Le cul entre les deux chaises

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


Mayday, May Day!

Ha! I actually remembered a holiday! This is BIG NEWS around these parts.

Thoughts on May 1

Another great Midwestern invention.

Another great Midwestern invention.

1. My mother always called the local classical music station to remind them of the date and request they play some version of the Internationale. It was mortifying to hear the smooth-voiced program host mention her by name and play the track. I don’t think my mother has any real Communist leanings, but this is another true story: she totally hung out with Fidel Castro in Cuba one time. Spaniards around the world, unite! [Ed. His parents were from la patria, making him a Spanish national, just like me.]

2. Where I grew up, there was a local tradition of making May Day baskets and “anonymously” delivering them to your friends’ houses. We’d take things like SOLO cups (later used for other things), poke holes in them to thread pipe cleaner handles, decorate them in a spring theme and then fill them with candy. Then you’d have someone drive you around and you would drop the basket at the door, ring the bell, and run like hell. The recipient was supposed to guess who each basket came from so everyone would try to throw their friends off the scent by putting weird things in theirs. It was the definition of good, clean, wholesome American fun and almost seems like an idea Norman Rockwell and Grant Wood cooked up together.

3. In France and Spain, this is a federal (bank) holiday. I love that the way to honor workers is by not working. Such a concept wouldn’t really be able to take hold in the US — to wit, Secretary’s Day where they get flowers but still have to work. In America, workers are a dime a dozen and worth even less. Also, the streets are paved with cheese.

4. My crazy-rich student in Barcelona was eventually slightly impressed by the vast scope of my knowledge. She had taken the exam to be a licensed boat captain (they had a yacht!) and asked me to explain many of the terms she’d learned. I know very little about nautical things but I did know that the international distress call of “Mayday, mayday!” comes from the French for “Come help me!” [Venez m’aider !]. This was a rabies I put together on my own while reading a French novel when I was younger and I was crazy pleased with myself. Little did I know that there would be so many other things in life that would puzzle me.

So much weird knowledge came from PEANUTS

Couldn't find one of WWI Flying Ace yelling "Mayday!" but I'm pretty sure they exist.

Couldn’t find one of WWI Flying Ace yelling “Mayday!” but I’m pretty sure they exist.

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Very Important Peanuts

Honestly, the name alone would have gotten me to buy these peanuts I came across at the Monoprix near my Opéra movie theaters.

ViP 1

That I also happen to love peanuts and am fond of both barbecue and Indian food meant that I was definitely going to buy them.

ViP 2

“Warning may contain nuts”

That these “New York” peanuts were totally unfamiliar to me is not surprising since there’s nothing New York or even American about them.

These "New York" peanuts can even be found "as far afield as the US."

These “New York” peanuts can even be found “as far afield as the US.”

That they tasted not very much at all like barbecue or Indian food should not have come as a shock. That they were well roasted and not at all greasy was.

ViP 4

Verdict: would eat again though I wouldn’t seek them out.


Word Mystery: brother / hermano / frère

Every Wednesday, I explore the linguistic origins of one word in different languages I speak.

Oh, brother. Here we go.

Oh, brother. Here we go.

“Brother” may become verboten along with some other words on this blog because it’s been popping up too often recently in really annoying ways, like how my post about THE GOONIES reminded me that I hadn’t yet covered it as a Word Mystery. My feelings about it are currently like my general rabies sensation except angry. I’m hoping that by exposing it, it’ll go away.

EN → brother — a man or boy in relation to other sons and daughters of his parents. ORIGIN Old English brōthor, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch broeder and German Bruder.

ES → hermano — Persona que con respecto a otra tiene el mismo padre y la misma madre, o solamente el mismo padre o la misma madre. [Person who, with respect to another, has the same father and mother, or only the same father or mother.] ORIGIN Latin germānus [genetic “blood” brother].

FR  → frère — Garçon né du même père, de la même mère, ou des deux mêmes parents que la personne considérée. [Boy born to the same father, same mother, or who shares the same parents as another.] ORIGIN Classic Latin frater [brother].

Thoughts on today’s Mystery

Only the French definition concedes both that people not related by blood could be brothers (adopted, foster, etc.) and that parents could be either a mother or a father or possibly a different combination of genders.

Today’s winner is English just so the damn word will leave me alone! Now, git!

Something more interesting?

When I first started teaching ESL, the sentence “How many brothers and sisters have you got?” bothered me a lot. I don’t think I’ve ever posed that question in that way. It’s way too long for starters and totally unnecessary when English has a perfectly good word — sibling — that encompasses both genders (and saves time). That Romance languages insist on making all groups of mixed gender things male pisses me off since it’s misleading and generally uncool to marginalize just over half of the world’s population.


The seed of the plant is one of my favorite things, but the comic Peanuts is super sad. Like anyone who was a kid and used to read it, I thought it was a fun and touching strip about a boy and his dog, but when I read Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography by David Michaelis a few years ago, it made me reconsider everything I’d thought about it. Charles Schulz was a deeply unhappy person and the story of his life will either make you feel better about yourself (you can’t be as miserable as he was) or worse (all his success still didn’t bring him happiness).

At least he gave us Snoopy dancing.

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If you blog it, it will come

Remember when I was disappointed by bacon-flavored peanuts? Well, my continued faith in the concept was rewarded by the arrival of these Bacon Peanut Brittles in my recent American loot haul.

Just like the first time, this wasn’t what I was expecting it to be. For starters, the package says “brittle” which usually looks like this


but this stuff looks like this:

bacon peanut 3

So, more like FiddleFaddle or Poppycock (both of which I like because peanuts + caramel is always a winning combination) minus the popcorn and + bacon (BOOM! PIG!).

The ingredients are annoyingly vague (“spices”? Seriously?) but I can say that the final product was surprisingly spicy after an initial hint of sweetness. Generally, pretty good, though a tough snack to snack on since they don’t really go with anything and leave your fingers sticky and salty.

This being said, I had no problem polishing off an entire bag but that’s because I am a total glutton.


Cacahuètes aux herbes méditerranéennes

I tried the bacon-flavored peanuts, so I figured I’d try this other kind, marketed by the same company.

herb peanuts 1

It’s way hard to spell Mediterranean in French. Are three sets of double letters really necessary?

When the cashier tried to scan the barcode (barely visible in the bottom left corner), it wouldn’t work. She complained that the product must have been on the shelf too long and that the idiot stock boys hadn’t rotated the inventory. She was clearly pissed about a lot of things and was taking it out on the stock boys. Multiple attempts at entering the code by hand also failed, so she just rang the bag up as a Misc. item and charged me much less than the advertised price.

I was not dissuaded by her assertion that the peanuts had sat in the store for a long time and that no one else bought them. That actually raised my expectations as I’m starting to suspect the French don’t appreciate peanuts as they should.

herb peanuts 2

They look pretty good, right?

And the final judgment is that they actually taste pretty okay. Better than all of the other peanuts I’ve had here, but still not up to the level I’m used to. If there wasn’t any kind of seasoning on them, they might taste good, like normal dry-roasted peanuts, but given that I haven’t come across non-greasy regular peanuts yet, I’ll buy these again. Especially if I can get them heavily discounted.