Le cul entre les deux chaises

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


What’s in a bodega?

An interesting international discussion cropped up around my shop Word Mystery post regarding what exactly a bodega is. For me, it falls into the category of words (I should come up with a name for them) that mean totally different things or are completely unconnected in my mind depending on what accent they’re pronounced in. Reading it in an English context, I immediately think of New York City corner stores. In a Spanish voice, I go to wine cellars or pantry-type rooms.

GIF by Nathan Pyle

GIF by Nathan Pyle

By a weird coincidence, The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC did a segment about bodega cats that I heard right around the time this conversation was happening. It’s more cute than informative but if you’ve been to an NYC bodega, you’ve met one of these cats.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, these are cats who live in convenience stores. Many NYC bodegas have them (the one near where my sister lives likes to sit on my nephew’s head) and they are, in fact, illegal. During the course of the conversation, it’s revealed that the fines for having a cat in a food shop are essentially equivalent to the ones for having rodents so it’s a wash.

If you have a few moments, you should scroll through the listener-submitted photos of their favorite bodega cats — it’s such a funny and weird collection and I somehow love the hashtag #bodegacat more than anything else right now.

Other amusing things for the day

Today’s GIF was part of a promotional campaign that Nathan Pyle did for his book about how to be in NYC. He has also designed some of my favorite things online, like another Schrodinger’s cat joke and a clever ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT joke. If you need a laugh, you should look through his stuff. Bonus: so many PRINCESS BRIDE jokes.


I am the Benjamin

UN CONTE DE NÖEL posterI finally got around to watching UN CONTE DE NOËL over the holidays and because of it, I figured out why French people don’t understand me when I say I’m the superbaby of my family — they’ve got a whole other term for that: benjamin(e).

FR → benjaminLe plus jeune des enfants d’une famille. [The youngest child in a family.] ORIGIN Benjamin was the youngest son of Jacob (himself son of Isaac, son of Abraham).

I don’t know what to think about this Jewish term being in such common usage in modern French. Despite having a visible presence and a well established neighborhood (the Marais), actually *being* Jewish in Paris doesn’t seem to be a thing that is very tolerated here. If I come across any more on this, I’ll report back.

Just in case you missed it

All of this could have been avoided if someone had just told me that this word existed and was used in such a manner but that’s not the French way. One must earn the knowledge before one can have it. And I respect that.

Cultural confusion

In American, “a Benjamin” is a $100 bill, as Benjamin Franklin is depicted on its face. There’s a cool brief history of the bill on the Wall Street Journal’s site which you can read here.

The new (2013) Benjamin

The new (2013) Benjamin

Further learning

I’d only come across the city of Roubaix, where UN CONTE DE NOËL is set, after watching the Danish documentary A SUNDAY IN HELL [En forårsdag i Helvede, 1977] not too long ago. The film centers on one year of the Paris-Roubaix spring classic bike race. I think you have to really like cycling to enjoy the film, but there were several other elements that might make it a good watch. The style was reminiscent of The Maysles Brothers’ work and many of the scenes of the riders off their bikes seemed to have inspired LES TRIPLETTES DE BELLEVILLE since the men actually behave like horses (one of the gags in the animated film).

On the conte

UN CONTE DE NOËL stars a bunch of people, as you can see from the poster (above), but my favorite part in the movie was a pseudo-ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT joke. The mother, played by Catherine Denueve, makes a disparaging comment about her daughter-in-law, saying something like, “I never liked her much anyway.” The meta-joke is that the daughter-in-law is played by Chiara Mastroianni, Denueve’s real life daughter which made me think of this:

arrested-development Lucille I love all my children equallyarrested-development Lucille I don't care for Gob

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Stupid Italian rabies

Chunk, Jake, Francis, (Francis’s toupee) and Mama Fratelli

How is it possible that I just now realized that the villains in THE GOONIES, the Fratellis, are “brothers” in Italian? I mean, I thought I knew just about everything about the best all-ages adventure tale that ever was. I even knew that the Scottish band The Fratellis took their name from the characters in the movie but I am just now putting together that the two brothers with mommy issues who scheme against each other and their simpler, slower sibling are called The Brothers? Rabies!!!

tonyhale hey brother

This is just unacceptable. If Buster Bluth had ever studied Roman irrigation systems or something even more useless, this epiphany would have happened a decade earlier.

