Le cul entre les deux chaises

An American Spaniard in France or: How I Learned to Make an Ass of Myself in Three Cultures


Word Mystery: carousel / tiovivo / manège

Word Mysteries are where words in languages that I know don’t correspond to each other at all despite those languages often sharing lexical histories. These words are both mystifying (why are they different?) and annoying (why must you be different?!).

It wasn't this carousel

It wasn’t this one

I was recently killing time in a park when the sound of laughing children drew my attention. My general stance on anyone under seven years old is “No,” but if there are kids in my general vicinity who are having fun, I kind of enjoy listening to them playing. There were a few riding around on a carousel and my first thought was that I don’t think I’ve ever ridden one. My second was that I should take a picture of the happy brats, but I reconsidered (it’s generally not a good idea to photograph strangers’ children).

Left to my own devices, I started to muse on carousels in general and remembered that there are so many fun ways to refer to them in my brain. Bring on the Mystery!

EN → carousel — a merry-go-round (:a revolving machine with model horses or other animals on which people ride for amusement.) ORIGIN mid 17th cent.: from French carrousel (: a tilting match).

ES tiovivo — Recreo de feria que consiste en varios asientos colocados en un círculo giratorio. [Carnival ride which consists of various seats arranged in a rotating circle.] ORIGIN In doubt, but the popularly cited legend is that Esteban Fernández, the owner of one of these rides apparently died and, as he was being carried to the cemetery, he jumped out of the coffin shouting, “Alive! I’m alive!” [«¡Vivo! ¡Estoy vivo!»]  Fernández was called «Tío Vivo» [Alive Guy] ever after and the association of the nickname eventually became synonymous with the product he rented out.

FR manège — Exercices de dressage que l’on fait faire à un cheval. [Training exercises for horses. 1st of many definitions, the 3rd of which is the carnival ride.] ORIGIN Italian maneggio (: riding stables)

There is no question of Spanish winning today’s competition, but the American in me must mention that I’d never heard of “dressage” prior to Ann Romney’s horse being in the news. Until I started researching this post, I thought it meant “stupid horse thing.”



Fun French Facts, Vol. II

So, the Seven Years’ War was a conflict too complicated for me to understand, but something I do understand came from it: mayonnaise!

The basics of the conflict, which took place between 1756 and 1763, pitted Britain against Spain & France. The latter two were unified by the Bourbon family, members of whom currently sit on the thrones of Spain and Luxembourg.

The story behind mayonnaise may be apocryphal, but as I learned in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

Armand de Vignerot du Plessis, then the Duke of Richelieu, led the French troops against the British in 1756 in Minorca, one of the Balearic Islands off the coast of Catalunya. (The others are Menorca and Ibiza.) The Brits eventually surrendered and Richelieu, it is said, was hungry and ordered food. The chef didn’t have any cream on hand (the island had been besieged by one force or another for a long time), so he substituted olive oil when making a sauce and Richelieu loved it. He dubbed the creation mahonnais [of Mahon, the capital city of Minorca].

Try it yourself

Real mayo is super easy to make at home and has a flavor that’s very unlike the jarred variety. Alton Brown‘s is pretty basic and can be mixed up in lots of ways by adding just about anything you want. I stopped eating mayo after I made it once because, while it tasted delicious, I was severely grossed out by what it actually was (olive oil + raw egg).

Americans swear by the taste of Hellmann’s, even fancy chefs. I also insisted on it for every turkey sandwich I ate for probably 20 years. It’s one of those things where I’m not sure if we love it because we all grew up with it or because it’s actually, empirically better than others.