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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Winter shorn

Got my haircut again since I’m trying to make going a more regular thing. The woman asked me how much I wanted to cut off and I indicated about five inches. (I’ll be damned if I’m ever going to adopt the metric system). “So much?” she asked. She didn’t think it was a good idea. “Yeah,” I told her. “That much.”

We went back and forth a little bit, which I didn’t particularly care for and she asked me *why* I wanted to cut so much off. “It’s winter and what with hats and scarves, it’s just much easier to have shorter hair.” She looked at my reflection, narrowed her eyes a bit and nodded. “That’s true. Ok.” Apparently, I needed to convince her before she’d get to work.

Buff logoAs I said “scarves” to her, I had a word epiphany. The Spanish for scarf is bufanda, a pretty great word on its own. There’s a popular brand of Spanish-made head/neckwear called Buff® (you may know them as the official bandanas of CBS’s SURVIVOR). I’ve always made fun of Buffs because the company pronounces its name /bo͞of/ with a long vowel sound like “boot” despite being spelled like a word which already exists /bəf/.

Teen Wolf Boof

If you know why this pic is here, we can discuss being friends, but I won’t make any promises.

But in the chair at the hair place, I realized that those silly Spaniards took the first syllable from “scarf” and added a letter to the end, just for the hell of it. Again, if someone would just run these ideas by me first, I’d be able to help them out, but alas, they must continue to live like ignoramuses. [Ed. Reading their website proves me right. I love being right!]

Wear Something

Buffs® are actually awesome. I have a ton. I wear them while doing yoga to keep the hair out of my face, while bike riding to keep the sweat out of my face and when the temperature drops a little to keep the cold off my face neck. There are a bunch of kinds; cotton, wool, fleece-lined, knit, double-layered, reflective, UV. I don’t know you, but I am sure there is a Buff for you. You should get one. Or five. There are a million ways to wear them. Let the Basque sheep show you how.

Kukuxumusu-Buff


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Word Mystery: shower head / alcachofa / pomme de douche

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

Exactly like it happened to me. (Except it not being a bath. And me not being a man. Or Greek. Or bearded. Or super buff.)

Exactly like it happened to me. (Except it not being a bath. And me not being a man. Or Greek. Or bearded. Or super buff.)

Well, that was surprising. Not long after an exchange with Suzanne about what things they’ll find odd when they move back to Canada, I found myself a bit confused in an American shower because I’d unknowingly adapted to those European hand shower nozzle spray things. It was weird to realize that I’d have to turn my actual body around if I wanted to rinse off instead of moving the nozzle around me. A little difference, but one that I never would have expected to get used to since I really hated those damn things for a long time.

Then, like Archimedes before me, I exclaimed “Eureka!” when I realized that there was both a Euro Adapter moment and a Word Mystery just over my head like an idea bulb.

EN → shower head — a perforated nozzle that distributes water over a focal point of use, generally overhead of the bather. ORIGIN of shower: Old English scūr [light fall of rain, hail].

ES → alcachofaPieza agujereada por donde sale el agua de la regadera o de la ducha. [Holey piece from which water comes out in a watering can or the shower.] ORIGIN Hispanicized Arabic al-ḵaršūfa possibly from Pahlavi (Middle Iranian) *hār čōb [spiny stick].

FR → pomme de doucheElément, généralement arrondi, percé de multiples trous. [Generally round piece pierced by multiple holes.] ORIGIN Latin poma [fruit (plural)].

alcachofa showerSpanish Note: the definition given is the seventh of seven listed by the RAE. The first one is for the edible plant “artichoke” but once I learned that I showered under an artichoke every day, this definition became my favorite. If you look at one with this in mind, you can see how it resembles the cross section of a ‘choke.

Today’s Winner: Tough again today. I came into the WM already favoring alcachofa, but I hadn’t known that pomme, a much-used word in French, meant “fruit”. Then I imagined Richard Burton saying scūr (his reading of Beowulf is the only time I’ve actually heard Old English spoken) and I really like the sound of that…so I don’t know. Spanish, I guess? Other opinions welcome.

Since I apparently only reference SNL or Monty Python

It’s worth mentioning that Archimedes is the one who finally initiates the winning goal in the “Philosophers’ Football” sketch, easily my favorite football match of all time. It almost makes me feel bad for the Germans to lose so badly. (Just remember: Don’t mention the war!)

[Ed. The editorial board has determined that a FAWLTY TOWERS reference counts as MONTY PYTHON, so double negative points for lack of originality.]


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Euro Adapter: calendar

Patterns, habits and ways of expressing myself that I thought were set in stone before I became an expat have evolved and I now recognize that sometimes, the Old World’s got the New World beat.

One of my earliest conflicts with Europeans was about how their calendars were all wrong. The whole of my argument was the same as CJ’s on THE WEST WING when confronted with cartographers who want to flip the world map so that the northern hemisphere is on the bottom: “You can’t do that. ‘Cause it’s freaking me out.”

Calendars started on Sundays because they did, end of discussion.

But I was wrong.

Why does the visual representation not reflect the way people actually experience a whole seven-day period? It’s more natural to have the days of the weekend together at the end of the week since that’s how most people think of them anyway. Unite the clans!

I’m completely convinced that beginning-on-Mondays is the way to go. Take a look for yourself.

november-2013-calendar-image calendrier-novembre-2013

The only trick is when booking something online, like air or train tickets or hotels, you have to be mindful of how the calendars are formatted. Unless I’m the only person who just thinks of things visually which is a possibility that I’m not really willing to entertain at the moment. I can only adapt so much.


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Euro Adapter: football vs. soccer

Patterns, habits and ways of expressing myself that I thought were set in stone before I became an expat have evolved and I now recognize that sometimes, the Old World’s got the New World beat.

The world’s most popular sport is called football, not soccer. For starters, it’s a game played almost exclusively with feet. In theory, you could be an arm-less person and still play. In terms of compound word creation, it doesn’t get much more basic than “foot kicking ball game” = foot + ball.

Visca! Barça! (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap)

Visca! Barça! (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap)

That thing that Americans play? It should be called something else, like lamerugby. Or runningball. Lexically, “soccer” is a bullshit word anyway as it’s an incredibly dumb shortening of Association Football.” Do you even see where they got the term from? It’s the “soc” in “Association.” Dumbest. sport name. ever.

My brain says

→ When I read S. E. Hinton’s book The Outsiders in elementary school, I thought the antagonists, the Socs, were called “Socks.” It took me many years to realize they were “sohsh-es” as in “society.”

Letters of Note has a good one about a California librarian’s correspondence with Francis Ford Coppola’s production company about the latter’s adaptation of The Outsiders. The world was so different then (1980) that it freaks me out a little.

→ Speaking of mispronouncing things, if you’re an “Arrested Development” fan (and YOU REALLY NEED TO BE), I recently laughed for several minutes after watching the officially-unofficial* “The Arrested Development Documentary.” Scott Baio, (“Happy Days,” “Charles In Charge,” “Zapped!”) played Bob Loblaw on “AD” and had this to say:

“I’m from New York and my accent got in the way of the name, so I looked at it and said, ‘Bob LAWB lawhr’ and I was doing a scene with [Jason] Bateman and he said, ‘And here’s our attorney, Bahblahblah,’ and I went ‘THAT’S THE NAME?!'”

→ → → →”Arrested Development” returns in two weeks!

* They interview most of the cast and the writers and producers, but did not get clearance to show clips of the series which isn’t that big of a deal since you know it backwards and forwards, right? RIGHT?