’s entertaining a group of school kids with stories of the gargoyles and the history of the church. He’s doing a great job of keeping them under control in less than ideal circumstances. Behind me, a group of impatient asshole American tourists start pushing and shoving to get ahead of everyone in their way.

Finally, I snap. “There’s nowhere else to go! Stop your damn pushing!” I yell at the people trying to crush me. The man closest to me seems surprised that anyone speaking American is taking such a position and yells back, “Well, no one’s moving so we’re making YOU move!” I explain why no one’s moving and he gets really defensive. “Well, there aren’t any signs anywhere! How are we supposed to know about the stairs?” I ask him where exactly on a centuries-old building he’d like to have signs affixed. “Idano! I mean, how’re we to know what’s going on if no one tells us?!” I indicate the tall man who clearly works there and say that he will let us pass when it’s our turn and not before. “Well, he could let us know what’s happening,” responds the guy, clearly deflating. I reiterate, “He’ll tell you when it’s your turn. That’s when you’ll know you can go. Until then, you can assume that it’s not your turn.”

Behind this guy and his group is a cocky young guy and his girlfriend. I’d already clocked him as trouble and he proved me right. “Well, what if we want to go down? I don’t want to see anymore of this church anyway.” The pair of them are led through the crowd and allowed to cross the rope. “Down,” the guard says, indicating a direction with his finger. “Yeah-yeah,” the young guy says and I see everything play out in my mind, exactly as it will come to pass because All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.

I wish this guy would eat rude people.

I wish this guy would eat rude people.

Seconds later, he and his girlfriend are ejected back into the area since they had tried to go up but were run over by the group of 50 that was still coming down. They tried to blend into the front of the waiting group but, as it was all kids, they stood out. “Back of the line,” I said to them because I don’t have any patience for jerks, entitled Americans or dumb tourists.

The good news is that all the people concerned were significantly shamed or embarrassed enough to keep quiet the rest of the time we were waiting. It’s a marvel to me that Americans (especially) expect everyone else in the world to speak English but are then surprised when someone understands them as they disparage their non-American surroundings. You can’t have it both ways, you idiots.

I hate everyone

So does David Sedaris (kind of) in a story about running into loud Americans on the Métro who don’t think anyone understands them. “Picka Pocketoni” is from Me Talk Pretty One Day, and part of it can be read here.

I had forgotten how many useless words Americans pepper their speech with. The first guy started almost every utterance out of his annoying mouth with “Well.” Is this supposed to soften the following statement? Make him seem more thoughtful? I found it annoying since in practice it served no real purpose.

Seriously: you’re on vacation — what’s the hurry? Chill the f°ç# out! While you’re waiting to go up the stairs, enjoy the god damn view and shut the hell up.

 

Apparently not interesting enough to get Americans to keep quiet for 7 minutes.

Apparently not interesting enough to get Americans to keep quiet for 7 minutes.

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My Spidey Sense

The first time I remember my Spidey Sense kicking in, I was walking around Downtown Crossing in Boston, killing time between classes. I was suddenly compelled to enter a store that wouldn’t normally interest me. It was a place that sold weird alarm clocks and consumer weather forecasters and complicated calculators. I went directly to the back of the store and came face to face with this.

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I used to collect lions and, though this was in the early days of my Felidae-fancy, I was incredibly excited by this find. I bought it on site and didn’t realize till I got home that it was also a flashlight, something I actually needed.

Since then, my Spidey Sense has pulled me down side streets, urged me to take alternate routes and accidentally introduced me to wonderful things. I trust in Spidey and will almost always follow where he leads. The sensation is what led me to discover that BK was in Paris: one day, I was walking along and, while turning my head to check for traffic, my eyes instead zeroed in on a familiar logo in the distance.

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Most recently, I was stumbling around the Haussmann / Havre area in the 9è and my Spidey Sense stopped me short in front of this window. Can you see what drew my attention?

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That’s a trick question, because what my Spidey Sense felt was that there were boxes of Oops! All Berries inside the store on the back side of this display. *I* would never have known it and may have glossed over the place entirely since it’s a kind of Urban Outfitters-wannabe that caters to teens and that’s not really my bag.

But the Oops! All Berries. I’ve never held a box that was so full of Oops! All Berries. Somehow, they had been shipped so that none of the berries were crushed, resulting in a box that felt solidly full. And when the cashier checked me out, she didn’t notice that the price in the computer was 20% less than the ticketed price. (I didn’t correct her because this was all part of Spidey’s plan.)

Moral of the story: Spider-Man is a force for good in the world. Trust in the Spidey Sense.


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The best insult I’ve heard in ages

MuppetBabies-BabyAnimalIn his 2012 standup special “Dangerously Delicious,” Aziz Ansari of PARKS AND REC, tells a story about an exchange he had with a mean border control agent he came across in Toronto, Canada. Not nice things were said by both parties, but things really escalated when Ansari said* the greatest thing I’ve heard in a long time:

“Your English is slightly better than Animal from The Muppet Babies.”

As with many things, it’s the specificity that takes this from a schoolyard insult to a serious burn. According to the Muppet Wiki, Animal from THE MUPPET SHOW “speaks in a guttural shout, often repeating a few simple phrases¹,” which would be enough to belittle most people. But this poor woman was less articulate than that. Compare classic Animal with some of his younger work and see if you agree.

On a personal note, I hope you all appreciate this joke because after researching this post, my childhood was rocked by the information that Baby Animal, as he’s officially known, was initially voiced by Howie Mandel (who did Gizmo in GREMLINS) and then Dave Coulier (the annoying uncle on FULL HOUSE). I have seen behind the Muppet Babies curtain and can never go back.

I was laughing, now I'm not.

I was laughing, now I’m not.

*He surely didn’t say this and the comment was most likely an esprit de l’escalier thing but it’s still funny as hell. I am going to picture this the next time I deal with people whose speech I don’t understand.

Animal Muppet Babies


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The world’s population on the move

Maps + immigrants. One thing I love and one thing I am. It’s a winning combo!

Expat Since Birth

In a recent article, Nick Stockton comments on a study published in Science where “a team of geographers (from the Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital in Vienna) used data snapshots to create a broad analysis of global migrations over 20 years”.

This kind of study is quite hard “because each country has its own methodology for collecting census data”.

We often see demographic mesurements shown in static graphics and tables that hardly give us a clear picture of how people are moving over a certain period of time. These circular migration plots (cfr. Circos, a software frequently used in genetics) allow to observe the flow of migration over a given time.

Where everyone in the world is migratingWhere everyone in the world is migrating

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Thank you for smoking

This is a sign from the tabacconist near one of the places I lived in Barcelona which always made me smile.

"Thank you for smoking. In moderation."

“Thank you for smoking. In moderation.”

I still kind of think about how much I miss smoking all the time, by which I mean that I don’t obsess over it but that if I could peel back the layers of my consciousness, I’m pretty sure the whole not-smoking issue would be close to the surface.

This past week, I’ve thought a lot about how I haven’t smoked since November 26, 2006 and it’s all Matthew McConaughey’s fault. That guy knows how to smoke, which is to say that he relishes smoking as much as I did. Seeing him on HBO’s TRUE DETECTIVE and in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (for which he’s favored to win the Oscar) smoking the hell out of things is making me miss the days when I could just light up anywhere (even in a bank!) in Spain.

But then reality sinks in and I remember that being sick isn’t fun and that the pleasure I derived from smoking wasn’t enough to compensate how terrible I felt all the time so I just mute the sound and watch McConaughey light one cigarette off another and contemplate the injustices of the world.