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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Cutting cheese in French

TerryTateThe Empire Magazine podcast turned me on to an old series of Reebok ads called “Terry Tate, Office Linebacker” (compilation). The shorts are about an American football (handegg) player who works in a cubicle farm, intimidating workers into being more productive. They are crazy funny. Two particular highlights for me included

This ain’t your home so don’t use the speakerphone.

You can’t cut the cheese wherever you please.

This last line reminded me of a day in my French class in high school, when someone passed gas and another person mumbled, in the way that one does, “Who cut the cheese?” Our teacher looked up from his desk and addressed the person who’d spoken, reminding him that in French class, we speak en français, so my classmate cleared his throat and loudly asked, “Qui-as couper le fromage?

And the whole class roared with laughter while our teacher blushed. Be careful what you wish for.

For the record

In English, you fart. In French on pète. In Spanish, tiras/hechas un pedo. There’s a funny discussion here on colloquial ways to say “cut the cheese” in French. I find all these kinds of exchanges so amusing since they’re basically what I imagine conversations with aliens would sound like.


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Ren Dez Vez

Class had let out and my friends and I met in the high school parking lot like we did most days. We split up and piled into cars, eager to begin wasting our afternoon. Ben jumped into the back of the one I was in and we took off. Half an hour later, we were well on our way to nowhere, when Matt asked him why he wasn’t spending the day with his girlfriend. “Idunno,” he said. “She went home, something about a ren dez vez.” We questioned exactly what Ben, a good-looking, sweet and affable guy, liked about Sarah. None of us were fond of her, or that interested really, so the conversation quickly moved onto what were doing that weekend.

A totally different Ren.

A totally different Ren.

An hour later we were all seated in a big booth at a truck stop and I looked across at Ben and thought about Sarah’s message. “What’s a ren dez vez?” I asked. Ben pulled the note out from his back pocket and passed it to me.

“Out early. Rendez-vous my house,” it read.

I started laughing. Hard. Really hard. Among the character faults we’d attributed to her earlier was that she thought she was hot shit when her shit was tepid at best. And here was this note perfectly illustrating exactly what we’d been talking about.

Ben took Spanish. There was no earthly reason for him to ever know that “rendez-vous” meant “meet.” I took French and actually spoke French and I would never have suggested to a fellow French class friend that we rendez-vous anywhere because I don’t like looking like a total asshole. Or making my friends look like total assholes for not knowing something.

Of course, I have no problem making people who aren’t my friends look like assholes, so I quickly made “ren dez vez” code for “meet” among our group. And then I used it with my college friends. And my post-college friends. And if I weren’t living in a country where people genuinely know better, I’d still be using it. And thinking of what a total jerk Sarah was to my friend Ben.

Learn Something

This isn’t really worth delving into on a Word Mystery Wednesday, but it’s interesting to note that English, Spanish and French all have different constructions related to making an appointment. Initially I had to rationalize them to keep them straight.

  • Make an appointment — to help ESL students, I’d tell them to think about their appointment being created (made) in a calendar or agenda.
  • Pedir hora [request an hour] — this one makes sense in its own way too. You call the doctor and request some time to be seen.
  • Prendre un rendez-vous [take a meeting] — if this were only used in the business sense, I wouldn’t even remark upon it, but it’s also for medical appointments which makes the doctor-patient relationship seem more like one of equals. Liberté, égalité…etc.

When considering the construction of “taking” anything anywhere, I always think of this segment from “Beavis and Butt-Head.” In it, they have a brief but illuminating discussion on the linguistic question of why you “take” a dump since you’re actually leaving it. After all these years, I still think it’s funny but what got the biggest laugh for me this time around was that either of those idiots would know about “60 Minutes” or Mickey Rooney.