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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Euro Adapter: Americans at Notre-Dame

This may be the end of this feature since I think it pretty definitely proves that I’ve become European.

The scene: the second level of Notre-Dame, where many of the most famous gargoyles watch over the city of Paris. It’s also the midpoint, stair-wise, if you want to go to the top. Originally designed as a service area for the men who worked the bells, there’s not a lot of space.

This ugly mug is here.

This ugly mug is here.

I’m near the front of the group waiting to go up the second stairwell to the top. There is only one narrow stair so access is staggered — one group of 50 goes up then one group of 50 comes down. Coordinating the alternation is a very tall French man wearing a uniform, holding a walkie-talkie. At the moment, he’s entertaining a group of school kids with stories of the gargoyles and the history of the church. He’s doing a great job of keeping them under control in less than ideal circumstances. Behind me, a group of impatient asshole American tourists start pushing and shoving to get ahead of everyone in their way.

Finally, I snap. “There’s nowhere else to go! Stop your damn pushing!” I yell at the people trying to crush me. The man closest to me seems surprised that anyone speaking American is taking such a position and yells back, “Well, no one’s moving so we’re making YOU move!” I explain why no one’s moving and he gets really defensive. “Well, there aren’t any signs anywhere! How are we supposed to know about the stairs?” I ask him where exactly on a centuries-old building he’d like to have signs affixed. “Idano! I mean, how’re we to know what’s going on if no one tells us?!” I indicate the tall man who clearly works there and say that he will let us pass when it’s our turn and not before. “Well, he could let us know what’s happening,” responds the guy, clearly deflating. I reiterate, “He’ll tell you when it’s your turn. That’s when you’ll know you can go. Until then, you can assume that it’s not your turn.”

Behind this guy and his group is a cocky young guy and his girlfriend. I’d already clocked him as trouble and he proved me right. “Well, what if we want to go down? I don’t want to see anymore of this church anyway.” The pair of them are led through the crowd and allowed to cross the rope. “Down,” the guard says, indicating a direction with his finger. “Yeah-yeah,” the young guy says and I see everything play out in my mind, exactly as it will come to pass because All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.

I wish this guy would eat rude people.

I wish this guy would eat rude people.

Seconds later, he and his girlfriend are ejected back into the area since they had tried to go up but were run over by the group of 50 that was still coming down. They tried to blend into the front of the waiting group but, as it was all kids, they stood out. “Back of the line,” I said to them because I don’t have any patience for jerks, entitled Americans or dumb tourists.

The good news is that all the people concerned were significantly shamed or embarrassed enough to keep quiet the rest of the time we were waiting. It’s a marvel to me that Americans (especially) expect everyone else in the world to speak English but are then surprised when someone understands them as they disparage their non-American surroundings. You can’t have it both ways, you idiots.

I hate everyone

So does David Sedaris (kind of) in a story about running into loud Americans on the Métro who don’t think anyone understands them. “Picka Pocketoni” is from Me Talk Pretty One Day, and part of it can be read here.

I had forgotten how many useless words Americans pepper their speech with. The first guy started almost every utterance out of his annoying mouth with “Well.” Is this supposed to soften the following statement? Make him seem more thoughtful? I found it annoying since in practice it served no real purpose.

Seriously: you’re on vacation — what’s the hurry? Chill the f°ç# out! While you’re waiting to go up the stairs, enjoy the god damn view and shut the hell up.

 

Apparently not interesting enough to get Americans to keep quiet for 7 minutes.

Apparently not interesting enough to get Americans to keep quiet for 7 minutes.

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Housekeeping

Updates on stuff I’ve written and your comments.

→ My mother says that the Spanish aguacate [avocado] comes from the Nahuatl (pre-Spanish Mexican language) word ahuácatl, which also means testicles. Quoth she: “which, if you think about it, gives a new dimension to eating it.” It’s a wonder I make such weird connections to stuff sometimes.

handeggElizabeth mentioned that the term “handegg” had been proposed as a replacement name for that dumb sport hulking Americans play. I approved the change and then found Internet evidence that suggests this may catch on someday.

→ For a show that had elements of many of the things I love, namely 80s music and spy stuff, FX’s THE AMERICANS left me pretty underwhelmed. The highpoint of the first season was during the finale when the big moments were scored to Peter Gabriel’s “Games Without Frontiers.”

→ James Cameron’s movies are horrible. Excepting ALIENS (which was based on pre-existing characters), all of his films feature terrible dialogue, worse plotting and zero character development. Given that I have such strong feelings about him and his œuvre (hi Ethel!), it may be surprising that I vociferously criticize the Spanish translation of “Sayonara” over “Hasta la vista, baby” in T2, but that line actually makes sense. The Terminator has spent the whole of the movie bonding with a young John Connor in Southern California where Mexican and surf cultures collide and where “Hasta la vista, baby” is a thing people actually say. Side note: I think about movies too much.

Actual names are the last thing I get to when considering a thing, but it turns out that there may be inherent qualities to some words that affect how we perceive the things being named. Gods, the last thing I need is more things to think too much about.

→ Oh, man. I didn’t think I could like Brooklyn less. After writing about how there’s a concerted effort to train the French to pick up their dogs’ poo in public, I read about New Yorkers who are now teaching their children to poop “on the ground or behind a tree.” It’s like Americans are becoming Spanish! Dogs and cats, living together! Mass hysteria!

→ I swear I’m going to stop thinking about rabbits soon but all my mental energy has finally cracked a life-long mystery. The Easter Bunny’s chocolate eggs look like rabbit poop. The Easter Bunny is leaving poop-substitutes for children. They aren’t eggs at all. They are turds. I find this sooooo upsetting, I can’t even tell you.

→ To cleanse the palette, here’s David Sedaris’s great story about American Easter and learning French. (Scroll down to “Jesus Shaves.”) I clearly remember the first time I read this in Esquire (my boyfriend), lounging on my sofa in my fourth-floor walk-up in Chinatown. How could it have been 13 years ago?


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Reading the Expat Experience

Strangers in strange lands is an oft-visited well in the literary word. (This very blog drinks from those same waters.) It’s like science fiction, but real; instead of an alien from another planet, the genre explores aliens from other countries. There are fictional takes, like Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, non-fiction stuff like Bill Bryson and outright memoirs like David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day.

For my money, one of the best is George Mikes’s How to be an Alien, which may also be the first of its kind, as it was published in 1946. I happened to pick up a copy at an airport when I was kid and have loved it ever since. It’s less than forty pages long and is illustrated, which explains why I chose it as I was probably 6 or 7 at the time.

Mikes was a Hungarian who moved to England and wrote a book making fun of the Brits, comparing their habits and attitude to those of “the Continent,” but the English didn’t get the joke and instead embraced its mockery as flattery and proof of their superior society. If books were movies, I’d program it as a double feature with some P.G. Wodehouse and spend the day laughing my ass off.

Sadly, not everything can be Mikes (or Wodehouse for that matter) and finding decent culture clash stories that actually inform is tricky. In every foreign language book shop, there’s a pretty goodly sized section devoted to this kind of fare, but just ’cause someone published it doesn’t mean it’s any good.

I got lucky when I picked up A Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi by Charles Timoney, though I fear I was tricked into doing so by the publisher. Both this book and Mikes’s are Penguin Books and feature the same kind of simple line drawings.

I’ll be posting some reactions to Timoney’s entries occasionally since inspiration can’t be found on every street corner. Even in Paris.