Le cul entre les deux chaises

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

Franco-American relations

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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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INT. DIVE BAR, HAPPY HOUR, WASHINGTON, DC — NIGHT

This very bar.

This very bar.

GIRL is at a dive bar with many of her coworkers. It’s the birthday party for GIRL’s BOSS.

Boss’s GIRLFRIEND approaches GIRL, beaming hugely.

GIRLFRIEND

You must be Maya! I’ve heard so many wonderful things about you!

GIRL is momentarily confused. MAYA is an Indian girl who is on the same staff. Then GIRL remembers that GIRLFRIEND is a Midwesterner and therefore not used to people who aren’t variations on milk-colored.

GIRL

No, I’m the *other* brown girl on staff. I’m Spanish. From Spain. Not Indian.

GIRLFRIEND makes a face like she swallowed half a lemon.

GIRLFRIEND

Oh — no — I didn’t mean — It’s — I —

GIRL

Clearly, Boss hasn’t mentioned me. It’s good to know that he favors Maya, even at home.

GIRL is patient. GIRLFRIEND will need a few moments to understand what’s been said, to glean the subtext. GIRL waits.

GIRLFRIEND

Oh. Wait — what?

GIRL sighs. GIRLFRIEND is too dense or simple or trusting or blind to figure out what GIRL is saying.

GIRL
(indicating across the room)

Maya’s over there. She’s the Indian-looking one. Like from India.

GIRLFRIEND continues to look stricken. Suddenly, she spins around and races across the bar to GIRL’S BOSS, her body language suggesting she is near tears.

GIRL
(to herself)

Jesus Christ. I can’t deal with these people anymore.


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Bachelor Food: grilled cheese and tomato soup

This is a combination that I distinctly remember “inventing” when I was a kid and I was disappointed to learn years later that many, many people had grown up having grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup served to them by their mothers. I do think that it’s a Midwesternism though, so I’m going to expand the definition of my invention to include that it’s part of the hive mind and leave it at that.

Let's never speak about how ugly this bowl is.

Let’s never speak about how ugly this bowl is.

I was inspired to reprise this classic childhood treat after finding single-serving containers of tomato soup sold by some German company in the “weird food” section of one of my local stores and by the pilot episode of FX’s new series, FARGO, where two adult characters have this combo for lunch.

Disregard that Canadian network logo. They aren't in MN or ND.

Disregard that Canadian network logo.

This is where I tell you that despite most of the action in the story, both the show’s and the 1996 film’s upon which it’s loosely spun off, taking place in Minnesota, Fargo is actually a town in North Dakota. Being an ex-Midwesterner, this kind of flagrant disregard for our state boundaries and identities pisses me off. Now everyone who watches the show is going to have an even worse idea of where things are located in that vast area that’s alternately tundra and arable land and where people do talk with weird accents, albeit not all the same one.

It’s on the eastern border with Minnesota.


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Work to live, live to work

I kind of felt like this the whole time I worked for this guy. (A favorite comic from explodingdog.)

I kind of felt like this the whole time I worked for this guy. (A favorite comic from explodingdog.)

Once upon a time, I walked into my boss’s office and asked for his permission for my summer vacation. It was six months before I planned on going on holiday.

“Depends. Where’re you going?” he asked me.

“Does it matter?” I asked.

“Well, I can’t have you going far away. If I need you, I’ll have to pay for your return flight from our budget, so I’ll only okay it if you’re staying close.”

I was momentarily speechless. In the privacy of his office he had said aloud what both of us knew: I did a lot of his job for him and he depended on me to make things run smoothly. This was a tiny victory for me and about as much recognition as I was going to get since he sure as shit wasn’t going to use that budget to pay me more.

I recovered pretty quickly from my momentary elation to address the next issue, namely that he had no right to deny me and I knew it, even if he didn’t.

“I haven’t planned it yet,” I lied. “Besides, according to the employee handbook, it’s against company policy to deny a vacation request if it’s made within a reasonable time period to find a replacement. Half a year should be long enough to line someone up, I think.” I let that sit there. Watched as he slowly started to realize that I had that handbook almost memorized.

“Well, try to stay close anyway,” he mumbled as he signed the form.

My best friend and I went to Europe for just over two weeks and I didn’t even leave him hotel contact information, despite his repeated “casual” and “humorous” mentions that I do so.

***

This story prompted for your reading pleasure by the news that some French labor unions are moving to prevent some workers from being required to answer email after work hours.

There was a ton of misinformation online about this, apparently started by those French-hating bastards over at The Guardian* but cooler heads prevailed at places like the NYT. FastCompany went crazy with the specious headline but NPR actually did some of their own reporting, coming up with a better researched post.

* The bastards I’m referring to are les rosbifs, generally speaking. I actually like The Guardian and read a lot of their entertainment coverage which is quite good.

The funny (sad?) thing is that many of the English-language stories cited the same data point about how American productivity levels are 400% higher than those in France. Even if this is true, so what? No mention is made of how low American health, happiness or well-being levels are, nor how high the stress, obesity and heart disease rates are. Joe Walsh sang it best: There are two sides to every story.