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 Endorsement: Citymapper app for New York

citymapper wins logoThe situation: You are in New York City. You want to go places but like to take the fastest/cheapest/greenest/most efficient route because you don’t have time to lose.

The solution: The Citymapper NY app. Earlier this year, it won the MTA’s own App Quest competition for being the app that best integrates most of the city’s transit possibilities into one spot. (That’s subway, bus, Citi-bike, rail, walking, taxi and a surprise mode of transit.)

It’s a pretty perfect app for locals who already have a sense of where they are and where they’re going, but for tourists or visitors, it has only the info you need and not a bunch of other stuff. The biggest innovation is that Citymapper integrates real-time updates to the system so that you don’t need to keep track of when a line or station is being serviced, or if there’s work on the tracks. The app does it all for you.

citymapper-new-york 2Additional advantages: Once you’ve installed it, you can add a bunch of addresses to the very clean map within the app and then plot your routes to and from any location. You can then *save* these routes for offline use which is a *key* feature if you don’t have a data plan. And the map will still zoom in and out, even if you’re offline which seems like a simple thing until you use every other app and realize that it’s not a standard feature.

Only complaint: they haven’t made a version for Paris yet, but London (that dump!) is available and presumably equally awesome.

The knowledge (yes, that’s a London joke): Download the free app for iPhone and Android here.

Another tip for visitors

If you’re a world traveler, I’m assuming you have an unlocked phone so I’m working from there. If you go to the US, find a local T-Mobile store and buy an American SIM card ($10) and get a pre-paid credit on it. There are several different rates available but I’m partial to the month-long one (which is usually $30) as I’m never in country that long and it’s pretty unlikely that I’ll use all the text- and talk-time in a couple weeks.

"Diane -- my life would be improved if you provided me with this app. Get on it!"

“Diane — my life would be improved if you provided me with this app. Get on it!”

I recommend T-Mobile over other carriers for a few reasons: the company isn’t horrible like AT&T; it doesn’t have shitty customer service like Sprint; and they don’t require a local address or proof of residence to register the number (you do have to provide ID). They make buying a SIM super easy and the other big companies have historically given me a hard time, trying to sell me a disposable phone or up-selling a bunch of crap I don’t need. T-Mobile recognizes that a customer may come back if they don’t hassle you. (They may also suspect you’re a spy or criminal and want to claim plausible deniability after you’re arrested, but that still works in your favor.)

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Housekeeping

Updates on stuff I’ve written and your comments.

→ There’s a whole cool-sounding book about fun punctuation marks, like the @, called Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, & Other Typographical Marks by Keith Houston. I will have to √ it out.

→ Almost as good as being able to sleep while doing other stuff: getting paid by science for sleeping. Science!

→ There is a Dairy Queen in New York! There is a Dairy Queen in New York! At this rate, I’ll never have to go back to the Midwest ever again.

→ Reading about the behind-the-scenes drama and near disasters surrounding the unveiling of the original iPhone reminded me of Francis Ford Coppola’s TUCKER: A MAN AND HIS DREAMS. It also helped me possibly identify the root of my many problems with the device. According to one of the engineers on the project,

“The story was that Steve wanted a device that he could use to read e-mail while on the toilet — that was the extent of the product spec.”

→ No good, except this SNL commercial for the “Bathroom Businessman“, ever came from an idea that capitalized on being able to multitask while defecating.

→ My sister sent along this story, rightly suggesting that I probably want to learn German because of all their awesome word-building. When I first learned Schadenfreude (deriving pleasure at the misfortune of others) I thought, “That’s a culture that understands me.” Now there’s a book coming out with some great (satirical) examples of German ingenuity which I may have to acquire because it looks like exactly the kind of thing which will amuse me forever.

→ Living in Barcelona as I did for five years, I’ve been to the Sagrada Família more than a few times. For over a year, I went by it at least ten times a week as it was on my way to work. I’ve foolishly climbed all the steps in it and taken lots of pictures of the inspired-by-the-natural-world details. But I’ll probably never see it completed because life’s too short and it’ll never get finished. Thankfully, there’s now a video of what it’ll probably (maybe? eventually?) look like, so I can pretend.


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My complaint department

Even though I have a way more relaxed take on life than I used to, some things still piss me off. A lot. Enough to make me yell at inanimate objects and grind my teeth. Here are some of the recent offenders.

→ Apple. I don’t think I could count how many ways Apple has pissed me off in the last decade. The first one was when they changed the keyboard of the original clamshell iBook to one that was less responsive and comfortable for the second-gen G3 iBooks. More recently was when they updated iTunes, completely overriding years’ (YEARS’!!) of metadata and preference settings that I had already rebuilt twice in the last half decade. And, of course, there’s iOS7 which is a total nightmare.

SOLUTION: All this anger has led me to imagine a perfect machine which is basically a typewriter with a better keyboard and an email client. That’s it. No crazy apps that have dynamic swiping or tweetdecks or constant alerts or other unnecessary crap. Someone please make this happen.

These are just a few of the idiots in question.

These are just a few of the idiots in question.

→ Flies. I supercrazydoublehate flies, not just because they’re dirty (which they 100% are) but because they are insanely stupid. When confronted with a wall of windows, they bounce and bump along one section, not bothering to use the hairs that cover their whole bodies to feel where the breeze is coming from and going towards the most logical point of egress. Also, they love to swarm in cool spaces just out of direct sunlight, meaning there’s always a big gang of them right by the main entrance to my building and in my living room if I leave the windows open.

