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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Rutte has an accent. Get over it

My mother frequently complains about how poorly Spanish people (and politicians specifically) speak English. This is kind of the flip-side to that; the Dutch have a crazy-good level of English. “Nine in ten Dutch people think they speak better English than most other Dutch people, according to our research at the University of Cambridge. I’m no mathematician, but this seems statistically improbable.”


Word Mystery: shop / tienda / boutique

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

My German friend doesn’t like France, the French people or the French language. I suspect there are cultural and geographical things at the root of her feelings (she grew up not too far from the border) but I try not to get into it with her.

We were in Luxembourg together once, a charming place that looks like a fairy tale setting. Having missed the tourist bus, we decided to explore the city ourselves and just started walking around, looking at things. “This is what I mean!” she exclaimed as we ambled down a cobblestone street. “All of these shops say ’boutique’ just because it sounds more expensive!”


To be fair, everything here *is* really expensive.

I had to break it to her that the shops weren’t trying to be fancy by saying they were boutiques (as she’d seen when she lived in the US), but that “boutique” was the correct word for “shop.” To her credit, she was a little bit surprised and then laughed at her own assumption.

She still isn’t buying what the French are selling, but let’s see if you’ll have some of what she doesn’t want.

EN → shop — 1) a building or part of a building where goods or services are sold; a store. ORIGIN Middle English shortening of Old French eschoppe [lean-to booth] from Dutch schoppe.

ES → tienda4) Casa, puesto o lugar donde se venden al público artículos de comercio al por menor. [House, office or other place where goods are sold to the public at retail prices.] ORIGIN Latin tendĕre [stretch, spread, extend].

FR → boutique1) Local où se tient un commerce de détail, où exerce un artisan. [Retail space or where an artisan works and sells his wares.] ORIGIN Old Provençal (Southern French dialect related to Occitan) botica from Greek apothêkê [storehouse].

English note: In the US, it’s more common to call a place to buy things a “store,” but I wrote about stores on another day and didn’t want to return to the same material. Both words are used but, try as I might, I can’t logically figure out why some combinations are more common than others. For example, I’d never say “flower store” or “butcher store” but I’d also never say “grocery shop” or “corner shop.”

Spanish note: I like that the origin calls up images of merchandise spread out to be looked at. It’s less common now, but when I was younger, most shops we went to in Spain had all of their wares displayed in the windows and you looked from outside and only entered if you’d identified something you wanted. The arrangements were meticulous and required innumerable pins and layering and tiny prices next to sets of items. It was really something.

French note: Another good origin. If pressed, I would have guessed that “apothecary” was Greek, but I’ve only ever thought of it in conjunction with the man who gives Romeo the sleeping potion and assumed that it meant “pharmacist” or “olde tyme medicine man.” Color me wrong and corrected.

Catalan note: the word’s botiga, and like so many Catalan words I know, it’s my favorite of the bunch.

Today’s Winner could be any of the three, really. I like all of the stories and especially like that there is so much cross-polination represented and so many different ideas evolving slowly to be one thing… but, just because my friend gives them such a hard time, I’m going to give it to the French.

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Word Mystery: eat / comer / manger

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

I’ve done almost 70 Word Mysteries and have a list of nearly 130 waiting to be researched on my computer but this week’s entry doesn’t appear on it because I am an idiot. No other possibilities exist.

EN → eat — put food into the mouth and chew and swallow it. ORIGIN Dutch eten [food, eat] and German essen [eat].

ES → comerMasticar y desmenuzar el alimento en la boca y pasarlo al estómago. [Act of chewing and making smaller of food in the mouth and passing it to the stomach.] ORIGIN Latin comedĕre [consume, devour].

FR → mangerAbsorber un aliment, par opposition à boire. [Absorb food through means other than drinking.] ORIGIN Latin manducare [chew, masticate].

French note #1: the second definition for manger is the one you’d expect (it includes chewing) but the example provided is “to chew one’s nails,” which is not what I think about when eating. (Nail chewing is totally disgusting, on par with people who clip their nails in public. What makes anyone think that’s okay? That is *not* okay.)

French note #2: I took enough science classes to understand that food is actually absorbed by the body during the process of digestion, but I still feel like the French is suggesting that osmosis is a viable way to take in calories.

