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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Sunflowers in the land of the Sun King

The first time I came to France was in 1985. We took the train from Spain, crossed the border at Irún in the Basque Country, headed to Marseilles and caught the TGV to Paris. It was easily the best trip, in terms of actual traveling, that I’ve ever had.

I’d been on public transit trains before but never one with a sleeper car and definitely not a high-speed one. I immediately thought it was the best way to get anywhere since you were actually moving but you could still enjoy the scenery and there were lots of food options. (In Spain there were women who yelled up at the open windows from the platform when the train pulled into a station selling chorizo sandwiches; there were friendly German backpackers who shared sausage and cheese; there was a dining car, something I’d only seen in movies.)

It was also the first time I ever saw fields of beautiful colored things. On my grandparents’ farm, there were fields of grains and grass and some corn; lots of potatoes and various kinds of roughage; an orchard with different kinds of fruit trees, but nothing like what I was seeing zip by as we made our way north.

It felt like I spent lifetimes looking at the lavender go by and I definitely couldn’t have held my breath as the seas of sunflowers zoomed past. Watching the Lance-Armstrong-is-the-world’s-biggest-jerk-in-addition-to-being-a-huge-liar documentary THE ARMSTRONG LIE, I was reminded of the trip, the train, and the sunflowers since the Tour de France riders cover much of the same ground we did, but I doubt they appreciate the view as much.

They ride too quickly to appreciate the scenery.

They’re not even looking at the flowers!

Thing that makes me say, “Christ! When did I get so old?”

The pyramid in front of the Louvre wasn’t there when I visited the first time. I now know people, adult humans with Master’s degrees, who were born after it was already installed in 1989.

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Great Phrase: To be the milk

I generally give the Spanish people/culture/language a hard time in these virtual pages, but they have been known to do and say extraordinary things like coming up with saying that someone or something “is the milk.”

ser la leche [sehr lah leh-cheh] 1. loc. verb. vulg. Ser extraordinario. Este chico es la leche, siempre se queda dormido [colloquial verbal expression. To be extraordinary. “This kid is incredible; he’s always falling asleep.”]

The example provided by the Real Academia Española (the OED of Spanish) gives you a sense of how it can be used in a variety of ways, from genuine incredulity to ironic detachment. Like most expressions, there isn’t any one translation that really captures what is expressed, but let me throw some examples at you.

Things which are the milk

  • Lance Armstrong (both before and after his recent revelations)
  • The Duke boys
They just are.

They just are.

Things which are not the milk

  • Hamsters
  • Fran Drescher
Milk not The-Nanny

I honestly couldn’t think of anything worse.

Things which may or may not be the milk, depending on your feelings

  • U2
  • The Hobbit
I say no but other opinions are available.

I say no to Tolkien but other opinions are available.

Got it? Good. Start referring to things as the milk and see how your respective dairy level rises accordingly. And please let me know what you deign to be the milk!