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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The bane of my current life

I answer the phone and, right away, accusations.

“I’m where your office is supposed to be and you’re not here!”

I try to take charge of the situation before it spins wildly out of my control.

“Where are you right now ma’am? What do you see?”

“I’m right on Line X where you said you’d be and you’re not here! I asked everybody and they said that I *am* on Line X, but you’re not! And I am!”

This woman is irrationally angry and she is now 100% my problem.

“Which station on Line X are you near? Can you see any signs — street signs, restaurant signs — anything at all?”

“Whadya mean ‘station’? I’m on Line X! Where are you?!”

Sigh. Really, people are the worst.

“Ma’am, Line X is a subway line that goes across the whole city of Paris. There is no one geographical point that is Line X. There are multiple stops, or stations, along its length. You are probably near some station of Line X, but until you give me some more information about your location, I can’t give you directions. Now, please stop walking, take a deep breath, and tell me what businesses you see around you.”

Sullen silence on the other end of the phone. I wait.

“There’s a bank called LCL.”

I shake my head since the wall is too far away for me to pound it against.

“Ma’am, there are hundreds of banks in Paris, please give me the name of a restaurant or a street so that I can help you.”

“There’s a restaurant called tear-ass. It’s spelled t-e-r-r-a-s-s-e. Do you know where I am now?”

I do not know where she is, but I am sure now that I am in hell.

She could have been almost ANYWHERE here.

She could have been almost ANYWHERE here.

Really, why did you even leave the house?

Telling a co-worker about this insane lady and her complete lack of street smarts, she commented that there are tourists and there are travelers, a turn of phrase I’d never come across before. The difference is that travelers embrace new experiences and are armed with (at least) basic navigational skills. Tourists are idiots who somehow managed to leave the house with a passport, get on a plane and arrive in another country, demanding that everything be just like back home.

I need to rewatch William Hurt and (Oscar-winning) Geena Davis in THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST again to see how she cures him of being an ignoramus. Till then, I’ll be giving creative directions to all manner of lost people all over the Paris area.

You needn’t be so burdened though, so you should check out this list of 21 quotes about the wonders of seeing the world.

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Parisian walking directions

Giving directions to someone over the phone recently, I told the woman to turn at the public toilet. She was a bit stressed out by the non-conformity of Parisian streets and wasn’t processing the directions well.

“I don’t know what one looks like!” she yelled down the line.

My mind searched frantically for something American that might be similar. I said that they’re like small trailers, like garden sheds, like a port-a-potty but bigger.

Finally, I nailed it. “They look like a shower stall for a rhinoceros!”

Paris public toilet


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EXT. CORNER RUE DE LA PÉPINIÈRE AND BOULEVARD MALESHERBES, PARIS — DAY

Pretty much right here.

Pretty much right in front of the yellow awning.

GIRL is in an incredibly good mood. MUSIC blasting through her iPod, she’s strutting down the street, happily thinking of eating her Oops! All Berries when she gets home. GIRL sees a MAN and WOMAN ahead of her. THEY are looking anxiously at a tattered map. MAN is spinning the map in his hands, trying to make it match the corner they’re standing on. GIRL sees these people for what they are: Spaniards lost in Paris. GIRL decides not to be Spanish to these people. Instead, she will be American and offer her services.

GIRL 

Je peux vous aider?

MAN

¡No!

WOMAN elbows MAN in the ribs. THEY are lost and SHE knows it. MAN exhales loudly through his nose, unconsciously mimicking a bull.

MAN

Si — ah — ¿Sant Lazare?

HE pronounces it in Spanish, “San Lathar.” GIRL was totally right about THEM. Her day just got a little more awesome because GIRL loves being unequivocally right.

GIRL (in Spanish)

Yes, it’s straight down this street on the left. Do you see that big pink banner that says “the gallery is open”? It’s right before that.

MAN and WOMAN smile, relieved, pleased.

MAN

We were so confused! There are so many streets here!

GIRL

Yes, these intersections can be complicated, but to get your bearings, just look for the street signs. They usually have the district number on them and you can orient yourself by looking for the sun. As long as it’s daytime, of course.

WOMAN

But, you! Your Spanish is very good, too good!

MAN (to WOMAN)

Don’t you see that she *is* Spanish? It’s obvious!

(to GIRL)

But you have been away a long time, haven’t you?

GIRL (shocked)

Yes . . .

MAN

I can tell because you speak with a little French accent. Not much, your Spanish is perfect, obviously, but I can tell you haven’t been back in a while. There’s just a touch there, just a little French.

GIRL (staring)

. . . It’s been a few years, yes.

MAN is doubly pleased to be right about this. He smiles broadly, rolling forward on the balls of his feet, making himself a little bit taller, just for an instant. WOMAN beams at how clever he is. WOMAN hooks her arm through MAN‘s as they thank GIRL and begin walking east, toward the train station. (Maybe they are going to Burger King?) GIRL continues on her way, even more pleased than before because she was doubly proven right. Only in France is she both 100% Spanish and 100% American. It all depends on who’s asking.


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Housekeeping

Updates on stuff I’ve written and your comments.

Citymapper Paris→ The CityMapper app I raved about has added Paris! Everything’s coming up Milhouse in 2014! You can get it here!

→ Even though I am of the female persuasion, my feelings about stuff like Title IX and gender diversity on company boards are at odds. When dealing with historical figures and their cultural importance, I have even more uncomfortable feelings because I do think it’s important to recognize the roles that people played in making the world what it is today… but I don’t like the idea of digging people up and burying them somewhere else just to make a political point. This is something that’s being suggested at the Panthéon here in Paris, which I wrote about a while back, specifically citing that I liked the male-centric wording of the engraving over the entrance. (To be totally clear, partly what I liked about the sentiment is its Lady-doth-protest-too-much exceptionalism about French men.)

→ Speaking of exceptionalism, I wrote about the American kind ages ago and “The Atlantic” reports that its era is over. What’s the opposite of chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!”? “Boo-hoo for us”?

→ An alternate take on purging is to buy better quality things. I used to do this regularly, but since I’ve been living out of suitcases for over eight years, I realized that buying excellent new versions of stuff I already owned was foolish. Hence, lots of repeat crap. Kelly’s point about French women is true though — all the closets I’ve seen personally have very little clothes in them but those things tend to be très nice and more expensive.

→ Some dude picked a fight with me over on Suzanne and Pierre’s blog about, get this, SPAIN. At least he shut up once he realized that, in addition to not getting involved in a land war in Asia or going against a Sicilian when death is on the line, challenging me when I talk shit about Spaniards is a classic blunder which is best avoided.

→ I am not crazy. This is a thing which bears repeating, if only in a low voice to myself. My love of The Great Brain book series is apparently a *totally normal* thing. It’s so within the realm of not extraordinary things that Brian Koppelman is comfortable making an off-hand reference to one of the characters in the books and Seth Myers just goes with it, apparently knowing that being compared to the Brain’s little brother is an epic insult.

Labyrinth_Worm→ I got into a LABYRINTH appreciation party over on “Bread is Pain” and then a stupid BuzzFeed quiz* proved that I am, in fact, the Worm.  I *am* generally good about giving directions (except when I’m not).

*Is this redundant? Is there any kind of BuzzFeed quiz that *isn’t* stupid?