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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Invisible Tattoo Relief

It’s nuts that I feel relief that I never got that invisible tattoo. If I had, over here in Europe it would have become a conversation starter which is the exact opposite thing I would want.

Buttes-ChaumontI thought of this on a recent not-good day that I was trying to salvage by taking a book to the park to read for a while. I was very engrossed in the book when a guy came up beside me and asked very politely if I was Laura. Being the idiot that I am, I took him at his word, assuming that he was meeting someone named Laura. When I told him that I wasn’t Laura, he said, “That’s okay. What’s your name?”

I gave him my best you’ve-got-to-be-shitting-me look, but since I was wearing sunglasses, a lot of the subtleties were lost. “I’m not Laura and I’m not interested,” I said, in what I thought was a terse tone. “Yeah, that’s okay, but I want to know your name,” he insisted.

This is apparently a common French pick-up method, and I must say that I am against it. Many expat females of my acquaintance met their significant others when the guy persistently talked to them while the girls sat at a cafe with a book. It’s possible that men here think they are too charming to resist and don’t understand that in some foreign cultures, “no means no” but that with me, no definitely, always means “I will never want to talk to you ever.”

If anyone has a suggestion on how to definitely repel people, please let me know since I really, really, really don’t like strangers and I’d rather drive 100% of people away than have to deal with one unwanted come on (and they are all unwanted).

Learn two things

Invisible tattoos are actually things that exist (though they’re really just scar tissue). I first heard about them on ELEMENTARY, the recent modern US TV version of the Sherlock Holmes stories. (This is where I mention that despite not being a member of the Baker Street Irregulars, I’ve read all the original stories and know that “Elementary, my dear Watson” is a phrase invented for the movies.)

The above story took place in the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont which I call “Charming Butts Park” because that amuses me. The English wiki page says the name came from what the area was called before Haussmann decided to make it a park, a “chauve-mont” [bare hill], but the French wiki is mum on the origin of the name. I’ll dig around some boxes and see if any of my books can shed light on the tale either way. (I trust books more than internets.)


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Euro Adapter: Americans at Notre-Dame

This may be the end of this feature since I think it pretty definitely proves that I’ve become European.

The scene: the second level of Notre-Dame, where many of the most famous gargoyles watch over the city of Paris. It’s also the midpoint, stair-wise, if you want to go to the top. Originally designed as a service area for the men who worked the bells, there’s not a lot of space.

This ugly mug is here.

This ugly mug is here.

I’m near the front of the group waiting to go up the second stairwell to the top. There is only one narrow stair so access is staggered — one group of 50 goes up then one group of 50 comes down. Coordinating the alternation is a very tall French man wearing a uniform, holding a walkie-talkie. At the moment, he’s entertaining a group of school kids with stories of the gargoyles and the history of the church. He’s doing a great job of keeping them under control in less than ideal circumstances. Behind me, a group of impatient asshole American tourists start pushing and shoving to get ahead of everyone in their way.

Finally, I snap. “There’s nowhere else to go! Stop your damn pushing!” I yell at the people trying to crush me. The man closest to me seems surprised that anyone speaking American is taking such a position and yells back, “Well, no one’s moving so we’re making YOU move!” I explain why no one’s moving and he gets really defensive. “Well, there aren’t any signs anywhere! How are we supposed to know about the stairs?” I ask him where exactly on a centuries-old building he’d like to have signs affixed. “Idano! I mean, how’re we to know what’s going on if no one tells us?!” I indicate the tall man who clearly works there and say that he will let us pass when it’s our turn and not before. “Well, he could let us know what’s happening,” responds the guy, clearly deflating. I reiterate, “He’ll tell you when it’s your turn. That’s when you’ll know you can go. Until then, you can assume that it’s not your turn.”

Behind this guy and his group is a cocky young guy and his girlfriend. I’d already clocked him as trouble and he proved me right. “Well, what if we want to go down? I don’t want to see anymore of this church anyway.” The pair of them are led through the crowd and allowed to cross the rope. “Down,” the guard says, indicating a direction with his finger. “Yeah-yeah,” the young guy says and I see everything play out in my mind, exactly as it will come to pass because All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.

I wish this guy would eat rude people.

I wish this guy would eat rude people.

Seconds later, he and his girlfriend are ejected back into the area since they had tried to go up but were run over by the group of 50 that was still coming down. They tried to blend into the front of the waiting group but, as it was all kids, they stood out. “Back of the line,” I said to them because I don’t have any patience for jerks, entitled Americans or dumb tourists.

The good news is that all the people concerned were significantly shamed or embarrassed enough to keep quiet the rest of the time we were waiting. It’s a marvel to me that Americans (especially) expect everyone else in the world to speak English but are then surprised when someone understands them as they disparage their non-American surroundings. You can’t have it both ways, you idiots.

I hate everyone

So does David Sedaris (kind of) in a story about running into loud Americans on the Métro who don’t think anyone understands them. “Picka Pocketoni” is from Me Talk Pretty One Day, and part of it can be read here.

