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: strike / huelga / grève

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

Not the day in question.

Not the day in question.

Summertime in Europe means things will be closed and people will go on strike.

Last year, there was the strike by the workers at the Louvre to raise awareness of how much petty crime was happening there. (That’s the nice spin on a story that can also be read as the employees just being fed up with stupid tourists getting pick-pocketed and then coming to them to complain even though their job is to protect the art.)

Last week, the workers at the Eiffel Tower went on strike for several hours because they basically want more stuff across the board. Better pay, better hours, better job security, etc. Apparently nothing was good enough since they asked for pretty much everything except getting paid not to work at all.

Man, these French people don’t know how to appreciate a decent job with a decent wage. Here I am, writing five days a week to provide you entertainment and no one’s paying me anything. Maybe I should go on strike! Vive la France!

EN → strike — a refusal to work organized by a body of employees as a form of protest, typically in an attempt to gain a concession or concessions from their employer. ORIGIN Old English strican [make smooth, stroke, rub]. Modern meaning probably from 1700s when sailors would “strike the sails,” lowering all sails and making them smooth against the mast, as a signal that they would not go to sea.

ES → huelga — 2. Interrupción colectiva de la actividad laboral por parte de los trabajadores con el fin de reivindicar ciertas condiciones o manifestar una protesta. [Collective interruption of work by the part of the workers with the goal of demanding certain conditions or to organize a protest.] ORIGIN From verb holgar [to be idle], from Late Latin follicāre [blow, breathe].

FR → grève — Cessation collective et concertée du travail en vue d’appuyer des revendications professionnelles dont l’employeur a connaissance. [Collective work stoppage aimed at supporting worker claims about which the employer has been made aware.] ORIGIN From Place de la Grève, name of a square in Paris where unemployed factory workers would go to make themselves available for work.

English note: I was initially surprised to learn that “strike” came from a word that means “smooth” but when combined with the phrase, “strike the sails” which I had heard, it makes a lot more sense. Also surprising: there are 11 definitions for “strike.”

Spanish note: I love the word holgar and am sad I forgot it.

French note: The former Place de la Grève is now the home to the Hôtel de Ville, aka City Hall. I found two different stories about other stuff that used to go down in the square, one in English and another in French. Take both with a grain of salt.

Following on the French note: there’s a word in English for the kind of place the Place de la Grève used to be; does anyone know it? From what I’ve gathered, if you go to the parking lot of a Home Depot or similar place in the morning, there will be a bunch of guys waiting around, hoping to get some day labor gig. I can’t for the life of me remember what that’s called.

I’m not gonna lie. Spain was going to run away with the win today regardless since I’ve had the most experience with Spanish strikes and love the sound of huelga [well-gah].

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Franco-American relations

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pbj tower


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A nice view

Like most people, I’ve seen a lot of pictures of the Eiffel Tower, but I can’t recall ever coming across this view.

Eiffel shadow

This is the part where I recommend Erik Larson’s book The Devil in the White City : Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America. It’s about the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and there is actually a connection to the Eiffel Tower so it’s not that strange that a pointy thing in Paris makes me think of the Ferris wheel on Navy Pier.


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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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Obligatory Paris-at-night photos

I’ve never posted anything like these, so I don’t feel bad about going a little cliché today. They’re from earlier this summer, back when it was hot. It was still quite nice until a couple weeks ago but now it’s properly cool.

Eiffel Tower night La lune, la tour Learn Something

→ For many years, seeing the moon has made me think of a Catalan nursery rhyme, La lluna, la pruna. You can read the text here (handily translated into français too!) or just watch this video of a performance which is amazing for many reasons. 1) It features a perfect example of the Catalan mullet. 2) The description reads, in part, Canten els més xics [the littlest ones sing] and if you don’t think that Catalan is one of the most charming-looking languages, you’re crazy.

→ The second thing I usually think of is a 1988 Richard Dreyfuss comedy called MOON OVER PARADOR and how, among the many made up Latin and South American countries which exist in movies, my favorite is Val Verde because DIE HARD 2: DIE HARDER. (My love for Bruce Willis has only started to fade in recent years.)