Le cul entre les deux chaises

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


Let’s ban “nonplussed”

bannedLook, I love words a lot — look at my etymology tag for proof! — but what I like about them on a basic level is that they help us humans communicate with each other. If I say “cat” we’re on the same page of what I am talking about and that is good.

But this is no longer the case with “nonplussed” and I think we should all agree to stop using it because it’s totally confusing.

The definition of nonplussed is “surprised and confused so much that they are unsure how to react.” Due to its negative prefix (“non-“) it has more recently been used to mean the exact opposite, i.e. “unsurprised.” My beef with the word (’cause we’ve totally got beef now) is that it’s hard to know if or when people are using it correctly and this total lack of clarity is the opposite of good communication (which is what I am all about).

As a comparison point, the annoying habit people have picked up of using “literally” when they mean “figuratively” is dumb, lazy and incorrect, but it’s obvious that when someone says, “I literally died of embarrassment” that they aren’t actually dead and were, instead, severely shamed in public.

Two podcast interviews I heard recently brought this to my attention. One was with Kevin Spacey, who was described on the BBC’s Film Programme as “nonplussed” when posed a question, and it left me baffled. Spacey has such a smug, sarcastic speech pattern anyway that it was hard to tell just by listening if he was really shocked, just faking it, or if the interviewer was being ironic. The second was with Noah Hawley, the writer of FX’s very enjoyable FARGO TV show, who I am fairly certain used the word completely wrong. (The context was that Midwesterners are “nonplussed” by the harshness of the winters, which they’re totally not.) This confusion on Hawley’s part led to me being disappointed as I thought the show was generally well done but am now troubled that a professional writer doesn’t have a grasp on the language he’s working in.

So, out with nonplussed. Let’s just get rid of it. Literally.


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The Loot Came From London!

What’s the adjective for London? London-y? London-ish? Years ago, I would have been able to intuit this, or at least know how to find the info, but I am getting rusty. Talking to my best friend recently, I told him that I was not only having a hard time figuring out lots of words, I also wasn’t able to determine “good Google words” for them. Later in the conversation, I remembered that the phrase I should have used is “optimal search terms” and chastised him for letting my poor language skills slide.

Regardless, here’s some stuff I got from London when my family hopped the Channel, er la Manche, this summer.

London Loot

  • It’s Only A Movie, by Mark Kermode
  • The Good, The Bad and the Multiplex, by Mark Kermode
  • M&S Chocolate Mini Bites
  • M&S Chocolate Brownie Mini Bites

Kermode is the film critic for the BBC’s “flagship film programme,” the podcast of which is the highlight of my week. His latest book just came out, but I’ll be waiting for the paperback because I really dislike hardcovers. (For the record, they’re heavy, uncomfortable for in-bed reading, big, generally cumbersome.)

The M&S stuff weren’t requests, but I do love local junk foods, so they were interesting to try. The Mini Bites were fancier, mintier versions of Ho Hos, a Hostess product I’m not crazy about, so an elevated take on them seemed kinda silly. The brownies were pretty good, though they were on sale because they’d passed their sell-by date the week previous. To M&S’s credit, they actually did taste a little stale so they presumably use fresh-ish ingredients and not all chemicals. These might be worth taste-testing again.

But, wait! There’s more!

→ The words that describe the people of a place are called demonyms. The US, with its odd state names, has some good ones.

→ If you want a primer on Mark Kermode (pronounced KERH-mode), check out this great compilation of his best rants. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I lovelovelove the one for TRANSFORMERS 3. It’s got some of the best Mark-made soundeffects.


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Stephen Fry continues to be wonderful, highlight America

As an expat, one of the things I love are reading and seeing accounts of other expats in the places I’ve been. Part of the pleasure is in how much or little I relate to someone else’s experience; sometimes it’s surprising to learn that an altercation with the locals is universal while other, seemingly mundane situations are unique to me.

