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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My invisible tattoo

“You should get that tattooed on your forehead,” my BFF said.

What she was suggesting I get inked on my person was “Fuck. Off.” since, by her estimation, I was saying that a lot.

Some 15 years later, I still remember the particular morning I was telling her about when she made that offhand comment. It had been an incredibly hot and sunny summer morning in Boston, just before 10. I was walking to work and was suffering from what a friend called Infantile Head*. I’d run out of cigarettes during the night, so I stopped by the convenience store that was on my way and they were out of my brand. This increased my bad-temper tenfold. Some guy approached me as I was leaving the store and started to say something to me and I just yelled, “Fuck! Off!” and stormed across the T tracks to the video store where I worked.

Strangers approaching me for reasons other than directions totally puts me off. My basic feelings about dealing with other people are

  1. I’m not interested in meeting you unless I already know you**.
  2. If I wanted to be talking to you, I would be.

I’m kinda like Audrey Hepburn in CHARADE (although totally unstylish). (How she pulls off sunglasses over her scarf and hat I’ll never know.)

Sometime after college, I stopped actually saying “Fuck. Off” out loud when guys approached me, deciding to go with a simple “No.” This went over even less well than my original approach but was decidedly less aggressive.

Guy: Hi.

Me: No.

Guy: I just said “hi.”

Me: No.

Guy: What’s your problem?

Me: No.

[repeat ad nauseam until he goes away]

After doing this for a few years, I decided to use a Leave Me Alone face all the time when I wasn’t with friends. Basically, this is a neutral expression that doesn’t invite any advance. One must practice to get it right as it involves relaxed face muscles and distant eyes to send subtle body language cues that the wearer does not have time for you.

Most of the time, this works. Sometimes, people react poorly, thinking that I’m being a bitch or intentionally ignoring them or think I’m too good for them. What people don’t realize is that none of these things are true. I just genuinely have no interest in strangers and want them all to leave me alone. Again, if I’m not already talking to you, I can assure you that I don’t want to be.

Further thoughts

→ Despite having written most of this post in July 2012, Elizabeth’s comment that she has a City Face she wears so that people don’t bother her finally pushed this story up the queue.

→ “Queue” is the only word (in English, I think) that, if you remove all but one of its letters, is pronounced the same as the whole word. Thank you to the French language for making this possible (and really annoying).

→ I’ve gotten a lot of angry responses to my LMA face, but no one has ever found it funny, unlike this video which details the plight of women who suffer silently from Bitchy Resting Face.

→ The second season of Jerry Seinfeld‘s webseries is much better than the first. Sarah Silverman, a comedian whose brash style is usually too much for me, has a funny bit in a recent episode where she notices a teen girl’s unpleasant expression and says, “I’m going to change your life forever. That’s your default face? Put a smile on there.” It’s good advice, especially if your resting face is unpleasant.

Bringing this post full circle, Dame Helen Mirren, one of the more imposing ladies currently in existence, thinks that all girls should learn to say “fuck off” early and say it frequently. All hail the Queen!

* Infantile Head — like a baby’s head i.e. when you feel that any jostling, loud noise or bright light could cause permanent brain damage.

** Yes, I realize that this is impossible. THIS IS THE WHOLE POINT.

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French Housekeeping

A collection of random things I want to share with you.

→ A gallery of color photos of Paris in the early 1900s.

→ Cool video with great graphics illustrating the neighborhoods of Paris. It’s funny that my favorite spots don’t come off particularly well.

→ Ever since I read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler as a kid, I’ve thought about how cool it would be to be alone in a museum. If the museum were the Louvre, the experience might be like this.

→ The screenshot I took for the post about CHARADE was featured in an article about Audrey Hepburn’s cinematic Paris. I told the editor to credit Stanley Donen and Universal since I don’t own the rights to the image, but it’s still my screenshot!

→ A joke poster from CollegeHumor for the Oscar-nominated AMOUR which is funny but inaccurate. Michael Haneke, the writer/director, is German. Reminds me of “the most French French film” ever made.

Amour alternate poster


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Stanley Donen’s Paris Métro

In Stanley Donen’s universe, you could get on at St. Jacques

Charade 1

and ride one stop to Palais Royal.

Charade 2

In the Paris I live in, the first stop is in the lower right and the second in the upper left, requiring at least two changes of lines.

Charade 3Charade (1963), a movie I defended as near perfect, is way less charming than I remembered. The plot, a mistaken identity / buried WWII treasure / comedy caper is still pretty good, but a lot of the romantic plot left me feeling uncomfortable. Cary Grant was bothered by it as well, arguing at the time that he was too old to play Audrey Hepburn’s love interest. I have no problem buying that (he’s Cary Grant!) but the fact that Hepburn is widowed on one day, in love a day and a half later and already engaged two days after that is concerning. Still, it’s worth it just to see Walter Matthau say “liverwurst” twice.

Other trivia factoid: Charade is what Julia Roberts’ character is watching in the hotel the first night she spends with Richard Gere in Pretty Woman.