Le cul entre les deux chaises

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


Word Mystery: cash / efectivo / espèces

Every Wednesday, I explore the linguistic origins of one word in different languages.

I was right receiptThe cashier at my new local grocery store doesn’t like me. I suppose this is my fault, but I’ll explain what happened and you can judge for yourself.

She rang me up on one of my first visits, a total of 19,67€. Using the one math trick that I know, I gave her a 20€ bill and 17 cents.

“What’s this?” she asked, indicating the 10-cent piece.

“That gives me 50 cents back,” I told her.

“What? No it doesn’t! I don’t want this!” and she pushed the coin into my shopping bag, making it impossible to reach since it fell underneath all my purchases.

“Yes,” I insisted because this is the one math thing I can do right. “I give you 17 and you return 50.”

I may have pushed this point a little too hard. I should have taken her disproportionately angry initial response as an indication that she was in a bad mood.

“Don’t you tell me how to run my register!” she yelled at me. Yelled. In the middle of the store on an otherwise normal day. I backed down immediately, but the receipt proves that I was totally right, something she realized as soon as she counted out my change.

Today we went through the same thing; I was counting out the 33 cents that would give me 50 back but she changed up the operation and grabbed a one-Euro coin from my palm and, in a flash, gave me 17 cents in 1- and 2-cent pieces. I’m fairly sure that she did it just to piss me off, which worked, but she also made the rest of her shift impossible.

As a former cashier and person who had to cash out registers at the end of the night, I know that you want MORE denominations of coins so that you can easily make change. If you give all of your 1-cent pieces to someone out of spite, then you’ve screwed yourself by not being able to spread out their dispersal over your shift. Her behavior makes no sense to me and only results in both of us being penalized for her bad mood and inability to grasp mathematical concepts that even a complete idiot (me) can master. Makes no cents at all.

But dealing with surly cashiers is one of the disadvantages of paying in cash, today’s Word Mystery. I’ll ring you up below.

EN → cash — money in coins or notes, as distinct from checks, money orders, or credit. ORIGIN Old French casse [box] from Latin capsa [box].

ES → efectivo4. adj. Dicho del dinero: En monedas o billets. [4. Money term, in coins or bills.] ORIGIN Latin effectīvus [of practical implementation].

FR → espèces4. monnaie ayant cours légal. [Legal tender.] ORIGIN Latin “species” but its evolution is unclear. Possibly from the sense of “commodity” but even that seems a stretch.

English note: I’m disappointed that I never made the connection between “cash” and “caixa” before. The latter is a term seen in lots of places all over Spain as it’s commonly used in bank names, like Caixa Galicia.

Spanish note: Effectivus for the rest of us, I guess?

French note: In my mind, espèces was related to “spices” which made sense as they were used as currency. That it’s related to “species” makes no sense to me.

Today’s Winner is Spanish since it both confounded me the first time someone said it to me (“You want me to effectively do what, exactly?”) and, because of the three options, it’s the least annoying.

Leave a comment

Winter shorn

Got my haircut again since I’m trying to make going a more regular thing. The woman asked me how much I wanted to cut off and I indicated about five inches. (I’ll be damned if I’m ever going to adopt the metric system). “So much?” she asked. She didn’t think it was a good idea. “Yeah,” I told her. “That much.”

We went back and forth a little bit, which I didn’t particularly care for and she asked me *why* I wanted to cut so much off. “It’s winter and what with hats and scarves, it’s just much easier to have shorter hair.” She looked at my reflection, narrowed her eyes a bit and nodded. “That’s true. Ok.” Apparently, I needed to convince her before she’d get to work.

Buff logoAs I said “scarves” to her, I had a word epiphany. The Spanish for scarf is bufanda, a pretty great word on its own. There’s a popular brand of Spanish-made head/neckwear called Buff® (you may know them as the official bandanas of CBS’s SURVIVOR). I’ve always made fun of Buffs because the company pronounces its name /bo͞of/ with a long vowel sound like “boot” despite being spelled like a word which already exists /bəf/.

Teen Wolf Boof

If you know why this pic is here, we can discuss being friends, but I won’t make any promises.

But in the chair at the hair place, I realized that those silly Spaniards took the first syllable from “scarf” and added a letter to the end, just for the hell of it. Again, if someone would just run these ideas by me first, I’d be able to help them out, but alas, they must continue to live like ignoramuses. [Ed. Reading their website proves me right. I love being right!]

Wear Something

Buffs® are actually awesome. I have a ton. I wear them while doing yoga to keep the hair out of my face, while bike riding to keep the sweat out of my face and when the temperature drops a little to keep the cold off my face neck. There are a bunch of kinds; cotton, wool, fleece-lined, knit, double-layered, reflective, UV. I don’t know you, but I am sure there is a Buff for you. You should get one. Or five. There are a million ways to wear them. Let the Basque sheep show you how.