Further Thinking: Is THE GOONIES Richard Donner’s best film? I crazylove SUPERMAN II and have an 80s kid’s fondness for LETHAL WEAPON, but GOONIES is perfect in every way and timeless, so I think it might be. Other opinions welcome.


White asparagus

Asparagus falls under the Fibrous category of the Consistency Rule which delineates which foods I won’t eat. (Other divisions include Gristly and Gelatinous.) Green asparagus tends to get caught in my teeth and leave tiny fibers hiding in corners of my mouth and I generally won’t have it.

But when I saw a bunch of super cheap white asparagus at my market after reading an appreciation in the NYT, I brought them home to experiment. I watched a José Andrés video and checked out some recipes on Epicurious and ended up liking them best raw, served here with an incredible avocado, some olive oil and salt and pepper. Texture-wise, they’re crunchier than hearts of palm, like a raw onion but not pungent.

white asparagus

Cultural Misunderstandings (Another Internet Warning)

Non-Americans say the funniest things. In one of the corners of the Internet I lurk around, a viewer of HBO’s adaptation of the epic fantasy series Game of Thrones complained that it wasn’t fair no new episode would air last Sunday because (they assumed) all US TV is dedicated to Memorial Day celebrations like parades and pageants. I actually laughed because, in a way, that’s a logical conclusion to come to but is so far off the mark. In the US, practically no good TV is ever aired on holidays or three-day weekends because Americans are too busy traveling, spending time with family, playing or watching sports, or getting drunk and eating too much. Conversely, in the UK, it’s common to have special Christmas episodes of popular series which actually air on Christmas day, something that would just never happen in the US.

This leads to my second consecutive Friday warning: if you read or follow anything slightly pop culture-related, all those sites are going to break and possibly melt the entire series of tubes which house the Internet on Sunday night, Eastern Standard Time (GMT-5) because the penultimate episode of the third season of Game of Thrones is going to make people freak the hell out. It’s going to be great… unlike the fourth season of Arrested Development which I am not caring for at all so far. Wish I could take a forget-me-now and wake up on Monday so I could step right into Westeros.

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Dream blogging

I had a dream the other night that I was in Barcelona with my best friend and a girl I knew in elementary school. I was taking them around the city and showing them the markets and where the best ice cream could be had. We passed an ATM and I said I wanted to go in to get pictures for the blog. (This is actually a thought that I’ve had, how I regret not having taken pictures of some cool tricks certain ATM machines can do to feature on the blog that I didn’t yet have the last time I was in BCN.)

Not a real person's card.

Not a real person’s card.

So we go into the teller space and I put my card in, but the options I want aren’t available because my ATM card is French and therefore has a puce and I am disappointed. We go to lunch in a restaurant I’ve seen before but can’t recall where in the world it was. When we’re done, I ask for l’addition and then laugh because I’m not in France and then I say ¿me cobra? and I carefully calculate 20% for the tip and take the amount to the register. The woman there looks at me like I’m crazy and I get flushed because I remember that you don’t really tip in Spain and I tell her that I’ve been gone so long, I’m like a guiri [stupid tourist] and the woman laughs at me in a mean-spirited way because she’s Spanish and thinks I’m an idiot. Of course, she *is* Spanish, so she doesn’t understand that living in multiple cultures and languages is sometimes mentally taxing. I grab the extra cash and, as I’m leaving with my companions I say, “Oof, a lot of stuff for the blog today” and then I woke up.

Learn something

A puce is a flea. In the context above, it refers to the embedded microchips used in French ATM/debit cards (see above, on the left). They make life way easier as you never sign for anything but just stick half of the card in a reader and enter your PIN.

A flea market is a marché aux puces a term I’d never really thought about until I actually thought about it (you know what I mean, right?). I am not a flea market kind of person partly because used things presented in piles that you have to dig through grosses me out, but also because they’re called FLEA markets and that really grosses me out. Open-air markets are different beasts entirely.

General Internet Warning

I strongly recommend that you get any Internet-needed things accomplished before tomorrow (Saturday May 25) because it’s very possible the Internet will break once the new season of Arrested Development becomes available on Netflix. You may think I’m kidding, but I am not going to be surprised if many sites are noticeably slower and others crash under the load. Achtung!

(Incidentally, if you need help following all the jokes or just want to relive some favorites, “Recurring Developments” has meticulously cataloged every single joke on the show’s previous three seasons.)