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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INT. METRO STATION, PARIS — EARLY EVENING

A station like this one.

A station like this one.

GIRL is on her way home, her feet leading her along the familiar path to her train. MUSIC playing in her earbuds, she is minding her own damn business (as usual). Suddenly, a feeling comes over her, powerfully drawing her attention to a MAN and WOMAN walking ahead of her to the right.

GIRL
(under her breath)

God – damn – it.

GIRL is pulled into their orbit, despite her keen desire to just get home. GIRL does not want to deal with these people because they are the worst kind of people in the world: Spanish people. GIRL cannot resist the calling she feels in her very DNA and approaches the couple, reluctantly pulling her earbuds out.

GIRL
(in Spanish)

Can I help you navigate the Metro?

The MAN whips his head around to glare at GIRL, his lip already curled in disdain.

MAN

No! I know perfectly well how to navigate the Metro!

MAN makes a dismissive hand gesture, as if flicking GIRL away like a bug.

GIRL is suddenly supremely annoyed and decides to take a few moments out of her day to teach MAN a lesson.

GIRL opens her eyes wide in a look that appears innocent but she laces every word coming out of her mouth with sarcasm.

GIRL

Are you sure you know where you’re going? Because you can’t go down that way.

GIRL has indicated the direction the couple is heading in.

MAN

Yes I can! This is the way to go!

GIRL flits her eyes over to the poor WOMAN traveling with MAN and is not surprised to see that she is meek, embarrassed and unsure how to proceed. GIRL points to the sign directly above the COUPLE’s heads.

This sign

This sign

GIRL

No, you can’t. That way is an exit for the X train line. You actually can not go that way. I can help you get where you’re going if you’d like.

MAN sees the sign, understands that he’s wrong, that he was beaten by a girl. MAN becomes irrationally angry. As his face reddens, a train starts pulling into the platform furthest from where GIRL, MAN and WOMAN are standing.

MAN

See! That’s our train!

MAN grabs WOMAN’s elbow and drags her down two dozen stairs so they can race along the platform to the train. GIRL doesn’t move, she doesn’t run for any trains, and looks on, bemused. GIRL knows that two different train lines are serviced at that platform and that within the same train station, there are two more lines. MAN had a 1 in 4 chance of getting on the right one. GIRL hopes he’s not lucky.

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EXT. PARISIAN ELEVATED MÉTRO STATION — DAY

This story takes place here.

This story takes place here.

GIRL is waiting opposite the exit to the Métro station. Across the way, a FAMILY catches her eye. The DAD, MOM, SON and DAUGHTER are clearly tourists and not very experienced ones. THEY are all wearing huge backpacks that protrude out at least a foot, irresistible to pickpockets, and aren’t mindful of their surroundings. THEY are staring intently at the Métro map, trying without success to understand it.

GIRL considers helping them but something about the DAD makes her reconsider. Just as GIRL has decided to watch the scene play out, DAD approaches the station agent.

DAD

Ing-glish?

AGENT

Yes.

DAD

Two AH-dult, two childs.

SON pulls on DAD’s shirt hem. DAD looks down, annoyed.

SON
(in Spanish)

But, Dad. You don’t speak English.

Anger flashes across DAD’s face and it appears to GIRL that, just for a second, DAD considers slapping SON across the face.

DAD
(to SON)

You shut up! I don’t want him to know! Shut up!

DAD turns back to the AGENT, trying to understand how much he has to pay. The AGENT repeats himself twice and then finally points to the monitor facing DAD. DAD mumbles something unintelligible and swivels his head around, looking for the MOM.

Once HE’s located HER, HE snaps his fingers impatiently as MOM digs around a backpack and pulls out some money.

The transaction finished, the FAMILY moves to the Métro entrance and begins the process of trying to figure out where to put the tickets.

GIRL looks away because she doesn’t like scary stories or ones about domestic violence and she suspects that this story is going to end in a way she doesn’t like.


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EXT. CORNER RUE DE LA PÉPINIÈRE AND BOULEVARD MALESHERBES, PARIS — DAY

Pretty much right here.

