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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Let’s ban “nonplussed”

bannedLook, I love words a lot — look at my etymology tag for proof! — but what I like about them on a basic level is that they help us humans communicate with each other. If I say “cat” we’re on the same page of what I am talking about and that is good.

But this is no longer the case with “nonplussed” and I think we should all agree to stop using it because it’s totally confusing.

The definition of nonplussed is “surprised and confused so much that they are unsure how to react.” Due to its negative prefix (“non-“) it has more recently been used to mean the exact opposite, i.e. “unsurprised.” My beef with the word (’cause we’ve totally got beef now) is that it’s hard to know if or when people are using it correctly and this total lack of clarity is the opposite of good communication (which is what I am all about).

As a comparison point, the annoying habit people have picked up of using “literally” when they mean “figuratively” is dumb, lazy and incorrect, but it’s obvious that when someone says, “I literally died of embarrassment” that they aren’t actually dead and were, instead, severely shamed in public.

Two podcast interviews I heard recently brought this to my attention. One was with Kevin Spacey, who was described on the BBC’s Film Programme as “nonplussed” when posed a question, and it left me baffled. Spacey has such a smug, sarcastic speech pattern anyway that it was hard to tell just by listening if he was really shocked, just faking it, or if the interviewer was being ironic. The second was with Noah Hawley, the writer of FX’s very enjoyable FARGO TV show, who I am fairly certain used the word completely wrong. (The context was that Midwesterners are “nonplussed” by the harshness of the winters, which they’re totally not.) This confusion on Hawley’s part led to me being disappointed as I thought the show was generally well done but am now troubled that a professional writer doesn’t have a grasp on the language he’s working in.

So, out with nonplussed. Let’s just get rid of it. Literally.

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Friday Thoughts

2014_World_CupThings to consider over the weekend:

→ The World Cup is going on and America doesn’t care. Freakonomics Radio explores the possible reasons why. One theory that’s offered up by a Stanford-educated NFL quarterback is that,

“Our mindset in this country is that we have to be the best.”

What he doesn’t explicitly say is that if Americans can’t be the best at something, they won’t even try. This is both true and truly sad.

→ My mother recently asked me what the deal was with inches and pounds and ounces. I told her that I thought inches were based on the length of some king’s nose (untrue, as it turns out) and that 16 ounces made a pound (still true). There’s no logic to the US measuring system, only memorization of weird quantities.

It hadn’t occurred to me to wonder where the kilo came from since the metric system did seem logical, but it turns out there’s quite a good story there. Radiolab reports on how a kilo became a kilo and the actual (French) kilo that all others are measured against. The story has inspired me to put the Musée des Arts et Métiers on my list of things to do when I have a spare afternoon.


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Housekeeping

Updates on stuff I’ve written and your comments.

Simply the best (game).

→ I stopped playing Candy Crush. I got to level 169 without paying for any upgrades and, after a couple days stuck there, I decided I was out. Additional proof that I’ll never be a bona fide nerd: I don’t really get into video games. (N64 GoldenEye and Tetris excepted.)

→ Benedict Cumberbatch offers the famous person’s version of “Leave Me Alone” face:

“If you pick a point far behind [people on the sidewalk] they perceive you as not seeing them, and you’re the obstacle they have to get around. The greatest disguise is learning how to be invisible in plain sight.”

→ This year when I finally found a copy of the Oscars online to watch, I already knew all the good and bad moments, significantly lessening my enjoyment. Maybe next year I’ll try to play The Knowledge and just wait till I can see the whole thing for myself.

An episode of RADIOLAB made me “Rabies!” at my iPod since they mentioned that “right” also means “correct.” Another way that “left” is demonized.

→ Google Translate continues to be the worst and to do more harm than good. To wit, when it’s used to translate menus.

→ Complaining about lack of editing on the Internet is a bit like being angry at the sun for emiting light. That I’m not the only person to poke fun at those who don’t right the write word makes me feel better.

I will always love you.

→ An interesting take on why some of my favorite retailers went out of business from THE NEW YORKER. It wasn’t my fault and is instead due to Americans wanting to buy high-end goods in a luxury environment and low-end goods in a warehouse. Huh.

→ On a related note, I realized why I liked those stores so much: there were no salespeople. I hate being asked if I need help, if I’m finding what I want, if I’d like to see another size. This is another way in which I’m well suited to life in France.

→ More ways to clear out your life. I especially agree about the microwave. “Science ovens” aren’t worth the counter space they take up and make your food taste worse.

→ Elizabeth recommended I read the comments on that NYT article about tortilla and I did. Many were very angry, which amused me, but I’d like to think that part of the ire came from a translation misunderstanding. Spanish doesn’t allow for the distinction between must / should / have to. In English we know that these are degrees on the same spectrum, but Spaniards have a hard time with them, thus, when they give instructions in English, they often sound like commands. More on modal verb forms here.

Topics -> Hot Topic -> Hot Probs -> poor little Heather (McNamara).

