Le cul entre les deux chaises

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


Links Day

On this day, God said, “Let there be links!” and there was much rejoicing.

→ The most miserable US states, according to a 2013 Gallup poll. I admit that I’m disappointed that the state I grew up in is not number 1. Makes me think they didn’t collect enough data ’cause that place is the worst.



→ What would the world be like if ads were replaced by art? Pretty great, I’d say after looking over Etienne Lavie’s “OMG who stole my ads ?” project.  [h/t]

→ Apparently, everyone else in the world is washing their hands wrong. If I were still as germphobic as I was when I lived in the US, this would seriously disgust me. As things stand now, I’m just disappointed in you.

→ People have always (weirdly) been drawn to me, and Mike White (actor / director / screenwriter / AMAZING RACE contestant) may know why. He says he wants people to see him and think,

“Oh, he seems like he’s having a good time. Maybe he has the secret to something that I haven’t figured out.” 

(I’m totally not telling you the secret.)

→ National flags made out of each country’s typical foods. Warning: this will make you hungry. 

→ Jenny Lawson, blogger extraordinaire and author, is someone you should be reading. She’s funnier and more foul-mouthed than I am though we feel the same way about the Important Things In Life, like The Princess Bride.

“I used to think that it was a small sin to waste time rereading silly books you’ve already read. . . but then I grew up and realized that those things were the only things that mattered. . . I’ve decided to give up on caring about wasting time and, in doing that, I’ve suddenly saved so much time I would have spent hating myself for reading The Princess Bride for the 89th time.”

Amen, sister. 

→ British actors with fantastic voices reading aloud. They make even the poetry palatable. 

desmoinespolice→ Buildings that used to be Pizza Huts were featured on the great 99% Invisible podcast. I ate so many free pepperoni personal pan pizzas in buildings just like the one pic’d at right as RIF / Book It! rewards. I wish I could still get free stuff just for doing things I like. 

→ I don’t have tattoos because I think they’re a bad idea. My friends who have them all regret the decision to varying degrees, the most mild being, “I don’t really mind this one too much.” A column in the NYT Magazine nailed my issue with scarring yourself with colors:

“Getting a tattoo is a way for your past self to exert power over your present self.” 

Your past self is always an idiot compared to your now-self. Knowing this when you’re younger helps prevent mistakes in the future. This is the reason I’m not on Facebook.

Next Week

In honor of the Academy Awards (which are this Sunday), I’ll be doing all movie-related posts next week. I can’t keep track of basic holidays (or even my birthday) but I mark the Oscars and the BAFTAs in my calendar because those are important (to me). Priorities, people. We’ve all got them.

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In Defense of Talking Funny

This is from a lexicographer at Merriam-Webster about different ways of talkin’ American and how many of the ways which are perceived as wrong are actually just different.

harm·less drudg·ery

[Ed. note: Five months! I know. My (very poor) excuse is that I was working on another big project that I can’t tell you about yet. In the meantime, here’s an extra-long post to pay you back for the extra-long wait.]

I was talking with a friend–well, a “friend”–about some of the videos we were about to shoot for M-W. We were at a crowded, chic-chic restaurant, the type of place where the waiters pull your chair out for you and ask if you want sparkling, still, or mineral water. In short, a place far above my usual grab-and-go, paper-napkins milieu. A place where it behooves you to not only look smart, but sound smart. A place where you’d use the word “behoove.”

So I was behooving, using some expansive vocabulary and trying not to think about how I was paying $12 for a glass of wine when…

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The Bletchley Circle (ITV)

Ladies who lunch (and break codes and solve mysteries!)

Since Downton Abbey ended a few weeks back, I’ve been sad without a British period drama. Lots of searching turned up The Bletchley Circle, a three-episode series about four women who did “clerical work” at Bletchley Park during WWII teaming up to solve some grisly murders almost a decade later. (Bletchley was where Allied Forces codebreaking happened, most importantly the Nazi Enigma code.*)

She’s Scottish and sassy

It wasn’t until the “previously on” of the last episode that I was able to put my finger on the one thing that had been nagging me. One of the women, Jean, had an accent that was slight but distinctive and I just wasn’t sure what it was. My first thought was Welsh since that’s always a good guess (for some reason, a disproportionate number of UK actors are Welsh) but then I hit on it: she spoke almost precisely like Mrs. Hughes, the housekeeper on Downton. Two quick IMDb searches later and I confirm that they’re both Scottish!

This reminded me of the few times that accent-identification has come up with other expats. A German friend of mine was unable to distinguish between Spanish accents and a Venezuelan acquaintance wasn’t able to say which part of the Spanish-speaking world I hailed from. I’m not yet conversant with the French accents, but I can tell if one person speaks differently and when I first came north from Lyon, I noticed a marked difference in speech between the two regions.

Can you differentiate between different accents in your native and foreign tongues? Am I am outlier in this respect?

*Seriously, I know way too much about WWII for someone my age. It’s not normal.


What’s in an accent?

The short answer is: a lot. To a language connoisseur¹ like moi, an accent is both something to emulate (as when learning a new language) and something which provides an immense amount of data about a person.

When I open my mouth and speak in English, it’s clearly with an American accent, but it’s not the accent of the people I grew up around. My BFF has a strong Midwestern way-a-talkin’, but I never picked it up. Additionally, people trained in elocution have a hard time pinning down where I’m from.

This is just one of the things I think about a lot, but then the Times went and ran a story about the completion of the Regional Dictionary this past week. As it’s about two of my favorite things, reference books and the ways people speak, I had to check it out. It was totally fascinating, but also bewildering. It turns out that I use the North Midland dialect which partly fits, as I grew up in the region, but I do fall into the cot-caught merger (pronounce both words the same) which most of my peers did not.

In the end, all of this works out in my favor. I can name most American accents with a pretty high degree of accuracy, but not many people can tell mine.

In Spanish, I have a way of speaking that the Iberians sometimes identify as “de fuera” [from outside, i.e. not local] but they’ll guess that I’m from another region or maybe Italy. Conversely, I can tell which part of the Spanish-speaking world someone is from as well as point out a Catalan, a Madrileño or a Galician.

In France, I haven’t gotten anywhere as good yet, though in groups of three or more, I can tell who isn’t local. My own accent is apparently even harder to trace than in Spain, which makes me feel like I’m somehow pulling a fast one on everyone. People here seem a little more aware of the outside world so when they look at me, they have one idea about my nationality, but when I speak and say things like, “yeah” which they hear as ja (German), they get really confused which is all part of my master plan.

¹In English, we say connoisseur, since the word has been in use since the French first came into contact with the Anglo-Saxons. In modern France, they say connaisseur, since the verb root (connaître, to know) is now conjugated –ais instead of –ois.