Today’s Winner: I’m going to go with English as that definition is the only one that didn’t make my stomach turn.

Just for funzies

"Dear God, what is that thing?" = nauseous

“Dear God, what is that thing?” = nauseous

Nauseous — causing nausea.

Nauseated — affected with nausea.

Both come from the Latin nauseosus [seasickness] but the difference in usage is one that’s important (to pedants like me, at least).

I am nauseous = I make people vomit.
I am nauseated = I am going to vomit.


Word Mystery: hole / agujero / trou

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

Walking in New York is a lot harder than I remembered. How is it that I live in a city with streets that are hundreds of years old but I don’t ever fear falling through one into the realm of the C.H.U.D.? I’ll make allowances for construction or urban repairs, but most of the sidewalks in New York look like something out of a post-earthquake slideshow. It’s hard to enjoy the city and take in all the hustle and the bustle when I’m constantly stubbing my feet.

Still, cursing the existence of all these damn holes led me to a Word Mystery! Take a tumble into a cannibal-free zone with me!

EN → hole — a hollow place in a solid body or surface. ORIGIN Dutch hol [cave] and German hohl [hollow] from an Indo-European root meaning “cover, conceal.”

ES → agujeroAbertura más o menos redondeada en alguna cosa. [More or less round opening in a thing.] ORIGIN aguja [needle] from Latin acucŭla [dimunuitive needle].

FR → trouEnfoncement, dépression, cavité, creux dans une surface. [Recess, depression, cavity, hollow in a surface.] ORIGIN Low Latin traugum [hole].

Spanish note: I’d never connected agujero and aguja before and, even though I read it in a dictionary, I’m still not sure I would. Is the most characteristic part of a needle the eye? I’d say it’s the pointy end. Spanish scores an F today for being dumb.

French note: I like that the French definition allows for just about any degree of concavity to qualify, though for me “hole” has something to do with the ratio of the thickness of the thing and how deeply or completely it’s transected said thing.

Today’s Winner: English just ’cause I like caves.


Word Mystery: snack / grignoter / picotear

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

The best paht? This is a StopNShop in New England.

God bless America.

Readers of expat blogs or visitors to expat grocery stores might think that all immigrants crave is their native junk food since most of both of those types of spaces are dedicated to memorializing food that contains more chemicals than actual food. Being guilty of both writing about crap that I long for and frequenting stores that sell the wares I want, I’d say that a big part of the appeal of such things is their specificity, how they mean something or represent something specific to the people who eat them.

Generally speaking, I don’t think I snack very much. In Europe, I’ve had a hard time finding things that I actually like to munch on. It took me four years to find a decent Cheetos substitute in Spain and I left the following year. In France, a decent dry roasted peanut has continued to elude me.

But I do hanker for something sweet or something salty now and again. The difference is that instead of indulging in a candy bar, I’ll go to the bakery and get something fresh and delicious and I’ll eat that instead of indulging in typical American snacking behavior (like eating a whole bag of chips or a pint of ice cream).

EN → snack — a small amount of food eaten between meals. ORIGIN Middle English “snap, bite” from Middle Dutch snac(k), from snacken [to bite], variant of snappen.

ES → picar / picoteartomar una ligera porción de un alimento. [Eat a small portion of a food.] ORIGIN From pico describing the beak of a bird, suggesting the way in which a bird eats.

FR → grignoterManger (qqch.) par petites bouchées. [Eat little bites of something.] ORIGIN From grigner [gnash teeth], circa 1170 from Dutch grînen [grimace : an ugly, twisted expression on a person’s face].

The winner today has to be Dutch, right? I mean, two totally different languages adopted words from it for the same thing.

My Brain Says

→ “The Suicide” episode of SEINFELD features a manipulation-by-favorite snack when Jerry gets Newman to promise not to tell on him, all for the price of one Drake’s Coffee Cake.The show regularly featured specific name-brand snacks (Junior Mints, Snickers bar, etc.) which wasn’t really common at the time.

→  If you like junk food, beautiful pictures of junk food or someone who tells involved stories about their youth and then illustrates them with junk food, you should check out Food Junk.