Le cul entre les deux chaises

An American Spaniard in France or: How I Learned to Make an Ass of Myself in Three Cultures


Giant condoms on the radio

A recent discovery is France Inter‘s “La séquence du consommateur” which is a short consumer news segment that airs on the radio and is then sent out as a podcast. It’s almost tailor-made for me since it features kinda silly business news, often from or about the US since no one does silly like Americans.

Part of the appeal is the vocabulary and language usage as well as the French perspective on things. Last week, the presenter introduced the reporter who began by saying something like, “You know when you walk into those big American stores and you see the huge condoms and you think, ‘That’s so nice of them to provide one,'” and the host assents and then the reporter went on to talk about how the stores aren’t being nice, they’re protecting themselves from litigation… but if you’re like me, you’re still stuck on the huge condom bit.

She clearly said “préservatifs géantes” which I was certain I had translated correctly, but it turns out that what she was referring to was those umbrella bags that magically appear when it’s raining. The idea is that you feed your wet and closed umbrella into a kind of long sleeve with a closed-off end to prevent it from dripping all over the floor as you make your way through the mall or the department store or wherever. Which, when described like this, is kind of like a condom, but giant-sized.

The point of the report was to discuss the general state of American litigation where everyone sues everyone for everything. She cited the 1994 case of the woman who sued McDonald’s because her coffee was too hot as an example of how the US courts allow people to take advantage of the system and she and the presenter tut-tutted about how Americans are clearly too dumb to take care of themselves. This reminded me of an anecdote I read in a book about moving to France from the US: the wife of an executive is being taken around to look at apartments. The woman tells the agent that this place won’t do as the windows don’t have screens and she has children. The agent is confused by the non sequitur but tells the woman that she won’t find screens on any windows in any apartment. “How do you keep the children from falling out the window?” asks the American. “You tell them not to jump,” replies the Frenchie.