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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Links / Enlaces / Liens

One Link...

One Link…

On this day, God said, “Let there be links!” and there was much rejoicing.

→ France’s continued problems assimilating immigrants into the culture is against the founding principle of the Republic; Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. But, writes Justin Smith in a NYT Op-Ed piece, the French can justify everything:

“…when equality is invoked … it is understood that this is equality *among equals*.”

Other interesting thoughts on the perceptual differences between expats and immigrants in France follow. (Spoiler: one group is welcomed, the other reviled.) 

→ David Crystal is my new Richard Lederer! If either of those names mean anything to you, you are a word nerd and we can be friends. Leonard Lopate reran an interview with the former over the holidays. Crystal’s books The Story of English in 100 Words and Spell It Out are currently top-lining my ebook reader. Tl;dr — the French are to be blamed for everything wrong with the English language (see 1066). 

→ Stefan Stasse, the German co-host of my favorite ASOIAF podcast, posted the second in a series of occasional podcasts he’s doing with a history PhD candidate about different cultural perspectives vis à vis Important Historical Events. In this most recent episode they discuss what Europeans know about the American Civil War and how Americans understand WWII. Asking Germans about the war (even though you’re not supposed to mention it) is a hobby of mine, though you really have to get to know one before you broach the subject. They’re pretty touchy about it. 

→ Speaking of die Deutschen: “Not one frown in the place, which is exceptionally rare for such a large gathering of German people.” The blog Oh God, My Wife Is German is consistently amusing to me.

Two Links!

Two Links!

→ Boston neighborhoods corresponded to their Manhattan equivalents (based on median rent). Interesting to compare the two and see what the locals value most in each city. Freakishly (or maybe totally predictably), my dream neighborhoods in each city are counterparts.

→ Do you ever get totes emosh about something and think, “I can’t EVEN handle this because”? If you have no idea what any of that means, you need to read “A Defense of Internet Linguistics” cuz it’s amazeballz. 

→ Wikipedia “is like walking into a mental hospital: the floors are carpeted, the walls are nicely padded, but you know there’s a pretty good chance at any given moment one of the inmates will pick up a knife.” 

→ My brother, the only other person I know who also loves podcasts a lot, told me that 60 Minutes is available in an audio-only format. I got crazy excited about this since the show was, as the NYT once said, “one of the most esteemed newsmagazines on American television.” The writing is significantly less good than it used to be — any given story has copy filled with clichés or misuses of words like “literally” — but they still report some fun things. 


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.]


And that’s why you always leave a note

Say, for instance, you have information you would like to share with a person unknown to you; how do you do this? I can only think of one way, which is by leaving a note.

Not so in France. Here people just wait until they run into a person who might be the person to whom they want to convey information. The first time this happened, I was legitimately annoyed that Monsieur le président of the co-op I’m living in made such a big deal about how I had been breaking the rules. At the time, I pointed out that I hadn’t known about the regulations but as soon as I was informed, I amended my behavior. Problem solved.

Jump to early this month when I’d been waiting for a package from my mother and there was no sign of it. Correos, the national Spanish postal system (which is a complete joke), had provided her with a tracking number which revealed only that the box had been entregado (turned in/delivered) on the 8th. A week later, my mother filed a claim at her post office and I was set to head to mine and see if I could get any answers on this end. As I was checking the mailbox one last time, a woman rushed me from the opposite side of the street.

“Are you Madame XXXX?” she said, breathlessly.

“No,” I said, “I’m Mademoiselle YYYY, Monsieur XXXX’s subletter. Is there a problem?”

“Oh! I’m so glad to have found you! I check to see if your light is on every time I come home!”

I looked at her blankly because there wasn’t really anything for me to respond to and that’s when she added, “I have a package of yours! I’ve had it for over a week and kept hoping to run into you!”

She went on to tell me that she’d been in the lobby when the mailman attempted delivery and, as they both noticed that the box was insured and “international,” they determined it must be important. It apparently seemed best to them that my neighbor, a woman who’s never seen me, sign for it which she did. But then she didn’t leave me a note that she had it. For over a week. And there were perishable items inside. At this point in her story I got really pissed but I didn’t express it because she had my god damn package and I really wanted it.


This is really funny if you’ve seen Arrested Development.

When I picked it up at her apartment a while later, she told me that she’d been up to ring my doorbell “every night” but I was never home. I told her that I never hear the doorbell and was desperate to add, “If you came by EVERY NIGHT and there was never an answer, WHY DIDN’T YOU LEAVE A GOD DAMN NOTE?” but I decided that it would be more poli to just take the box and get the hell out of there.

Prenez note

French people don’t leave notes. Ever. Even for important things. Connards.

The title of this post courtesy of Arrested Development‘s “Pier Pressure” episode. AD is the funniest American show ever broadcast (UK’s is Fawlty Towers) and is finally coming back this summer (May 5!!!) after being off the air for six years. If you have never seen it, now’s your chance to get caught up. Amusingly, in French the show is called Les Nouveaux Pauvres which is a pun and therefore great.