I had forgotten how many useless words Americans pepper their speech with. The first guy started almost every utterance out of his annoying mouth with “Well.” Is this supposed to soften the following statement? Make him seem more thoughtful? I found it annoying since in practice it served no real purpose.

Seriously: you’re on vacation — what’s the hurry? Chill the f°ç# out! While you’re waiting to go up the stairs, enjoy the god damn view and shut the hell up.

 

Apparently not interesting enough to get Americans to keep quiet for 7 minutes.

Apparently not interesting enough to get Americans to keep quiet for 7 minutes.


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My invisible tattoo

“You should get that tattooed on your forehead,” my BFF said.

What she was suggesting I get inked on my person was “Fuck. Off.” since, by her estimation, I was saying that a lot.

Some 15 years later, I still remember the particular morning I was telling her about when she made that offhand comment. It had been an incredibly hot and sunny summer morning in Boston, just before 10. I was walking to work and was suffering from what a friend called Infantile Head*. I’d run out of cigarettes during the night, so I stopped by the convenience store that was on my way and they were out of my brand. This increased my bad-temper tenfold. Some guy approached me as I was leaving the store and started to say something to me and I just yelled, “Fuck! Off!” and stormed across the T tracks to the video store where I worked.

Strangers approaching me for reasons other than directions totally puts me off. My basic feelings about dealing with other people are

  1. I’m not interested in meeting you unless I already know you**.
  2. If I wanted to be talking to you, I would be.

I’m kinda like Audrey Hepburn in CHARADE (although totally unstylish). (How she pulls off sunglasses over her scarf and hat I’ll never know.)

Sometime after college, I stopped actually saying “Fuck. Off” out loud when guys approached me, deciding to go with a simple “No.” This went over even less well than my original approach but was decidedly less aggressive.

Guy: Hi.

Me: No.

Guy: I just said “hi.”

Me: No.

Guy: What’s your problem?

Me: No.

[repeat ad nauseam until he goes away]

After doing this for a few years, I decided to use a Leave Me Alone face all the time when I wasn’t with friends. Basically, this is a neutral expression that doesn’t invite any advance. One must practice to get it right as it involves relaxed face muscles and distant eyes to send subtle body language cues that the wearer does not have time for you.

Most of the time, this works. Sometimes, people react poorly, thinking that I’m being a bitch or intentionally ignoring them or think I’m too good for them. What people don’t realize is that none of these things are true. I just genuinely have no interest in strangers and want them all to leave me alone. Again, if I’m not already talking to you, I can assure you that I don’t want to be.

Further thoughts

→ Despite having written most of this post in July 2012, Elizabeth’s comment that she has a City Face she wears so that people don’t bother her finally pushed this story up the queue.

→ “Queue” is the only word (in English, I think) that, if you remove all but one of its letters, is pronounced the same as the whole word. Thank you to the French language for making this possible (and really annoying).

→ I’ve gotten a lot of angry responses to my LMA face, but no one has ever found it funny, unlike this video which details the plight of women who suffer silently from Bitchy Resting Face.

→ The second season of Jerry Seinfeld‘s webseries is much better than the first. Sarah Silverman, a comedian whose brash style is usually too much for me, has a funny bit in a recent episode where she notices a teen girl’s unpleasant expression and says, “I’m going to change your life forever. That’s your default face? Put a smile on there.” It’s good advice, especially if your resting face is unpleasant.

Bringing this post full circle, Dame Helen Mirren, one of the more imposing ladies currently in existence, thinks that all girls should learn to say “fuck off” early and say it frequently. All hail the Queen!

* Infantile Head — like a baby’s head i.e. when you feel that any jostling, loud noise or bright light could cause permanent brain damage.

** Yes, I realize that this is impossible. THIS IS THE WHOLE POINT.


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Tour de France 2013

The 100th Tour de France ended in Paris this past Sunday. Normally, I would avoid going to see the race since doing so involves many of my least favorite things, namely crowds, standing around, waiting, being hot, sweating profusely and having other people sweat profusely on me.

But my beau-frère is a big cycling guy and this was the 100th Tour and they were changing up the route so we went and I had an incredibly good time. Generally, I don’t follow sport (as my BBC friends call it), but I have been in places where there’s a big sporting event or a collective reaction to physical excellence and I do admit to getting caught up in the frenzy just as much as anyone.

I have almost 200 pics from the afternoon that we spent around the Arc de Triomphe (which the riders circled ten times during the final leg of the race), but I’ve selected just a few to give you an idea of what was going on there. [Click on the first photo to launch the slide show with bigger pictures.]

Thing that amazed me: it took less than 20 seconds for the group of 198 riders to whiz past a fixed point (me). On TV, it just looks like they’re going fast, but I can not express to you how quickly they’re moving when you see them live. There’s a WHOOSH and then they’re gone.

Thing that amazed my brother-in-law: In the thrilled voice of a little boy, he smiled and said,

“There’s so much smoking going on! It’s exciting!”