Le cul entre les deux chaises

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


They’re out to get me!

Finding a cute enough place mat to replace the one (which I’ve used as a backdrop to many pics) I bought in Barcelona many years ago had been one of my goals for this soldes season. C’est pas evident to get the right level of cute without tipping over into annoying or twee, but my search concluded with this découverte in the gift shop of the Pompidou Centre.

By PetitJourParis

Trop cute! (By PetitJourParis.)

The only issue I have with it is that it prominently features both a slug and a rabbit right in the middle of the scene. The coincidence is too great to not be part of a conspiracy against me.

Why are you tormenting me so?

Why are you tormenting me so?

Other “they’re after you?” scenes

→ Arya and Gendry in GAME OF THRONES S2E02

→ ALADDIN, a movie I watched every day after school for a year

→ When BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID are being chased by the Pinkertons.

This better be the last I hear about either of these creatures for a long time because I seriously don’t like them and am starting to take this personally.



Updates on stuff I’ve written and your comments.

→ My mother says that the Spanish aguacate [avocado] comes from the Nahuatl (pre-Spanish Mexican language) word ahuácatl, which also means testicles. Quoth she: “which, if you think about it, gives a new dimension to eating it.” It’s a wonder I make such weird connections to stuff sometimes.

handeggElizabeth mentioned that the term “handegg” had been proposed as a replacement name for that dumb sport hulking Americans play. I approved the change and then found Internet evidence that suggests this may catch on someday.

→ For a show that had elements of many of the things I love, namely 80s music and spy stuff, FX’s THE AMERICANS left me pretty underwhelmed. The highpoint of the first season was during the finale when the big moments were scored to Peter Gabriel’s “Games Without Frontiers.”

→ James Cameron’s movies are horrible. Excepting ALIENS (which was based on pre-existing characters), all of his films feature terrible dialogue, worse plotting and zero character development. Given that I have such strong feelings about him and his œuvre (hi Ethel!), it may be surprising that I vociferously criticize the Spanish translation of “Sayonara” over “Hasta la vista, baby” in T2, but that line actually makes sense. The Terminator has spent the whole of the movie bonding with a young John Connor in Southern California where Mexican and surf cultures collide and where “Hasta la vista, baby” is a thing people actually say. Side note: I think about movies too much.

Actual names are the last thing I get to when considering a thing, but it turns out that there may be inherent qualities to some words that affect how we perceive the things being named. Gods, the last thing I need is more things to think too much about.

→ Oh, man. I didn’t think I could like Brooklyn less. After writing about how there’s a concerted effort to train the French to pick up their dogs’ poo in public, I read about New Yorkers who are now teaching their children to poop “on the ground or behind a tree.” It’s like Americans are becoming Spanish! Dogs and cats, living together! Mass hysteria!

→ I swear I’m going to stop thinking about rabbits soon but all my mental energy has finally cracked a life-long mystery. The Easter Bunny’s chocolate eggs look like rabbit poop. The Easter Bunny is leaving poop-substitutes for children. They aren’t eggs at all. They are turds. I find this sooooo upsetting, I can’t even tell you.

→ To cleanse the palette, here’s David Sedaris’s great story about American Easter and learning French. (Scroll down to “Jesus Shaves.”) I clearly remember the first time I read this in Esquire (my boyfriend), lounging on my sofa in my fourth-floor walk-up in Chinatown. How could it have been 13 years ago?


Word Mystery: egg / huevo / oeuf

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

The way my mind works, I think of a concept and then start extrapolating from there, considering and sorting all my associations with the thing and turning those ideas around and around in my head, making connections or setting some things aside for later reclassification. It’s like there’s an infinitely cross-referenced card catalog in my brain, or maybe one of those crazy-person conspiracy boards you see in movies.

How crazy is it that they're using a manifestation of mental illness to promote a TV show? (Homeland's back on Sept. 29!)

How inappropriate is it that they’re using a manifestation of mental illness to promote a TV show? (Homeland‘s back on Sept. 29!)

One of the last steps I get to is the actual name of the thing since I deal primarily in Platonic ideals. That’s when I begin to pull up all the different names I have for the same thing, which is when I hit on a Word Mystery. Thinking about those damned rabbits, I was forced to also think about chickens and something that I’ll write about tomorrow got me thinking about eggs… so, let’s get cracking.

EN → egg — an oval or round object laid by a female bird, reptile, fish, or invertebrate, usually containing a developing embryo. The eggs of birds are enclosed in a chalky shell, while those of reptiles are in a leathery membrane. ORIGIN Middle English (superseding earlier ey, from Old English ǣg): from Old Norse.

