Le cul entre les deux chaises

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


The greatest thing about Paris

Everybody loves Paris for different reasons. I’d guess most people like the art or the food or the fashion. Some might opt for the light or the architecture or the general ambiance of romance or loucheness. What I really love about the city is the movie theaters.

If you’ve ever lived in a Real City, you might have experienced something like this.* Every week, there are dozens of old movies playing all over the city. (To be fair, they are mostly playing near la Sorbonne in the 5è and 6è, an area filled with students and expats, but not exclusively.) You can check out the list of only English language movies and see what you’re missing out on, but if you love all kinds of movies, there are too many wonderful places to sit and worship at the celluloid altar, though the cathedral of cinéma is a good place to start.

Some of my favorite moments from the past year include:

→ Seeing FIGHT CLUB on the big screen again and hearing French people love the idea of space monkeys too.
→ Watching GOODFELLAS and hearing a young couple gasp and poke each other as actors they recognized from THE SOPRANOS came onscreen.
→ Hearing people titter during VERTIGO, highlighting both how old-fashioned and how sexually perverted it was.
The time I saw BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID and you could hear people smiling practically during the whole thing.

But the best moment for me (so far), a highlight of the last five years of my life really, was seeing GREMLINS on the big screen for the first time in my life at the end of December. If it’s been a while since you’ve seen it, you may need reminding that, along with DIE HARD and LETHAL WEAPON, GREMLINS is one of the great Christmas movies of all time.

Probably the only time I will ever take my phone out during a movie.

Probably the only time I will ever take my phone out during a movie.

He deserved what he got for being a bigot.

He deserved what he got for being a bigot.

It’s another one of those movies that I’ve seen a million times and I quote it all the time but seeing it projected bigger than I ever had made it so much funnier and scarier and more impressive. The effects, which were mostly practical / in-camera ones (not computer-generated) still looked great and were convincing as hell.

But the best part of this best moment was an older French guy who was guffawing at all the xenophobic comments Mr. Futterman (Dick Miller), the hero’s grumpy old neighbor, makes. I’ve always been a big fan of Mr. Futterman’s character but it was so great to hear the very people he was railing against laugh at him. It made me crazy happy to see that we, the foreigners Futterman hated so much, got to have the last laugh.

And that’s what Christmas is all about.

* The only Real Cities of my connaisance are New York and London. Not even Boston counts, as much as I love it, since the only good old movie houses were all by Harvard which is in Cambridge. I was a member of the Brattle Theatre (the cult of Humphrey Bogart was born there), so I still went over the Charles, but I didn’t like it.


More movie / translation fun

Part of being an expat cinefile is figuring out how English movie titles are translated. As I mentioned yesterday, I am pretty good at this, partly because I have a vast amount of movie trivia in my head but also because I have a pretty firm grasp on translation. Sometimes, neither of these things are any good to me because the foreign title is way off the original. Here are some that have tripped me up (or amused me) over the years.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

TWO MEN ONE DESTINY is not a title I would ever give to this movie. Only for starters (because I don’t want to be here all day), I don’t think either man would have said they believed in destiny. They were train robbers who were always figuring out their next move just moments before they needed to make it. Grade: F

The Sound of Music

The Sound of Music

This is where I admit that I’m one of those people who doesn’t like THE SOUND OF MUSIC. I never saw it as a kid, so it didn’t imprint and, without the nostalgia factor, this film is empirically bad. Now that that’s out there, I will say that at least the original title is pulled from the lyrics of the opening song and SMILES AND TEARS doesn’t factor in any lyrics. Or make any sense, really. Grade: C (‘cause I don’t care)



This translation, ONE OF US, at least comes from the narration: “He’s one of us, you understand? We were good fellas. Wiseguys.” Weirdly, the title of the book is Wiseguy so this line encapsulates all versions of the title. Grade: B+

And finally, a perfect translation.