The flip-side of this is how foreigners understand the US. My parents fall into this group which is probably why it’s taken me so long to enjoy the large collection of such insights. After all, stories about how weird America and those who inhabit it are were a common occurrence in my house. Maybe it’s just that I’ve been away so long (seven years and counting) that I’m far enough away to see that yes, those people are nuts and that I was a fool for not seeing it sooner.

Here’s what Stephen Fry had to say about experiencing a college football game for his 2008 BBC docuseries, “Stephen Fry in America”

I really don’t know if anything sums up America better. It’s simultaneously preposterous, incredibly laughable, impressive, charming, ridiculous, expensive, overpopulated, wonderful. American.

You can watch the whole thing online or just the part I’m referencing below.

I can’t wait to see what he says about where I grew up.


Crocodile eggs for lunch

Do you ever look at food and wonder what the hell ever compelled someone to eat it the first time? Avocados are like that for me. They look like crocodile-skin eggs or freaky space rocks but someone somewhere decided it would be good to ingest one. I imagine that the person came upon a split open avocado on the ground and was drawn in by its color (“Oh pretty! Put in mouth!”) and the world rejoiced, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re still totally weird-looking.

Here’s one I had for lunch recently with my beloved Thai meatballs with hoisin sauce and risotto done up Japanese style with my rice seasoning.

Avocado lunch

Related-in-my-mind things

→ When I was first wandering around Barcelona one of the things that made me think that maybe I’d made a huge mistake was seeing all the signs were in català, a language I did not speak. I feared I also wouldn’t understand the people since many, many, many signs were for Avocado Buffets [buffet d’avocat] which seemed insane to me. Who needed to eat so many avocados? Turns out that not a one of them specialized in tropical fruits — they offered legal services. Buffet : firm, avocat : lawyer (personal advocate).

→ On “Call The Midwife,” a BBC series set in 1950s London, one episode featured the characters saying “avocado pear” over and over and me double-blinking every time because that sounds ridiculous.

→ Technically, avocados and lemons are berries. This last thing I learned over the weekend in the charming Danish older person romance Den skaldede frisør (:”The Bald Hairdresser,” “Love Is All You Need” English title.). Mark Kermode said it was like “Dogme does ‘Mamma Mia!'” which was mixed praise. I’m a fan of the Dogme 95 movement, but “Mamma Mia!” is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. However, it also stars Pierce Brosnan (I will watch anything a James Bond has been in) and Kermode said it’s “really rather good and really rather charming” he was right (as usual).


Saved by Stephen Fry

Pangloss, Candide‘s teacher, may have posited that I live in the “best of all possible worlds” because my world has Stephen Fry in it. Fry is the best at just about everything, but this week, he and his punnery pulled me out of my funk.

I’m watching “Stephen Fry in America,” a 2008 BBC documentary series that’s a companion to the book of the same name (which I’ll read later). In it, Fry travels across the great United States in a modified (for US driving) London taxi cab and explores what each state has to offer.

The first episode is set in New England, as geography and history dictate it must be, so it was simultaneously rough and reassuring to see so many familiar places. The scene that saved me is when he’s driving through Newport, Rhode Island and says, “This is the dead center of town,” indicating out the window.

Stephen Fry approaching the center of Newport, RI.

Stephen Fry approaching the center of Newport, RI.

Stephen Fry giving global positioning commentary.

Stephen Fry giving global positioning commentary.

Of course, he’s passing a cemetery, which he realizes moments later and starts cracking up. Because it really is the Dead Center. It may sound macabre, but it was delightful and was the first time I’ve laughed in ages. Thank Leibniz for Stephen Fry.

Stephen Fry tickled by his own (inadvertent) wit.

Stephen Fry tickled by his own (inadvertent) wit.

UPDATE: An email I got today prompted me to dig through my In Case of Emergency bookmarks folder to send something to a friend who is down. And lo! More Stephen Fry goodness.