Le cul entre les deux chaises

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


It’s Memorial Day!

Thanks to a practice which really annoys me, I am now going to be able to remember which holiday marks the beginning of the summer season and which one ends it. The key came in the form of a movie I will never see called LABOR DAY. Here’s the US poster:


And here’s the French one:



Can you guess what, under normal circumstances, would bother me about this? It’s changing an English title into another English title. I mean, I get it: no one in Europe knows what Labor Day is but this practice is generally dumb and confusing.

Even before I heard and read the positively dreadful reviews for this movie (notice complete absence of reviewer quotes!), I wouldn’t have seen it for one big reason: it’s based on a book by Joyce Maynard and I don’t like her at all. I was studying writing when her book At Home in the World came out and one of my professors was exactly the kind of hippy-dippy person to eat it up and she made us read it too. I found the whole thing to be in poor taste and indicative of a person who was still not mature enough (then aged 45) to own up to any decisions she’d ever made. Other opinions are available but that’s the nice version of mine. The mean version is quite nasty and includes lots of foul words used to describe women of whom of I have a very low opinion.


More adventures in Parisian real estate

Do you think you’re efficient? Are you able to keep an eye on your breakfast while taking a shower? I didn’t think so, but now you can! For only 699€ a month, you can do everything in one space instead of wasting all that time walking across rooms. Toilet sold separately. (Really. It’s in the hallway.)

Appart Adventures kitchen shower 699€

Do you ever take a bath and wonder, “Man, I really wish I could look at the lower half of my body while I’m wet and naked”? Well, now you can! This bathroom comes equipped with the latest in vanity technology — a mirror at crotch level!

Appart mirror

Ladies and gentlemen, look at this kitchen! It’s a chef’s dream! The completely renovated space has all-new appliances including a dish washer, oven with electric cooktop and a full-size fridge! There’s ample storage for all your gadgets and culinary tools. It’s a perfect space! Except the living area is the size of a full mattress and a twin mattress squeezed together. (That is to say, there is no space for actual living.)

Appart Parfait 2

This one may be a personal choice as I don’t like humanoid anythings — dolls, puppets, mannequins, clowns, etc. — possibly due to mean tricks my asshole siblings pulled on me when I was little … but this poorly translated ad totally bothered me for days since I couldn’t stop imaging the horror of what it depicts: a puppet greeting you at the door every day. It’s like some sick Stephen King business.

Pantin is a town outside Paris…and a kind of articulated shadow puppet thingy.

Pantin is a town outside Paris…and a kind of articulated shadow puppet thingy.

Finally, two places that actually have many things going for them. In the first, sadly, one of those features was not an elevator (it’s a sixth floor).

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In the last, the problems are that I can’t afford it and I also hate spiral staircases, but man, those windows are something.

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The pros and cons of copyediting

thumbs up and downA recent editing job presented me with the following line in a medical-supply catalog:

secret antibacterial repellant material

My initial reaction was one of horror. What kind of secret stuff were they trying to sell? And who or what was being repelled? Once I settled down, I wrote the client a nice little note, asking for clarification on what the item in question was and gently suggesting that nothing in the medical industry should be advertised as “secret” as the word implied withholding information and didn’t engender trust.

What I got back made things much more clear, though not a lot less graphic. The product is a material placed on gurneys, stretchers, hospital beds, etc. Its purpose is not to absorb anything, specifically secretions, what in English we politely call “bodily fluids.”

This reminded me of an old client / student in Barcelona who asked me to look over the CV he’d paid to have translated. He was applying for a big job at a UK bank and wanted it “top shop.” (He meant “ship-shape,” a phrase I’d mentioned a few weeks prior.)

Under the heading of Other Responsibilities was “Exclusive personal affairs.” I was surprised. He seemed like he was happily married, so I asked him to explain what, precisely, that was supposed to mean. In the end, along with a lot of other changes, I amended the line to read “In charge of personnel issues.”

Clear something up

The in a word’s pronunciation guide indicates that the stress on the word comes just after the mark. In this manner, we have “su-KREET” and “SEE-cret.” Spelling makes a huge difference in many cases, but not always.

secrete |siˈkrēt| — (of a cell, gland, or organ) produce and discharge (a substance).
secret |ˈsēkrit| — not known or seen or not meant to be known or seen by others.

ship-shape — in good order; trim and neat.

personal |ˈpərsənəl| — of, affecting, or belonging to a particular person rather than to anyone else.
personnel |ˌpərsəˈnel| — people employed in an organization or engaged in an organized undertaking.

