Le cul entre les deux chaises

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


Links Day

On this day, God said, “Let there be links!” and there was much rejoicing.

→ The most miserable US states, according to a 2013 Gallup poll. I admit that I’m disappointed that the state I grew up in is not number 1. Makes me think they didn’t collect enough data ’cause that place is the worst.



→ What would the world be like if ads were replaced by art? Pretty great, I’d say after looking over Etienne Lavie’s “OMG who stole my ads ?” project.  [h/t]

→ Apparently, everyone else in the world is washing their hands wrong. If I were still as germphobic as I was when I lived in the US, this would seriously disgust me. As things stand now, I’m just disappointed in you.

→ People have always (weirdly) been drawn to me, and Mike White (actor / director / screenwriter / AMAZING RACE contestant) may know why. He says he wants people to see him and think,

“Oh, he seems like he’s having a good time. Maybe he has the secret to something that I haven’t figured out.” 

(I’m totally not telling you the secret.)

→ National flags made out of each country’s typical foods. Warning: this will make you hungry. 

→ Jenny Lawson, blogger extraordinaire and author, is someone you should be reading. She’s funnier and more foul-mouthed than I am though we feel the same way about the Important Things In Life, like The Princess Bride.

“I used to think that it was a small sin to waste time rereading silly books you’ve already read. . . but then I grew up and realized that those things were the only things that mattered. . . I’ve decided to give up on caring about wasting time and, in doing that, I’ve suddenly saved so much time I would have spent hating myself for reading The Princess Bride for the 89th time.”

Amen, sister. 

→ British actors with fantastic voices reading aloud. They make even the poetry palatable. 

desmoinespolice→ Buildings that used to be Pizza Huts were featured on the great 99% Invisible podcast. I ate so many free pepperoni personal pan pizzas in buildings just like the one pic’d at right as RIF / Book It! rewards. I wish I could still get free stuff just for doing things I like. 

→ I don’t have tattoos because I think they’re a bad idea. My friends who have them all regret the decision to varying degrees, the most mild being, “I don’t really mind this one too much.” A column in the NYT Magazine nailed my issue with scarring yourself with colors:

“Getting a tattoo is a way for your past self to exert power over your present self.” 

Your past self is always an idiot compared to your now-self. Knowing this when you’re younger helps prevent mistakes in the future. This is the reason I’m not on Facebook.

Next Week

In honor of the Academy Awards (which are this Sunday), I’ll be doing all movie-related posts next week. I can’t keep track of basic holidays (or even my birthday) but I mark the Oscars and the BAFTAs in my calendar because those are important (to me). Priorities, people. We’ve all got them.


Word Mystery: Band-Aid / tirita / pansement / plaster

Every Wednesday, I explore the linguistic origins of one word in different languages I speak.

Biking a lot means cuts and bruises. Many of the trails I’m riding are in the woods, so scrapes are something I’m having to deal with a lot more than usual. That’s why I picked up these totally cool looking scrape-cover-uppers at the store and thought, “Hmmm. Pansement‘s a weird word. I wonder what the story is there.” And now I give you the story.


EN → Band-Aid® (adhesive bandage) — an adhesive bandage with a gauze pad in the center, used to cover minor wounds. ORIGIN This product aids someone in bandaging themselves. Previous to this invention, bandaging was done by a second party.

ES → tirita®Tira adhesiva por una cara, en cuyo centro tiene un apósito esterilizado que se coloca sobre heridas pequeñas para protegerlas. [Adhesive strip on one side with a sterile pad in the center which is placed over small wounds to protect them.] ORIGIN Appears to be a portmanteau of tira adhesiva sanitaria [sterile adhesive strip]. A Catalan entrepreneur (visca Catalunya!) started selling a version of the American product in 1954.

FR → pansementEnsemble des éléments appliqués sur une plaie pour la protéger de l’infection et pour favoriser sa cicatrisation. [Combination of things applied to a wound to protect it from infection and promote healing.] ORIGIN From panser [to take care of].

Interesting trio today. The French is the only one of the three that wasn’t a registered trademark that passed into common usage. The English one actually made me think and realize something I’d never considered. The Catalan one made me happy because some dude blatantly copied something a clumsy American housewife invented and made a mint. I’m giving him the win for being an opportunist.

Sing something

When Spanish children are injured, the common thing to say to them is this little rhyme

Sana sana, culito de rana, si no sanas hoy, sanaras mañana.

[Healing, healing, little frog’s butt, if it doesn’t heal today, it’ll heal tomorrow.]

My sister was embarrassed fairly recently when some Latin American people she knows laughed at her, saying that the correct words are “colita de rana” [frog’s tail], but they’re totally wrong. The point of the song is to distract children from the pain by saying something silly and, most importantly, frogs don’t have tails. Not even the ones called “tailed frogs.”

UPDATE: As expatlingo commented, the British do indeed use “sticking plaster” instead of Band-Aid. This is because the Band-Aid was invented in the US and we wouldn’t share with them! Nah, I’m just kidding. It’s because the Brits used gauze that had been treated in a light plaster mix to protect wounds. When moistened, it would stick around the wound. Think of a plaster cast, but more flexible and less sanitary. “Plaster” comes from the Greek emplastron [daub, salve].


