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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Typical Spaniards in a hotel bar


A COUPLE sits at a circular table. They are speaking in Spanish.

A WAITER approaches the COUPLE’s table.

Un moscatel y una Coca-cola, ambiente.


Pero, ¿usted no habla español?

Non espagnol.

(huffs audibly in direction of wife)

Yes, English.

One moscatel, Coca ambient.

Coca, yes. Other?

¡Moscatel! ¡Moscatel!

MAN slams his open palms onto the table top. They bounce back up to the height of his shoulder as he yells “Bá!” This is Spanish for “I am annoyed at your stupidity.” WAITER looks at MAN with a stupid expression on his face. MAN does not respond, so WAITER scurries away.

MAN (to his WIFE)

Estos franceses, ¿quien se creen?

Ya lo sé, ya lo sé.

Learn something

Spanish people are assholes. I’ve said this before, but it’s true and bears repeating. One of their most pronounced characteristics is that they are proud of being assholes and stubbornly believe that every single thing about all non-Spanish people is inferior.

In the classic example above, the guy orders drinks in Spanish and, when confronted with a waiter who doesn’t speak it, orders exactly the same thing in pretend English.

Catalan Moscatell

To cap off this quintessentially Spanish exchange, the man feels that it’s okay to demean the waiter by loudly drawing attention to his deficiencies in a public space and then commiserate with his wife about how the French think they’re above everyone (when they clearly aren’t since they don’t even speak Spanish).

[For the record, he wanted Muscat wine and a room-temperature Coke for his wife. Neither of these things are typical drink orders.]


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The Spanish way of doing business

An amazing thing about Spain that you don’t realize unless you’re there for a long time is that people, in general, don’t like doing much of anything that doesn’t directly and immediately amuse, enrich or benefit them.

What’s funny, in a very sad way, is that your average Spaniard does not feel that doing their job will amuse, enrich or benefit them, so they often don’t fulfill even the most basic requirements of their professions. This can explain why you can sit at a table in a bar and no one will ever come to take your order. Or how, when you enter a shop and whoever’s working there won’t even acknowledge that you’re in the same space with them.

In both cases, the person “working” at the establishment is playing the odds, which is something Spaniards love to do as evidenced by the incidence of ludopatía [problem-gambling] there. They figure that if you really really want something, you’ll eventually come to them, but they’re hoping that you’ll just get annoyed and go away.

All of this was enough to leave me feeling off-kilter when I was first getting acclimated to the vast cultural differences between the US and Spain, but what really blew my mind was people, sometimes the shop owners, telling me that products I was looking for did not exist. Honestly, this happened to me more than a dozen times, but since I only have pics to illustrate one of them, I’m sticking with that story.

Once upon a time, I went into a bookstore and bought a street map of Barcelona. This was the best map in the world since it was about the size of my hand, very lightweight, had flexible covers and binding and had excellently clear graphics. I loved this map a lot and since a major part of my work teaching private English classes involved me traveling from one house or office to another, I used it all the damn time. Friends would comment on how superior my map was to all others they’d seen and I would nod because it was so obviously true.

But then, one day as I was consulting my miraculous map, the cover fell off and I was sad. It was time to retire my incredible urban chart, so I went back to the same store (it’s near Plaça Universitat) to buy a new one. When I got there I showed them the booklet and said I wanted another just like it and they looked in the computer and told me that the map I was looking for didn’t exist. I was dumbfounded.

“Are you telling me that the thing I am holding in my hands RIGHT NOW, does not, in reality, exist?” (Can you guess what those crazy Catalans said in response? C’mon, try. It’s really simple: they said YES.)

I could tell you about the rest of the insane conversation I had with three of the people who worked in the store and how, after I insisted, they scanned the bar code and found an entry for the book in the computer and how they still maintained that this thing had never been created in tangible form, but I might get worked up again. Instead, I’ll just let you look at my solution which included using electrical tape on every outer edge and then industrial clear tape on every inner page. And it worked just fine for all five years I was there.

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