→ In case you were thinking it, today’s post title was inspired by Roger Waters’s “The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking.”



Updates on stuff I’ve written and your comments.

Simply the best (game).

→ I stopped playing Candy Crush. I got to level 169 without paying for any upgrades and, after a couple days stuck there, I decided I was out. Additional proof that I’ll never be a bona fide nerd: I don’t really get into video games. (N64 GoldenEye and Tetris excepted.)

→ Benedict Cumberbatch offers the famous person’s version of “Leave Me Alone” face:

“If you pick a point far behind [people on the sidewalk] they perceive you as not seeing them, and you’re the obstacle they have to get around. The greatest disguise is learning how to be invisible in plain sight.”

→ This year when I finally found a copy of the Oscars online to watch, I already knew all the good and bad moments, significantly lessening my enjoyment. Maybe next year I’ll try to play The Knowledge and just wait till I can see the whole thing for myself.

An episode of RADIOLAB made me “Rabies!” at my iPod since they mentioned that “right” also means “correct.” Another way that “left” is demonized.

→ Google Translate continues to be the worst and to do more harm than good. To wit, when it’s used to translate menus.

→ Complaining about lack of editing on the Internet is a bit like being angry at the sun for emiting light. That I’m not the only person to poke fun at those who don’t right the write word makes me feel better.

I will always love you.

→ An interesting take on why some of my favorite retailers went out of business from THE NEW YORKER. It wasn’t my fault and is instead due to Americans wanting to buy high-end goods in a luxury environment and low-end goods in a warehouse. Huh.

→ On a related note, I realized why I liked those stores so much: there were no salespeople. I hate being asked if I need help, if I’m finding what I want, if I’d like to see another size. This is another way in which I’m well suited to life in France.

→ More ways to clear out your life. I especially agree about the microwave. “Science ovens” aren’t worth the counter space they take up and make your food taste worse.

→ Elizabeth recommended I read the comments on that NYT article about tortilla and I did. Many were very angry, which amused me, but I’d like to think that part of the ire came from a translation misunderstanding. Spanish doesn’t allow for the distinction between must / should / have to. In English we know that these are degrees on the same spectrum, but Spaniards have a hard time with them, thus, when they give instructions in English, they often sound like commands. More on modal verb forms here.

Topics -> Hot Topic -> Hot Probs -> poor little Heather (McNamara).

→ But the person who was railing against “TOPICS!!” regarding Spanish people and their cooking was digging their own grave. They meant “clichés” which are “tópicos” in Spanish. Sigh.


More movie / translation fun

Part of being an expat cinefile is figuring out how English movie titles are translated. As I mentioned yesterday, I am pretty good at this, partly because I have a vast amount of movie trivia in my head but also because I have a pretty firm grasp on translation. Sometimes, neither of these things are any good to me because the foreign title is way off the original. Here are some that have tripped me up (or amused me) over the years.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

TWO MEN ONE DESTINY is not a title I would ever give to this movie. Only for starters (because I don’t want to be here all day), I don’t think either man would have said they believed in destiny. They were train robbers who were always figuring out their next move just moments before they needed to make it. Grade: F

The Sound of Music

The Sound of Music

This is where I admit that I’m one of those people who doesn’t like THE SOUND OF MUSIC. I never saw it as a kid, so it didn’t imprint and, without the nostalgia factor, this film is empirically bad. Now that that’s out there, I will say that at least the original title is pulled from the lyrics of the opening song and SMILES AND TEARS doesn’t factor in any lyrics. Or make any sense, really. Grade: C (‘cause I don’t care)



This translation, ONE OF US, at least comes from the narration: “He’s one of us, you understand? We were good fellas. Wiseguys.” Weirdly, the title of the book is Wiseguy so this line encapsulates all versions of the title. Grade: B+

And finally, a perfect translation.

The Long Kiss Goodnight

The Long Kiss Goodnight

This is my favorite bad movie of all time. It’s got everything you’d ever want in a good movie, but amped up 1000 times and made all the more awesome for it. The French title reflects this, as it’s 1000 times more awesome than the movie. “Au revoir” means “goodbye” as everyone knows, but its original sense was “until we re-see each other” so this title is basically UNTIL WE SEE EACH OTHER AGAIN, WHICH’LL BE NEVER. The movie is saying F-you to everyone and I love it. Grade: A++