Le cul entre les deux chaises

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


Other People’s Pantries

Among the many benefits of renting an apartment instead of a hotel when you visit a city is that you get to see what kind of food other people buy. If it weren’t for this, I never would have discovered Raynal et Roquelaure Lentilles cuisinées à l’Auvergnate. This would have been a shame as these lentils have become one of my new favorite things to eat.

Lentils 1

The package doesn’t look like much and I don’t really like lentils (another way I’m a bad Spaniard) so I never would have picked them off the store shelf regardless of the marketing. And, I can not impress this upon you enough, life would have been a shade less glorious than it is now.

Closer inspection of the ingredients shows why these things are so damn tasty: they are less than half lentils (only 45%!) and one of the main components of the sauce is duck fat. May the gods continue to bless the French and their desire to put duck fat on so many things. I love them for it.

Lentils 2Just for fun

Duck Sauce!



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Adam Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon

paristothemoonAdam Gopnik lived in Paris from 1995 to 2000. Paris to the Moon is a collection of the essays he wrote for THE NEW YORKER during that time. Reading it now, over a decade removed from the Paris he knew, it’s interesting how the stories chronicle how things have changed and how they’ve stayed the same.

Here are some of the things I’ve liked so far:

» All cultural prejudices seem like practical facts to the prejudiced. (p. 52) [I explore this idea in both my Foreign To Me Now and Euro Adapter posts.]

» Every French man and woman is engaged in a constant entanglement with one ministry or another, and I have come to realize that these entanglements are what take the place of going to a gym where people actually work out. Three or four days a week you’re given something to do that is time-consuming, takes you out of yourself, is mildly painful, forces you into close proximity with strangers, and ends, usually, with a surprising rush of exhilaration: “Hey, I did it.” (p. 67)

» The French believe that all errors are distant, someone else’s fault. Americans believe that there is no distance, no difference, and therefore that there are no errors, that any troubles are simple misunderstandings. (p. 99)

It’s incredibly frustrating how true the last thing is. When I ask people to explain how they arrived at a particular conclusion (their thought process) to better identify where a misunderstanding started, they look at me like I have three heads. This was true in Spain as well and is something that I didn’t realize was American (though I must point out that Gopnik is Canadian, so, what does he know?).


Fashion Forward

Finding a bench that wasn’t being rained on, I decided to wait out the storm and take a break. I was happily listening to a podcast when an approaching woman caught my eye. She was wearing sensible shoes, bright purple jersey cotton pants, a long-sleeved t-shirt and a fleece shearling vest. “I wanna be like that when I’m an old lady,” I thought, respecting that she didn’t give a damn about the weather and was clearly dressed for comfort.

In retrospect, she was more like this.

In retrospect, she was more like this.

She sat on the bench next to mine and we were both sheltered for a time. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see that she was moving animatedly and I dared turn my head a bit to see. She was talking and gesticulating wildly, not caring that I couldn’t hear her and had made no move to acknowledge her. I held my ground and didn’t engage her because talking to crazy people is one of the worst things you can do. You will spend the rest of your day trying to get away from them. I know this from experience. Do not engage crazy people.

After a few minutes of rambling, she abruptly stood up and strode across the street, entering the corner bar. I saw my chance, leapt up and ran away, heading down another street towards home.

I need to reconsider my life goals and role models.


No shit, Sherlock

Here’s one of the signs in a new campaign to get French people to pick up after their dogs. (We previously agreed to call this poodle, non?)

The shit doesn't fall from the sky.

“The shit doesn’t fall from the sky.”

As you can tell, this sign is ENORMOUS. What you can’t see is that there are more versions posted every half block to make sure the point is really driven home. We’ll see if it makes a difference.

Cultural Differences

“Poodle” in public walking spaces is a nuisance and should be the responsibility of the canine’s owner. This being said, I never picked up after my own dog when I had one. This is because my dog was the best of his species and would take himself out for walks and return, usually 20 minutes later, and scratch on the door. It helped that I lived in an area where there were practically no fences or sidewalks, but his ability to self-regulate was still unheard of and super convenient.


Overheard on the bus

Just after school got out one day, four young guys, probably 14 or 15, got on the bus I was riding. Deviating from my normal routine, I was neither reading nor listening to something, so I couldn’t help overhearing their animated discussion. They were talking about the chemistry test they’d just taken and were doing the type of academic postmortems that I remember from my youth. As they settled into the aisle beside me, they’d all agreed on the answer for the third question and moved on to the fourth. Among them, two had reached the same conclusion but the other two had come up with completely different answers.

All four began arguing for their own answer and it quickly became apparent that they all remembered the question differently. One of the boys suggested that they replicate the question precisely so that they could pose it to “his” pharmacist when they got off the bus. Without a word, they all whipped out their cell phones and started drafting versions, comparing with each other and making corrections.

I got off before their story ended (it would have been really creepy if I’d followed them) but the whole scene struck me as some kind of milestone in my French life. If their conversation had been in English, I would have understood exactly as much as I did in French. This would be a bigger deal if I understood chemistry but I don’t. At all. I’m worse at it than math.

My Guy owned the Sambar Market on Mt. Pleasant St. in DC

My Guy at the Sambar Market in Mt. Pleasant (WDC)

The second thing this story illustrates is how people over here “have” a kind of person for every profession. In the US, there was a Korean man whom I called My Guy (all my friends and family knew him by this name) who owned the corner store nearest my house where I always bought my milk and beer. He was the only person I “had” the whole time I was living in DC.

Now, I “have” a bakery and a green grocer but beyond that, I go to whichever business is most convenient to wherever I am at the moment. Of course, when I went to stock up on cough drops after my recent bout with Near-Death flu, the woman at the pharmacy recognized me from three months ago, so maybe that means that she “has” me and that I’m a local.