Pretty much right in front of the yellow awning.

GIRL is in an incredibly good mood. MUSIC blasting through her iPod, she’s strutting down the street, happily thinking of eating her Oops! All Berries when she gets home. GIRL sees a MAN and WOMAN ahead of her. THEY are looking anxiously at a tattered map. MAN is spinning the map in his hands, trying to make it match the corner they’re standing on. GIRL sees these people for what they are: Spaniards lost in Paris. GIRL decides not to be Spanish to these people. Instead, she will be American and offer her services.

GIRL 

Je peux vous aider?

MAN

¡No!

WOMAN elbows MAN in the ribs. THEY are lost and SHE knows it. MAN exhales loudly through his nose, unconsciously mimicking a bull.

MAN

Si — ah — ¿Sant Lazare?

HE pronounces it in Spanish, “San Lathar.” GIRL was totally right about THEM. Her day just got a little more awesome because GIRL loves being unequivocally right.

GIRL (in Spanish)

Yes, it’s straight down this street on the left. Do you see that big pink banner that says “the gallery is open”? It’s right before that.

MAN and WOMAN smile, relieved, pleased.

MAN

We were so confused! There are so many streets here!

GIRL

Yes, these intersections can be complicated, but to get your bearings, just look for the street signs. They usually have the district number on them and you can orient yourself by looking for the sun. As long as it’s daytime, of course.

WOMAN

But, you! Your Spanish is very good, too good!

MAN (to WOMAN)

Don’t you see that she *is* Spanish? It’s obvious!

(to GIRL)

But you have been away a long time, haven’t you?

GIRL (shocked)

Yes . . .

MAN

I can tell because you speak with a little French accent. Not much, your Spanish is perfect, obviously, but I can tell you haven’t been back in a while. There’s just a touch there, just a little French.

GIRL (staring)

. . . It’s been a few years, yes.

MAN is doubly pleased to be right about this. He smiles broadly, rolling forward on the balls of his feet, making himself a little bit taller, just for an instant. WOMAN beams at how clever he is. WOMAN hooks her arm through MAN‘s as they thank GIRL and begin walking east, toward the train station. (Maybe they are going to Burger King?) GIRL continues on her way, even more pleased than before because she was doubly proven right. Only in France is she both 100% Spanish and 100% American. It all depends on who’s asking.


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The Day The Bastards Got Me Down

If you’re a person in need of letting go or just relaxing a bit, I have a solution for you. Allow yourself to be completely broken down and then build yourself up again. This advice may seem counterintuitive, but, having gone through it personally, I can tell you that becoming a shell of your former self and having all your ideas about what is good and true beaten out of you can be totally liberating.

This happened to me on June 21, 2007. I’d been in Spain for almost two years at that point, butting heads with people over just about everything and getting nowhere. I wanted to finally have all of my Spanish IDs issued properly (nat’l ID, passport, health card, etc.) but everyone in every government office was dead set on hindering my progress.

My American go-getter attitude wouldn’t stand for this kind of run around, so I quite literally spent all of my free daylight hours in federal buildings, waiting for my number to be called so that my paperwork could be rejected based on a technicality or have the teller windows close on me or be told, after sitting for hours in non-air-conditioned spaces, that no more people were being seen until the following day.

The bastards beat me that hot June day, but I lived to tell the tale and the whole nightmare taught me that, even though I may want to, I can’t control most things in the universe.

INT. GOV’T OFFICE BARCELONA— EARLY AFTERNOON

A GIRL wearing bicycle gloves runs in. She is sweating slightly. She looks excited. She approaches the main desk.

GIRL

(fumbling with her bag, extracts several sheets of PAPER)

Sorry, um, I, ah, was here last week to pick up these papers…

GIRL hands PAPERS to WOMAN behind the desk.

GIRL (cont.)

… but when I went to get my ID across town, they said it was missing a stamp, so, I, ah, want to get it stamped.

GIRL smiles. The WOMAN has tightly permed orange hair and red wire-rimmed glasses. Despite the heat outside, she is wearing a sweater that began to pill several seasons ago.