Great word: pyjamas

Bananas in Pyjamas is a thing that makes me & my BFF laugh.

Bananas in Pyjamas is a thing.

I was sitting at an outdoor bar near the beach in Barcelona on a sunny day like any of the hundreds I spent while living there. This particular day I was staring intently into the pint of beer in front of me, willing myself to drink it before it got warm or I threw up.

I was achingly hung over. My head hurt, my liver ached, my kidneys were screaming in protest and the air was starting to heat up like an oven. Throwing up was a very real possibility. Instead, I took a sip. It stayed down, so I took another. Feeling no additional ill effects, I gulped the rest of the beer down and felt many degrees better. Hair of the dog always does the trick, if you can stomach it.

Feeling the world come into focus again, I looked up from the table top and saw that Franc, my friend’s husband, was staring at me oddly. I met his look with my own contemplative one and he finally exploded: “Are you wearing pyjamas?!”

I was and I didn’t care who knew it. “I barely slept, I’m hungover, it’s hot as hell. It’s a miracle I showered today, so, yes, I’m wearing pyjama pants.” I considered the matter closed, but when my friend Melissa returned from the bathroom, Franc incredulously told her I was attired in sleepwear. “Oh, that’s a good idea. I wish I’d worn pajamas,” she said. Franc is South African and sometimes misunderstandings cropped up between our cultures. “What’s with you American girls?” he asked us. “You’re never embarrassed about anything!”

The truth is I’m not embarrassed very often, but it’s not because I’m American. It’s because, like Rhett Butler, I just don’t give a damn.

Think about something

Pyjama (my preferred spelling) is a unique word because it’s the same in my main languages: pajamas (US), pyjamas (UK), pyjama (FR), pyjama (ES). ORIGIN: early 19th cent.: from Urdu and Persian, from pāy [leg] + jāma [clothing.]

And, just for fun


New (old) favorite thing

As I get older, it’s hard to believe that I used to be a cool and popular person. Don’t get me wrong — I’m still a lot of fun to be around and people tend to enjoy my company — but I find that I’m enjoying odder things every day.

Without the "LFA," there would be no Alastair Cookie. True story.

Without the “LFA,” there would be no Alastair Cookie.

My newest favorite thing is a thing that’s almost as old as my mom, which is to say it’s way older than I am: Alastair Cooke’s “Letters From America.” They are available, for free, on iTunes through the largesse of the BBC. I stumbled onto them while trolling iTunes UK (it’s fascinating how different each country’s store is) and almost hopped out of my seat, such was my excitement.

For those of you unfamiliar with the “programme,” it is a series of 15-minute weekly audio “letters” sent by Cooke from the US to elucidate some fine point of American life to his former countrymen. They ran from 1946 to 2004. Fifty-eight years. Can you imagine?

The first one that’s accessible is from 1947 and begins with this gem of a statement:

Americans, more than most people I think, like to enjoy the fallacy of free will and pretend that a new calendar means a new and better life.

BOOM! In your face, Americans! Take your silly provincial ideals and get out of this guy’s way! He won’t suffer your tomfoolery any longer!

In all seriousness, this thing is an incredible archive and gives a thoughtful you-are-there feeling to American history from the last half century. You should check them out. Really phenomenal stuff. Plus Cooke has such a lovely speaking voice that I’m sure they’ll improve my diction.

UPDATE: Thanks to expatlingo’s diligence, if you’re not an iTunes user, you can download the Letters directly from BBC4 here.


Winston Churchill Words, Part I

The first thing I think of when I hear the name Winston.

First off, I feel that since ole Sir Winston and I are going to be spending so much time together, what with the four volumes of A History of the English-Speaking Peoples coming in around 1600 pages, I need a nickname for him, but I’m not sure what you call a Winston when he’s at home. Winnie doesn’t seem dignified. Win’s a little bellicose-sounding. Suggestions appreciated.

A quarter of the way into Volume I The Birth of Britain and here are the words I’ve had to look up:

  • hypocaust: a hollow space under the floor of an ancient Roman building, into which hot air was sent for heating a room or bath.
  • efflorescence: reach an optimum stage of development; blossom
  • exiguous: very small in size or amount
  • coracles: (esp. in Wales and Ireland) a small, round boat made of wickerwork covered with a watertight material, propelled with a paddle
  • tonsure: a part of a monk’s or priest’s head left bare on top by shaving off the hair.
  • suzerainty: a state presided over by a feudal overlord
  • rapine: the violent seizure of someone’s property

It goes without saying that I will not be incorporating any of these words into my regular vocabulary. In fact, according to my dictionary (New Oxford American), some of the definitions are “historical” though the book was published in 1956.

I wasn’t able to guess any of these word’s meanings in context (except the boat one) and was pretty surprised when I did learn what they mean. Hypocaust was especially odd since hypo– is Greek and I can’t figure what the Romans were doing naming parts of their houses in Greek. And “exiguous” left me saying “Really?!” since there are at least half a dozen normal ways to express that idea. Show-off.

So many mysteries in the world.