Le cul entre les deux chaises

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


The bane of my current life

I answer the phone and, right away, accusations.

“I’m where your office is supposed to be and you’re not here!”

I try to take charge of the situation before it spins wildly out of my control.

“Where are you right now ma’am? What do you see?”

“I’m right on Line X where you said you’d be and you’re not here! I asked everybody and they said that I *am* on Line X, but you’re not! And I am!”

This woman is irrationally angry and she is now 100% my problem.

“Which station on Line X are you near? Can you see any signs — street signs, restaurant signs — anything at all?”

“Whadya mean ‘station’? I’m on Line X! Where are you?!”

Sigh. Really, people are the worst.

“Ma’am, Line X is a subway line that goes across the whole city of Paris. There is no one geographical point that is Line X. There are multiple stops, or stations, along its length. You are probably near some station of Line X, but until you give me some more information about your location, I can’t give you directions. Now, please stop walking, take a deep breath, and tell me what businesses you see around you.”

Sullen silence on the other end of the phone. I wait.

“There’s a bank called LCL.”

I shake my head since the wall is too far away for me to pound it against.

“Ma’am, there are hundreds of banks in Paris, please give me the name of a restaurant or a street so that I can help you.”

“There’s a restaurant called tear-ass. It’s spelled t-e-r-r-a-s-s-e. Do you know where I am now?”

I do not know where she is, but I am sure now that I am in hell.

She could have been almost ANYWHERE here.

She could have been almost ANYWHERE here.

Really, why did you even leave the house?

Telling a co-worker about this insane lady and her complete lack of street smarts, she commented that there are tourists and there are travelers, a turn of phrase I’d never come across before. The difference is that travelers embrace new experiences and are armed with (at least) basic navigational skills. Tourists are idiots who somehow managed to leave the house with a passport, get on a plane and arrive in another country, demanding that everything be just like back home.

I need to rewatch William Hurt and (Oscar-winning) Geena Davis in THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST again to see how she cures him of being an ignoramus. Till then, I’ll be giving creative directions to all manner of lost people all over the Paris area.

You needn’t be so burdened though, so you should check out this list of 21 quotes about the wonders of seeing the world.

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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.


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.


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.


Oh — no — I didn’t mean — It’s — I —


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.


Oh. Wait — what?

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

(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.

(to herself)

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


The Expat Oscar Experience

Watching the Oscars in Europe is pretty tricky. The time difference is the main obstacle since the show starts at 5pm Pacific which is 2am in Spain and France. If you can manage to stay awake, which I generally can, the next issue is access which isn’t at all easy to manage. The couple years I had cable TV in Spain, we didn’t have the extra subscription channels that may have broadcast the ceremony live and since I’ve been in France, I’ve been TV-less, so it’s always a struggle.

Ways I’ve managed to “see” the show include:

→ Listening to ABC’s “back-stage mic” via a speaker plugged into my computer next to my pillow.

→ Watching some Scandinavian show where the people were dressed in tuxes and evening gowns, sitting on a set, watching the actual Oscars on a TV in the background.

→ Listening to the NYT’s David Carr and A. O. Scott do basically the same thing, but in English via the NYT’s iPhone app.

→ Toggling between live-blogs on sites like Entertainment Weekly, The AV Club and Television Without Pity.

This year, I kind of gave up after thirty minutes of trying to find some way around all the restrictions and country-blocking that seem in vogue online now and just followed the whole thing on Twitter. I’d never done anything like this before since I don’t care about most of the “events” that are big enough to warrant much action on Twitter (singing competition shows, the Super Bowl), but I have to say that it was a better substitute than some of the other ridiculous things I’ve tried (and certainly less dangerous than having electronics in bed). Lots of people actually posted Vines of the best moments, blurry snippets recorded directly off TV screens, but they were better than overhearing what was happening or watching a screen within another screen.

And if I had found some way to watch live, I would surely have missed Rolling Stone Magazine proving that PC-culture is a dangerous thing to impose upon people who don’t use their brains.



In case it’s not clear

Not all black people are African-American. Certainly British director / artist Steve McQueen (no relation) is not any kind of American. Black people can be from the Caribbean or Africa or Europe or anywhere really, not just the US, a possibility which is lost on many Americans trying their hardest not offend anyone, ever.


Metropolitan diaries and cockroaches

Do you know about “Metropolitan Diary”? It’s a weekly column in the New York Times that prints letters from readers about funny New York moments. (Sometimes there are poems which are dreadful, but if you just skip them, the amusement ratio is high.)

Digging through the file I keep of things that make me laugh, I came across one from January 2010 that still cracks me up and is totally appropriate to reprint here.

Dear Diary:

I was recently reminded of an event years ago, when I was living in New York City.

We were visiting Toronto, and were at a very nice French restaurant downtown. As we were seated, the maître d’, with a flourish, took my wife’s napkin and placed it on her lap. When repeating the effort for me, the flourish released a large cockroach hiding in the napkin!

It crawled down my leg, hit the floor, and with (what I thought was) a smooth action, I violently dispatched the critter.

Without batting an eye, the maître d’ said, “Monsieur must be from New York City.”

We received a complimentary bottle of wine!

Richard Freeman

Read more

One letter from the Diary is printed online every day and isn’t behind a paywall. Reading it may count against however many articles one can read for free a month. I’m not really sure how that works.