SOLUTION: I bought fly tape but then they just got stuck and buzzed and buzzed until they died which was equally annoying to them just existing. Second attempt at eliminating them was this amazing Raid product that you stick on windows and, through some kind of sorcery (or possibly nuclear radiation), it absolutely positively kills all the flies in the area so that there is actually a pile of dead flies on the floor when you come home after a few hours. It’s the best thing I’ve come across in ages.

→ Don’t complain to me: I used to be a shift manager at a video store in college* and one of my great pleasures was addressing surly customers. Usually, they’d come in and start complaining about late fees and they’d demand to see the manager and I’d sigh and turn around and come right back to them and say, “Hhhhello, my name is Hhhhh______. I’m the manager hhhhere. Hhhhhow can I hhhhhelp you?” At this point the customer would usually wither and die because I had used my secret weapon: fricative sounds (all those H‘s) combined with a garlic bagel with garlic cream cheese which I would have consumed earlier in my shift. No one could withstand my cool detachment and killer breath.

Go out on some notes

Lykke Li’s “Complaint Department”

*Possibly the best job in the world, RIP the entire industry.


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Housekeeping

Updates on stuff I’ve written and your comments.

→ I’m not the only person who likes vegetables that grow in unexpected ways. It turns out that carrots hugging is a thing people document.

→ Mark Bittman also like artichokes. He makes a good case for them being easy to prepare, despite how unfriendly they look.

→ FYI: European festivals are designed to confuse foreigners. Octoberfest? Happens in September. La feria de abril? It’s in May. Mark your calendars accordingly (which is to say one month early or one month late).

→ Reading about the root of the word owl reminded me that in Spanish, “hoot” is ulular (FR : hululer). This is a crazy-fun word to say. Eew-luu-lahr. Makes me want to yodel from the mountaintops.

→ I’m not the only one who prefers Samsung products to Apple’s iPhone. Sales of phones at the Korean company are through the roof. Somewhere, the ghost of Steve Jobs laments that he can’t haunt his successors Jacob Marley-style. I’m sure he’s pissed.

→ Gatsby-love abounds, at least in all the parts of the Internet I frequent. I wouldn’t mind except that it seems everyone has a T. J. Eckleburg’s eyes thing. I thought he could only see into *my* soul!

→ What would it have been like if someone else wrote The Great Gatsby? According to The New Yorker, if Theodore Dreiser had taken a stab at it, the novel would have focused on the years when James Gatz became Jay Gatsby. I would have read the hell out of that.

→ I had to search through my inbox to find my Zappos password recently and was surprised that I signed up back when I had an Earthlink account. God, remember when you had to pay for email? Turns out that Microsoft sure does as they killed their Hotmail service recently. Fun fact: I had dial-up Internet access when I left the US. My reasoning at the time was that I sat at a computer nine hours of the day, why the hell would I at home?

→ Falling down an Eddie Izzard YouTube worm hole, I came across another gem (truly, the man is almost as pithy as Stephen Fry) where he talks about multilingualism:

I think the whole world should be a big melting pot, like Manhattan, a massive Manhattan. This is my simple idea for the future of the world.

Yeah, what he says! This is where I mention that my nephew, who lives in Brooklyn and goes to a bilingual school, pronounces the best borough as mahn-há-tán, with a weird accent. It’s very funny but not très sophisticated.

→ Finally, there’s always money in the banana stand dance:

Banana challenge


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A cell phone story

Cell 1 Samsung slideUntil recently, this Samsung E370 (right) was my phone. I bought it in December 2006 for 166€, which my Spanish and Catalan friends thought was an extraordinary sum. I know this because their general response was, “Pero, ¿eres una idiota?” I had researched for several weeks and thought it was a pretty good deal. The phone was unlocked so I could use it in any country I traveled to and it wasn’t under contract to any carrier so I could just add credit when I needed and not sign my soul over to the phone company.

In the end, it was an incredibly good investment. I used this phone in three countries over six years at a cost of 27,66€ a year (2,30€ a month) which is a price that can’t be beat.

But all good things come to an end. After those many years of use, the keys weren’t as responsive as they once had been, the sound quality had fallen from very good to garbled on the best days and voice mails were completely unintelligible. And the truth is, I wanted to have a more advanced calculator in my pocket because, and I cannot stress this enough, I am super bad at number things.

cell iphoneSo I got an iPhone 4 from a friend who upgraded to the 5 the week it came out. It took me a while to find a cell phone shop in Paris where I felt comfortable (many of them are really shady) and that would unlock the phone for a reasonable price. (It’s technically illegal to do so, but just go up and down Boulevard Voltaire and you’ll find a place.)

Shortly thereafter, my mother got a couple Samsungs in a promotional offer run by the newspaper she reads, so she sent me one.

cell samsung

My wallpaper is from here

After a few months of using both, I have to say that I basically hate the iPhone and can’t really figure out what people like about them. And I’m a person who’s been “a Mac” for over 15 years. As fellow globetrotters/expats, I’m posing the question to you all: what do you like about the iPhone? Have you tried other phones?

Learn something

In English, a phone that is not tied to a specific phone company is unlocked. In Spanish, it’s liberado [liberated] and in French, it’s désimbloque [unblocked SIM]. Of the three ways to express the same idea, I like the Spanish best because I anthropomorphize everything and I like the idea of a phone being all, “I’m free at last!

Next Week

I’m gonna spin you right round, baby, right round! Like a record baby… but in French!

And it’s Daylight Savings in Europe tomorrow (Saturday), so don’t forget to set your clocks ahead one hour before you go to bed!