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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Rutte has an accent. Get over it

My mother frequently complains about how poorly Spanish people (and politicians specifically) speak English. This is kind of the flip-side to that; the Dutch have a crazy-good level of English. “Nine in ten Dutch people think they speak better English than most other Dutch people, according to our research at the University of Cambridge. I’m no mathematician, but this seems statistically improbable.”

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The best insult I’ve heard in ages

MuppetBabies-BabyAnimalIn his 2012 standup special “Dangerously Delicious,” Aziz Ansari of PARKS AND REC, tells a story about an exchange he had with a mean border control agent he came across in Toronto, Canada. Not nice things were said by both parties, but things really escalated when Ansari said* the greatest thing I’ve heard in a long time:

“Your English is slightly better than Animal from The Muppet Babies.”

As with many things, it’s the specificity that takes this from a schoolyard insult to a serious burn. According to the Muppet Wiki, Animal from THE MUPPET SHOW “speaks in a guttural shout, often repeating a few simple phrases¹,” which would be enough to belittle most people. But this poor woman was less articulate than that. Compare classic Animal with some of his younger work and see if you agree.

On a personal note, I hope you all appreciate this joke because after researching this post, my childhood was rocked by the information that Baby Animal, as he’s officially known, was initially voiced by Howie Mandel (who did Gizmo in GREMLINS) and then Dave Coulier (the annoying uncle on FULL HOUSE). I have seen behind the Muppet Babies curtain and can never go back.

I was laughing, now I'm not.

I was laughing, now I’m not.

*He surely didn’t say this and the comment was most likely an esprit de l’escalier thing but it’s still funny as hell. I am going to picture this the next time I deal with people whose speech I don’t understand.

Animal Muppet Babies


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Spanish commonality

I love when someone else breaks down data into ways I can understand it. If you give me a spreadsheet with a bunch of numbers, I will have no idea how to interpret it, but put that same stuff on a map and suddenly, it comes alive.

Here’s a map of “the most common surnames in Europe” as collected by some person on Reddit.

most-popular-surnames-by-country-europe_0I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the information presented, but it’s kind of fun to think about. I should note that everyone in Spain has two last names, one from each parent, so I’m not sure which one was taken into account here.

As an aside, when people in Barcelona heard where I was from, they invariably remarked that my last name wasn’t characteristic of the area. When I mentioned another family last name, they would respond along the lines of, “THAT’s more like it!” People move away from their home town / region so seldom in Spain that their last name alone often indicates where they come from. As an American, this freaks me the hell out.

Since I’m all about equal-opportunity-insulting and don’t think by any means that only Americans are idiots (I think most people are idiots), here’s a list of the most common spelling mistakes Spaniards make in English according to the people over at Cambridge English. (They run the English certification exams in most of Europe and have collected an impressive amount of data on ESL.)

Wich instead of “which”
Confortable instead of “comfortable”
Becouse instead of “because”
Accomodation instead of “accommodation”
Posible instead of “possible”
Belive instead of “believe”
Diferent instead of “different”
Bycicle instead of “bicycle”
Enviroment instead of “environment”
Beatiful instead of “beautiful”
Recomend instead of “recommend”
Begining instead of “beginning”
Responsability instead of “responsibility”
Demostration instead of “demonstration”
Recived instead of “received”
Oportunity instead of “opportunity”
Advertisment instead of “advertisement”
Until spelled correctly but regularly misused
Ruber instead of “rubber” (US: eraser)
Bussiness instead of “business”

As you’ll notice, a lot of the mistakes are from double-lettering, something that isn’t common in Spanish. In fact, I’m pretty sure the only correct doublings are “ll” and “rr.” (This excludes loan-words.) Other things  which trip them up are French-based words (always tricky) and words with difficult-for-them letter combinations like the “nm” in “environment.” This last thing is something that always confounded me since Spaniards are used to pronouncing every letter in a word and yet, in English, they often omit whole syllables or add letters where they don’t exist.

The article from which this info came notes that Spaniards have come up with 237 different ways to spell “because.” This is genuinely shocking to me. I don’t think that even if I tried for a week I’d come up with 100 different ways, but the Spanish are a special lot of individuals. (Especial is the colloquial way Spaniards express that someone is “difficult,” “touched in the head” or “generally impossible.”)


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Pretty Good Word: hopscotch

“Not to be naïve, but trying to connect with different languages and cultures is a way to change your perspective on the world as a whole.” — Cédric Duroux in The New York Times

HopscotchForeign Language Hopscotch is basically speed dating but for languages. I’m into this concept, especially the idea that in 30 minutes, you could learn just enough phrases and polite call-and-response exchanges to improve your menu-ordering skills. Because most things I think about are food-related.

My dictionary says

hopscotch — a children’s game in which each child by turn hops into and over squares marked on the ground to retrieve a marker thrown into one of these squares. ORIGIN early 19th century hop + scotch [prevent  from moving or slipping by placing a wedge underneath].


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Education experts care about the wrong thing. Again.

Dora the explorer is a thing

Dora the Explorer is a Hispanic thing

Every once in a while someone publishes a story about how disadvantaged Hispanic kids are and how they aren’t succeeding because Society Is Against Them. Most recently I read one in the NYTimes about books aimed at young readers, which quoted an eight year-old as saying, “I see a lot of people that don’t have a lot of color.” This sounds exactly like a thing that an eight year-old was told to say and not anything he’d actually come up with on his own because who even thinks like that at his age?

I had been working on an angry screed about this for a while and was having a hard time keeping my emotions out of it, but then Jorge from San Diego commented on the article and summed up my whole position in one sentence

A Chicano kid with professional parents is going to read just as well as an Anglo kid with professional parents.

Apologies to James Carville, but it’s all about economics, stupid. That’s maybe not a realization that social scientists want to come to since it suggests that creating a new master’s program isn’t going to solve the problem but, as a Hispanic kid [: of a Spanish-speaking country], I can assert that I’ve never read a story about a character like me and it never bothered me in the slightest.

I often wonder if there’s something particularly American (as in hippy-dippy bullshit) that feels a need to constantly see oneself reflected in the media one consumes. Or maybe there’s just a need to complain about it. That certainly is American.