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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Word Mystery: blackout / apagón / panne d’électricité

Wednesdays, I explore the linguistic origins of the same word in different languages.

Things I was forced to learn learned recently include:

1. French fuse boxes don’t look like any fuse box I’ve ever seen.

Curious.

Curious.

2. French fuses come in different wattages (or whatever), look like bullets and live in little Japanese-pod beds.

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3. Spent (or used or broken or whatever) French fuses literally blow their tops off, revealing a tiny red mark that indicates they’ve gone to illumination heaven (which I imagine is actually a really dark place where they can all rest for once).

French busted fuse.

4. Those things from IKEA that look like surge protectors are actually not protecting anything.

EN → blackout — a failure of electrical power supply. ORIGIN Darkness is black. It’s not hard to figure out, people.

ES → apagónInterrupción pasajera del suministro de energía eléctrica. [Temporary interruption of the power supply.] ORIGIN Noun of apagar [turn off], from Latin pacāre [calm, mitigate].

FR → panne d’électricité — Arrêt momentané et accidentel du fonctionnement d’électricité. [Momentary and accidental shutting down of electricity.] ORIGIN Variation on penne [pen] from Latin penna [wing].

General note: all three terms refer most commonly to large-scale power outages. What happened to me recently, I remembered after thinking long and hard, was that I “blew a fuse” but that wasn’t Word Mystery fodder so out it went!

So angry, Howard. Why don't you calm down?

You’re so angry, Howard. Why don’t you calm down?

Sad note: I actually lived through a big blackout in Barcelona in July 2007 that made international news. I filmed a video of the immediate aftermath (which I’d love to share with you but WordPress wants me to pay to upload video and I refuse) because Catalan people be crazy.

Imagine the oddest reaction to massive electrical failure that you could possibly think of having. Now let me tell you what the citizens of the whole affected area did en masse — hang out their windows, just like Howard Beale wants you to, and bang on pots with wooden spoons. Other people uploaded their videos to YT and you can check some out here and see that I am not lying.

English note: disappointed again.

Spanish note: A thing about me is that telling me to “calm down” makes me super angry. This is because it’s a common thing Spanish people do and they mean it in the most condescending way possible. Suggesting that someone else is in hysterics is a great way to make oneself look infinitely superior which is a national pastime. Spain loses just for that and may get put in the penalty box for being such a jerk.

French note: I understand how “wing” became “plume” but am a bit confused about its jump to meaning cut or rupture. Maybe ’cause a wing has an articulation in it? I don’t have science, so I can’t say if that’s even true.

Today’s winner is nobody since all of these stunk. Next week better improve or I’m going to get as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!

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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.