WOMAN

(looking over the papers)

Right. OK. They should have done that before. Hmmm, that has to be done in Madrid.

WOMAN turns as if to leave, though the office is scheduled to be open for another 35 fucking minutes.

GIRL

(clearly tense)

Wait, what? What do you mean? I requested these papers for the specific purpose of obtaining my ID and you’re telling me that they forgot to stamp it?!

WOMAN

(not giving two shits)

Try Door 8 upstairs.

INT. MAIN AREA, SAME GOV’T OFFICE. GIRL is looking around at signs, many handwritten, trying to find Door 8. GIRL sees an elevator and gets on.

INT. ELEVATOR. GIRL is now sweating more heavily than before. Theme music from “BRAZIL” begins to play softly in her head.

INT. GOV’T OFFICE, 2ND FLOOR. GIRL continues to follow all manner of signs promising the proximity of Door 8. GIRL turns a corner and is, no shit, confronted with this:

You can't make this shit up.

You can not make this up.

GIRL laughs quietly under her breath, though she is not amused.

INT. ERROR CORRECTION OFFICE. There are several CIVIL SERVANTS sitting at desks and standing around a coffee machine. As soon as the GIRL enters, they all scatter off into corners like the cockroaches they are…except one rather portly OLDER CIVIL SERVANT. GIRL approaches his work area.

GIRL

(trying to sound casual, but not succeeding)

Ha, I have an “error” I’d like “corrected” please. You see, it appears that a stamp I need on these documents wasn’t put on and I’d like to have that done now.

OLDER CIVIL SERVANT

(gives a cursory glance to the documents, flipping each one over carefully in a studied manner)

Yes, I see. Mmmm-hmm. Ah. Well. Yes. You need to fill this form out…

OLDER CIVIL SERVANT pushes a practically blank piece of paper at GIRL.

OLDER CIVIL SERVANT (cont.)

… and then send it to the Madrid office for the stamp.

The GIRL‘s body sags, as if suddenly under an enormous weight. GIRL begins to tremble slightly. GIRL inhales sharply, as if gaining strength from an unspoken mantra (“Don’t let the bastards grind you down”) and then…

GIRL

(speaking very slowly)

There must be some mistake. I have waited for one and a half years — that’s eighteen months — for these papers. It is not possible that they have to go back to Madrid. That is just not possible.

GIRL shakes her head forcefully, refusing to accept what has been said to her. The theme from “BRAZIL” becomes a roar in her ears.

OLDER CIVIL SERVANT

Well, it may not be “possible,” but it is so. Should take. . .

At this, OLDER CIVIL SERVANT looks off into the middle distance, feigning the act of thinking.

OLDER CIVIL SERVANT (cont.)

… six months to process. You should have your stamp in six months.

GIRL

(visibly shaking)

No, no, no, no, no. These papers. . .

GIRL flaps the pile of PAPERS she brought.

GIRL

… were supposed to take six months and they took three times that. I can’t wait another year and a half. I can’t.

OLDER CIVIL SERVANT

(not a care in the goddamned world)

If you go to Madrid it won’t take as long. Maybe a month.

SMASH CUT TO: GIRL running out of GOV’T OFFICE building towards a bicycle. When she reaches it, she begins to take great big gulps of air but there is not enough oxygen in the Milky Way to calm her. She collapses on the ground next to her bike and starts sobbing. “BRAZIL” theme swells as camera FADES OUT.


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Typical Spaniards in a hotel bar

INT. HOTEL LOBBY BAR, REPUBLIQUE AREA, PARIS

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

A WAITER approaches the COUPLE’s table.

MAN
Un moscatel y una Coca-cola, ambiente.

WAITER
Pardon?

MAN
Pero, ¿usted no habla español?

WAITER
Non espagnol.

MAN
(huffs audibly in direction of wife)
Iiiiing-glish?

WAITER
Yes, English.

MAN
One moscatel, Coca ambient.

WAITER
Coca, yes. Other?

MAN
¡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?

WIFE
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.]