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.


A nice view

Like most people, I’ve seen a lot of pictures of the Eiffel Tower, but I can’t recall ever coming across this view.

Eiffel shadow

This is the part where I recommend Erik Larson’s book The Devil in the White City : Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America. It’s about the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and there is actually a connection to the Eiffel Tower so it’s not that strange that a pointy thing in Paris makes me think of the Ferris wheel on Navy Pier.


Alpian Way Loot

This loot came from New York via Geneva, Switzerland so I wasn’t sure what to call it. Running a search through my brain, I couldn’t come up with any good movie connections or even mildly amusing puns related to Switzerland…which is kind of Switzerland all over. Everyone’s very friendly and everything’s very clean but the place is not exciting.

Loot Swiss

  • New York Public Library tote bag 
  • Coach wrist bag  
  • 2 pairs of Smartwool socks
  • The First Year: Rheumatoid Arthritis: An Essential Guide for the Newly Diagnosed 

Things to be learned from this collection

  • One can never have enough tote bags.
  • Due to the Paris metro card’s sensitivity to magnets, I can’t carry mine in any of my bags, hence, wrist bag.
  • In the sock business, you get what you pay for. I had to throw out the four pairs I got from JCrew last autumn because they had no elastic.
  • Everything, even medical ailments, can be solved if you have the right book.

Things I’ve already learned from my book: it knows I love etymology and torturing myself!

RA book excerpt

It’s like it sees into my soul.

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A rose by any other blahg

It never fails to amaze me how things can look totally different depending on where you’re standing. Where I grew up, we were politely referred to as “the Spanish people” (the locals being too dumb to know there’s an actual word for that – Spaniards) and impolitely called lots of other things. In Spain, my siblings and I were “los americanos” and we were both despised for our perceived worldliness and valued for the cultural information we could impart.

This phenomenon is why I ended up in a third country. In my homeland (the US) I was aware of being different for most of my life and in la patria, people were quick to point out that I wasn’t really from there. Here in France, people think I’m American or Spanish or just plain foreign and they don’t really seem to have any negative feelings either way.

All of which means I have something in common with Count Ladislaus de Almásy and frozen bagels sold at a national chain here in France: we are all identified by how people experience us, not as we are.

The Count in question is the protagonist of The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje’s novel (later adapted into Anthony Minghella’s film). Almásy gets his alias after he’s found almost dead by Allied forces in the remnants of an airplane in the desert. Since he’s mostly covered in burns, the only means of identifying him are his accent, which is determined to be English although he’s Hungarian. Over the course of the narrative, which is told mostly in flashbacks, we come to learn that earlier the Allies mistook him for a Nazi sympathizer due to his foreign name, a mischaracterization that ends up causing lots of death and destruction. It’s ironic and tragic.

Bagels are delicious bread products that came over to the US with Jewish Eastern European immigrants. Any city with a self-respecting Jewish population has a decent bagel, but New York clearly has the best. Marketing them as “Little American breads” is a much easier sell, but that doesn’t really justify the misnomer.

I think everything should be referred to in a way of its choosing, which is problematic on the bagel front since they’re not sentient. I think the count would have self-identified as Lover of Katherine since nationality didn’t mean anything to him.

Me, I’m like Rick from CASABLANCA, “a citizen of the world.”