→ But the person who was railing against “TOPICS!!” regarding Spanish people and their cooking was digging their own grave. They meant “clichés” which are “tópicos” in Spanish. Sigh.


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Links Day

On this day, God said, “Let there be links!” and there was much rejoicing.

→ The most miserable US states, according to a 2013 Gallup poll. I admit that I’m disappointed that the state I grew up in is not number 1. Makes me think they didn’t collect enough data ’cause that place is the worst.

Links!

Links!

→ What would the world be like if ads were replaced by art? Pretty great, I’d say after looking over Etienne Lavie’s “OMG who stole my ads ?” project.  [h/t]

→ Apparently, everyone else in the world is washing their hands wrong. If I were still as germphobic as I was when I lived in the US, this would seriously disgust me. As things stand now, I’m just disappointed in you.

→ People have always (weirdly) been drawn to me, and Mike White (actor / director / screenwriter / AMAZING RACE contestant) may know why. He says he wants people to see him and think,

“Oh, he seems like he’s having a good time. Maybe he has the secret to something that I haven’t figured out.” 

(I’m totally not telling you the secret.)

→ National flags made out of each country’s typical foods. Warning: this will make you hungry. 

→ Jenny Lawson, blogger extraordinaire and author, is someone you should be reading. She’s funnier and more foul-mouthed than I am though we feel the same way about the Important Things In Life, like The Princess Bride.

“I used to think that it was a small sin to waste time rereading silly books you’ve already read. . . but then I grew up and realized that those things were the only things that mattered. . . I’ve decided to give up on caring about wasting time and, in doing that, I’ve suddenly saved so much time I would have spent hating myself for reading The Princess Bride for the 89th time.”

Amen, sister. 

→ British actors with fantastic voices reading aloud. They make even the poetry palatable. 

desmoinespolice→ Buildings that used to be Pizza Huts were featured on the great 99% Invisible podcast. I ate so many free pepperoni personal pan pizzas in buildings just like the one pic’d at right as RIF / Book It! rewards. I wish I could still get free stuff just for doing things I like. 

→ I don’t have tattoos because I think they’re a bad idea. My friends who have them all regret the decision to varying degrees, the most mild being, “I don’t really mind this one too much.” A column in the NYT Magazine nailed my issue with scarring yourself with colors:

“Getting a tattoo is a way for your past self to exert power over your present self.” 

Your past self is always an idiot compared to your now-self. Knowing this when you’re younger helps prevent mistakes in the future. This is the reason I’m not on Facebook.

Next Week

In honor of the Academy Awards (which are this Sunday), I’ll be doing all movie-related posts next week. I can’t keep track of basic holidays (or even my birthday) but I mark the Oscars and the BAFTAs in my calendar because those are important (to me). Priorities, people. We’ve all got them.


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Housekeeping

Updates on stuff I’ve written and your comments.

Citymapper Paris→ The CityMapper app I raved about has added Paris! Everything’s coming up Milhouse in 2014! You can get it here!

→ Even though I am of the female persuasion, my feelings about stuff like Title IX and gender diversity on company boards are at odds. When dealing with historical figures and their cultural importance, I have even more uncomfortable feelings because I do think it’s important to recognize the roles that people played in making the world what it is today… but I don’t like the idea of digging people up and burying them somewhere else just to make a political point. This is something that’s being suggested at the Panthéon here in Paris, which I wrote about a while back, specifically citing that I liked the male-centric wording of the engraving over the entrance. (To be totally clear, partly what I liked about the sentiment is its Lady-doth-protest-too-much exceptionalism about French men.)

→ Speaking of exceptionalism, I wrote about the American kind ages ago and “The Atlantic” reports that its era is over. What’s the opposite of chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!”? “Boo-hoo for us”?

→ An alternate take on purging is to buy better quality things. I used to do this regularly, but since I’ve been living out of suitcases for over eight years, I realized that buying excellent new versions of stuff I already owned was foolish. Hence, lots of repeat crap. Kelly’s point about French women is true though — all the closets I’ve seen personally have very little clothes in them but those things tend to be très nice and more expensive.

→ Some dude picked a fight with me over on Suzanne and Pierre’s blog about, get this, SPAIN. At least he shut up once he realized that, in addition to not getting involved in a land war in Asia or going against a Sicilian when death is on the line, challenging me when I talk shit about Spaniards is a classic blunder which is best avoided.

→ I am not crazy. This is a thing which bears repeating, if only in a low voice to myself. My love of The Great Brain book series is apparently a *totally normal* thing. It’s so within the realm of not extraordinary things that Brian Koppelman is comfortable making an off-hand reference to one of the characters in the books and Seth Myers just goes with it, apparently knowing that being compared to the Brain’s little brother is an epic insult.

Labyrinth_Worm→ I got into a LABYRINTH appreciation party over on “Bread is Pain” and then a stupid BuzzFeed quiz* proved that I am, in fact, the Worm.  I *am* generally good about giving directions (except when I’m not).

*Is this redundant? Is there any kind of BuzzFeed quiz that *isn’t* stupid?