The Long Kiss Goodnight

The Long Kiss Goodnight

This is my favorite bad movie of all time. It’s got everything you’d ever want in a good movie, but amped up 1000 times and made all the more awesome for it. The French title reflects this, as it’s 1000 times more awesome than the movie. “Au revoir” means “goodbye” as everyone knows, but its original sense was “until we re-see each other” so this title is basically UNTIL WE SEE EACH OTHER AGAIN, WHICH’LL BE NEVER. The movie is saying F-you to everyone and I love it. Grade: A++


Time Sewing

“A stitch in time saves nine.” It took me a long time to understand this adage. The problem was that I thought “in time” meant related to the space-time continuum, like A Wrinkle In Time or how time travel works in movies. It actually means punctual, like “I got there just in time to catch the bus.” The idea is that with a tiny preventative measure now, you can avoid a nine-fold problem in the future. I probably put a stitch in time every hour I’m awake because, while I am lazy, I also don’t like to make more work for myself.

Ways to Stitch Time

→ Clean as you cook. Seriously. It’s the easiest thing in the world to wipe the counter, put pots to soak or load the dishwasher while food is cooking. Additionally, if you wipe the stove down while it’s still hot, none of the grease or mess will get a chance to stick and cause you to scrub furiously later.

→ Wash after you wash. After a shower, I spray shower cleaner along a different wall every other day. This keeps the calcified buildup (known as “shower scum” in the US) to a minimum and means that I can just pass the abrasive sponge over the tiles instead of attacking the grime.

→ Put things in the order you use them. Weirdly, this is something I learned watching an episode of WHO’S THE BOSS? where Tony reorganized all of Angela’s drawers so that the clothes was sorted by the order in which she put them on. By this logic, underwear in the top drawer, shirts in the second, pants in the third. Also, keys on a key ring sorted by order and direction of use. If you do it every day, make it easy on yourself.

If I could really stitch, I would make awesome things like this

"One dog goes one way and the other goes the other."

“One dog goes one way and the other goes the other.” [source]

If you don’t know what this is, go here.


Buh-what now?

Word enemies are words which are bastards. This is one of them.

A happy/sad thing about being an expat is realizing one day that something that was impossible when you first arrived is now old hat. Take Bouygues, for example.

When I got to France with the intention of settling here, I’d been living in Spain, a country where every letter in a word is pronounced (except “h”). Within the first week, I’d seen dozens of signs that read Bouygues and could do little more than stare at them, dumb faced. (It’s a huge company that has mobile phone, Internet, construction, real estate and media divisions, so they really advertise a lot.)

Like a child, I sounded it out: Buh-ó-ewh-ee-g-ewh-eh-s. That didn’t sound right. Boy-geez? Boo-ee-goo-ee-z? I sheepishly asked a French friend how to say it, but I couldn’t remember how to spell it right (all those vowels still looked crazy to me), so she was of no use.

And then I had one of my “JIIIIIMMMMMAAAAAYYYY!” moments where I was in the shower and, for the first time, understood one of the commercials on the radio. It was for “Bweeg Telecom” which is how you pronounce Bouygues. Bweeg. Go figure.

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Door etiquette

It turns out that how people interact with doors in public is maybe a cultural thing, which I never would have guessed.

Henny Youngman, if you must know

Take my family (please!); my siblings and I are all inveterate door-holders. My mother apparently raised a passel of gentlemen, despite only having one son. This was never an issue for me since most people seem all too happy to take advantage of a held door. All of my friends have adapted, and I really never think about it unless I’m with a sibling and then neither of us want to go through the door first. (It’s less funny and more sad than it sounds.)

But then I was reading somewhere (on Sam’s blog?) about German door manners (apparently they don’t have any) and I was reminded of a gay friend I had in Barcelona who blurted out one day, “Are you gay or not?!” Apparently, she’d been totally vexed by my behavior because I always held doors open and didn’t talk constantly about guys.

When I told her I wasn’t, she seemed more annoyed than relieved to have the matter settled once and for all. The way she saw it, I was intentionally giving off weird signals that people didn’t know how to interpret. From my point of view, if people were confused about whether they should hit on me or not and were erring on the side of caution, everything was going my way. Being a Spaniard, she tried to insist that I change my behavior to suit her weird hangups, but that wasn’t going to happen, what with me also being a Spaniard.

Of course, here in France I’ve found that everyone furiously calculates the distance between themselves and the person behind them to see if they should or shouldn’t. Usually they do, just to be safe, which I find a little annoying, but if given the choice between one extreme or the other, I’m sticking with the French side of the door.