ES huevoCuerpo redondeado, de tamaño y dureza variables, que producen las hembras de las aves o de otras especies animales, y que contiene el germen del embrión y las sustancias destinadas a su nutrición durante la incubación. [Rounded structure, of variable sizes and hardnesses, which are produced by female birds and other species, which contain the germ of the embryo and the substances necessary to sustain them during incubation.] ORIGIN Latin ŏvum (« egg »).

FR oeufChose arrondie à enveloppe dure que produisent les femelles des oiseaux et qui contient des substances nutritives (de couleur jaune) entourées d’une gélatine protectrice (de couleur transparente). [Round thing enveloped in a hard casing which is produced by female birds and which contains nutritive substances (yellow-colored) surrounded by a (transparent) gelatinous protection. ORIGIN 12th cent. Latin ŏvum.

I cry foul (fowl?) today, as I can’t figure how huevo and oeuf came from the exact same word and yet evolved so differently. I’m also annoyed that despite appearing like a Word Mystery (they look totally different!) they don’t actually have unique origins. Grumble. This week’s winner is English because the other two didn’t play nice.

Pop quiz, hotshot!

Test your mettle on conspiracy board knowledge. I got 9 out of 13.

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Word Mystery: rabbit / conejo / lapin

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

The best kind of rabbit is like a Milford man.

There were rabbits on my grandparents’ farm. They lived in hutches in a side room of the chicken coop. I remember they pooped copiously, little brown pebbles that never seemed to stay in their living spaces but always ended up on the floor and embedded in the soles of my shoes. I helped feed them sometimes but I didn’t care for them much. They always felt really hot and their eyes were shifty.

After pondering why I have so many rabbit mantras in my life, I didn’t come to any conclusions, but I sure did think a lot about rabbits. I mentioned that we ate them sometimes (as we did every animal on the farm), but I don’t have any particular memories of favorite dishes or preparations. I do remember that they screamed like crazy when you grabbed them, even if it was just to put them in another cage to give them clean hay. This made me like them even less as one thing I really don’t care for is small things that make loud noises (see: children, esp. babies).

What did occur to me is that rabbits are totally Word Mysteries, so let’s get hoppin’.

EN → rabbit — a burrowing, gregarious, plant-eating mammal with long ears, long hind legs, and a short tail. ORIGIN late 14th cent from Walloon (French/Beligian dialect) robète , diminutive of Flemish or Middle Dutch robbe (rabbit).

ES → conejoMamífero del orden de los Lagomorfos, de unos cuatro decímetros de largo, comprendida la cola. Tiene pelo espeso de color ordinariamente gris, orejas tan largas como la cabeza, patas posteriores más largas que las anteriores, aquellas con cuatro dedos y estas con cinco. [Mammal of the order Lagomorpha, about 400cm long, including the tail. Typically has bushy gray fur and ears as long as its head. The fore legs are shorter than the hind legs. The former have five toes, the latter, four.] ORIGIN Latin cunicŭlus (rabbit).

FR → lapinPetit mammifère herbivore très prolifique, caractérisé par de longues oreilles et une petite queue touffue. [Small herbivore which breeds very quickly, characterized by long ears and a short bushy tail.] ORIGIN Uncertain, possibly a combination of laper (eat avidly) and levraut (hare).

English wins because I’d never heard of Walloon before and I like that a language spoken in a tiny geographical area won over the more commonly used French terms. Having no actual knowledge of this, I’d guess that the Walloonish people were avid trappers and sellers of rabbits, so their word won by virtue of being used most often.

Learn Something

Rabbits do run hot. According to the Internets, their normal body temp is 101-103F (38.3-39.4C). This reminds me that in Spain, parents take their kids’ temperature by putting a thermometer in their arm pits which I found really off-putting for some reason.

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Stupid rabbit

Teaching English to foreign children can be tedious. Being amused and being amusing are the pillars of my existence, so going over dumb verbs and days of the week forever is like torture for me.

But it doesn’t have to be.

One thing I do is subvert lessons to make them more fun (for me). Oh, we’re going to count? Well, we’re gonna do it the way they did on “Sesame Street” complete with doo-doot-dah-doo-doos and we’re gonna dance once we hit 12 (“12!”).

Writing ESL books can be boring as hell too. But it doesn’t have to be.

This is a scan of a fraction of a page in a children’s vocab book that I came across several years ago.

stupid rabbit
It’s a little hard to make out at first, but there’s a live rabbit in this kitchen. The bigger kid is tripping over it and cursing it. This is one of my favorite things and I sometimes say, “stupid rabbit” when annoying things happen to me. And then I laugh because not only is that rabbit stupid, but, seriously, what the hell is he doing in the kitchen?


So, there’s today’s rabbit and then the “be a rabbit do it well” rabbit which means that I have two mantras about rabbits. This is really weird to me since I don’t like rabbits in any form. They’re not amusing pets, don’t taste particularly good and have vicious streaks “a mile wide.” I’ll have to spend the weekend pondering What This All Means.