Leave a comment

God Bless America, Part 3

Prepping for my trip stateside, I proceeded to make lists. If I didn’t have my notebook handy, I’d fire up Any.do, the free app I use mostly for grocery shopping. I usually type in things that the app doesn’t recognize, like chix, which is my abbreviation for chicken, or ous, which is Catalan for eggs. So when I started to type in an item that I love, I was certain it wouldn’t autocomplete. I was wrong.

I don't know what "crunch back" is.

I don’t know what “crunch back” is.

Sadly, Cap’n Crunch’s Oops! All Berries is a limited-time cereal and wasn’t available from FreshDirect or Target.

Happily, when I got to my brother’s apartment, there was a box of the stuff in his cupboards. After recovering from my yell of surprise and contentment, I asked him what in hell it was doing there. “I saw them at the store one time and I thought you liked them but I forgot to mail them. It was a long time ago.”

Looking at the top of the box, the package indicated that the contents had indeed passed their sell-by date several months earlier. (Like, a whole lot of months.) Knowing that the contents were 100% chemical and that the only thing that could possibly happen to them was that they’d start degrading by half-lifes (apparently the correct plural of “half-life”), I opened it up. And ate a couple. And the eating was good, so I poured some into a bowl and washed them down with my Nice! milk. And I ate the whole box over ten days and it was glorious.

Even the milk in America is friendly.

Even the milk in America is friendly.


Word Mystery: turkey / pavo / dinde

Every Wednesday, I explore the linguistic origins of one word in different languages I speak.

This map is almost irrelevant.

This map is almost irrelevant.

Well, that was a missed opportunity. Last week’s Word Mystery should definitely have been “turkey” but I schedule these posts so far in advance that I frequently pass up perfectly good holiday tie-ins. Though, truth be told, if I had an oven, I could still be eating Thanksgiving leftovers a week later since it’s my favorite meal in the universe… so, yeah, I totally meant to post this today! Whether you believe me or not, waddle on down and let’s talk turkey.

EN → turkey — a large mainly domesticated game bird native to North America, having a bald head and (in the male) red wattles. ORIGIN applied to the guinea fowl (which was imported through Turkey), and then erroneously to the American bird.

ES → pavoAve del orden de las Galliformes, oriunda de América. [Bird of the Galliformes order, native of America.] ORIGIN Latin pavus [peacock].

FR → dindeGrand oiseau de basse-cour originaire de l’Amérique du Nord dont le cou et la tête sont rouges et dépourvus de plumes. [Large game bird native of North America whose neck and head are red and without feathers.] ORIGIN Spaniards brought the bird to Europe from Mexico and in France it was known as “chicken from India” [poule d’Inde] since Columbus and the Spanish still thought the Americas were India.

English & Spanish note: man, people used to be really bad at geography. Like, way worse than I am at math which is hard to comprehend.

Second Spanish note: the definition for pavo was the longest I’ve come across, so I edited it down considerably. I have *no idea* why this of all words required such a lengthy, zoological description.

Spanish note, tercero: In modern Spanish, a peacock is called un pavo real [a royal turkey] which I like to interpret as a veiled insult to monarchies solely because that amuses me.

French note: The male of the bird is called a dindon, but it’s the female who gets eaten so she gets to be Word Mystery-ed.

Today’s Winner: it’s obviously French because that origin story is awesome, hilarious and makes Spaniards look like idiots. It’s a Word Mystery hat trick!

Learn one more thing

You may not have noticed the pun in the introduction and since I both love puns and want people to make gooder English talking, here’s an explanation. “Talking turkey” means to talk about something honestly. In this sense, turkey is also not bullshit which is another thing to love about it.

Leave a comment

Great Conjugation: fusionneront

Here’s a text message I got a while back:

France Télécom et Orange France fusionneront le 30 juin 2013 pour devenir la sociéte ‘Orange’.

I glanced over it and then said, “Hot damn!” because fusionneront is an awesome verb conjugation. How much cooler is it to say fusionneront than “will merge”? Being really poor at number things, I calculate that it’s approximately awesome x infinity to the nth degree. (That sounds about right.)

Another kind of fusion I can get behind.

Train of thought

Merge →→ Mergers and Acquisitions, a thing that people do in movies about corporate finance. [Ed. Also possibly in real life.]

→→ Patrick Bateman was in that division, though he called it Murders and Executions. (What a laugh riot, that guy.)

→→ In French, it’s called Fusion-acquisition, commonly referred to as “fusac.”

→→ FUSAC is a free magazine in Paris whose name stands for France USA Contact. (I think it sounds like a failed US military program.)

→→ You can pick up a copy of FUSAC at Thanksgiving, the American grocery store in the Marais. This is the only place I’ve found regular, original, yellow-boxed Cheerios.

→→ I love Cheerios.