Le cul entre les deux chaises

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


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Catalans in Paris, Part 2

Look at me, remembering a holiday on the day it actually falls! All of the credit goes to Camper which sent me an email prompting me to check out their “Halloween selection.”

Clearly, no one told them that "damn" is a swear word.

No one told them that “damn” is a swear word.

Camper, a Catalan shoe company originally established in Mallorca in 1975, clearly doesn’t understand that while most American holidays* are about spending money, Halloween is only about children getting candy and adults getting dressed up and wasted. Oh, and telling ghost stories, like the spooky one I’m going to relate right now…

It was a dark and stormy night… That’s a total lie. It was a lovely sunny day and I was walking past the Opéra Garnier. There’s a Camper shop near there and, since I wasn’t in a hurry and I am always happy to check out their good quality, comfy shoes, I went in.

A tall salesman at the back of the shop said hello to me and I said hello back. He started a bit and looked at me really hard before making a bee line straight for me.

He asked me, in Catalan, where I was from and I responded, in Catalan, that I’m Spanish and American but that I used to live in Barcelona. I asked him how he knew to speak to me in Catalan and he said that I had done so first. I told him that I didn’t think that was possible since I’d never just assume that he spoke Catalan; we were in Paris after all.

He said, “No, you definitely said ‘bon dia‘ to me, so I thought you were Catalan too.” At this point I actually looked at him and saw that he *did* look kind of Catalan so it’s possible I automatically greeted him as one but I still thought he was pulling my leg. That was the moment when I became wildly uncomfortable because I was doubting everything that had transpired in the previous two minutes and that’s just not something that happens to me. I gave him the sideways stink eye to see if he buckled under my scrutiny but he just grinned really wide and said that he hadn’t found anyone to speak in Catalan with since he got to Paris.

“But *you* started it,” I insisted again and he rocked back and forth on the balls of feet and kept smiling.

At this point I said, “Adéu” and got the hell out of there. And that, children, is why I will never go back to that Camper store again.

Happy Halloween and remember not to talk to strangers, even if they greet you in favorite tongues!

*Non-Americans probably don’t know that President’s Day has evolved into the holiday for big-ticket items, like cars and mattresses. If I were joking, this would be kind of funny. That I’m totally serious should indicate how twisted and consumer-driven American life is.


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Catalans in Paris, Part 1

Standing in line to go up the Eiffel Tower with a visiting friend and her half-Catalan five-year old, we quickly determine that the people both in front of us and behind us are Catalan. The two groups recognize each other as fellow countrymen and start talking about their respective trips.

This kid's half Catalan and therefore crazy enough to try scaling the Eiffel Tower.

This kid’s half Catalan and therefore crazy enough to try scaling the Eiffel Tower.

The people ahead of us included three adults and two children who had been in town for only a couple days. The group behind us was a family with both parents and three children who were wrapping up their week-long visit. They all compared notes on what was worth seeing, how much more things cost here and how the children were faring being in a foreign country.

At one point, the dad behind us (whose family had been in Paris for several days) started calling out to his son Arnau to settle down since he was running around a bit too much. “Do you want a llonganissa sandwich?” he asked. My head whipped around to my friend so that we could lock eyes and grin at each other because that is classic Catalan behavior.

You see, Catalan people think their food is the best in the world. They so firmly believe in the superiority of their cuisine that, when they travel, they will pack food from home. The first time I heard this, a student of mine was telling me about her friend who’d had to go to India for work for a week and had vacuum-packed two dozen sandwiches to take with her. I was flabbergasted. Indian food is soooo good and to miss an opportunity to eat it in its native land seemed like the biggest waste. Plus, eating days-old sandwiches sounds terrible, but my student insisted that it had to be done. Did I know that they didn’t even have bread in India? I told her that India had naan which is delicious and a kind of bread, but she dismissed me by saying that whatever naan was, it wasn’t bread.

Over the five years that I lived amongst them, I was told by many more people that, of course, they travelled with food. More than a few even told me of trips here, to France, where they’d brought their own eats which still seems like the most insane thing anyone has ever done. Why in holy hell would you bring food to France? You would if you’re Catalan, because Catalan people are crazy.

Eat something

Embotit is “cured sausage” in Catalan, but fuet, which is one of the regional kinds and what most Catalans are referring to when saying llonganissa is a really, really good skinny flavorful pork sausage. If I could get it here, I would totally buy it all the time. As it is, I get an Italian kind that is pretty similar since I haven’t bothered to find a French one that I like as well.


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Catalans crack me up

I mean, I guess I understand wanting to have your computer put into your language, but I can assure you (despite not having used this service) that the translation on this thing is terrible.

Catalanitzador


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Catalan time

Catalan people are totally quaint. Their crazy idea that they’ll gain independence from Spain is certainly a big part of it. The insistence on speaking a language that no one can properly spell is another, but the thing that really sets them apart for me is that they have their own way of telling time.

In English, Spanish and French, telling time is basically the same proposition. Each language offers a variation on saying “it’s 1:15” or “it’s a quarter past one.” (In French and Spanish the latter is flipped so as to be “it’s one and a quarter.”) This way of communicating is clear, straightforward, and for a person who knows how to read a clock, there’s almost no way to mess up.

This watch was a promotional item from the Catalan “national” TV channel, TV3

But then you get to Catalunya and people start going crazy, telling you that at 1:15 it’s “one quarter closer to two” (un quart de dues). Their line of thinking is that once you’ve entered the hour of one, you are closer to the hour of two since time moves forward. As the handy watch that a friend gave me some years ago shows, Catalan also eschews the “half-hour” designation, opting to say “two quarters,” and “three quarters” instead of the more expected “a quarter to.”

Better still, for all those pesky between-five-minute intervals, Catalan’s got you covered so that you can say, “it’s a quarter closer to two and half a quarter” meaning that the time is 1:22.

What’s really crazy is that many Catalans are very Catalan and they actually make appointments using this insane method so that it’s very possible to arrive an hour early to a meeting where they’re going to arrive a half hour late on principle. If you do the math, which I’ve done the hard way (by living it), that can equal a one and a half hour wait for you, so vigila (watch out)!