Le cul entre les deux chaises

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


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.



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.

Leave a comment

To the pain

Pain is just like animal sounds, linguistically speaking: it doesn’t translate directly. The first time I came across this communication hiccup was when I was in Spain, suffering from an intense pain in my arm. I made a point of looking up the odd words I needed in the dictionary and merrily went on my way, hoping it would all be over soon.

When I was called into the doctor’s office, I complained of sharp pains in my arm, like I was being stabbed by a cold knife. Both the doctor and the intern stared at me, unable to even come up with a response. Then, the doctor veeeeerrrrrry sloooooowwwwwwly asked, “But, have you been stabbed before?” I laughed and said of course not. “Then how do you know the feeling of being stabbed?”

In his defense, he had a valid point. In my defense, this is the way people talk in English.

“Remember, this is for posterity, so be honest. How do you feel?”

After much back and forth, I told them that I had a repeated pain in my arm. It was rhythmic, so it was related to my pulse somehow. Also, it was an acute pain, so I determined that it was nerve-related. With these clues and some follow-up poking and prodding, the doctors decided that I had a inflamed nerve, probably aggravated by a repetitive motion, stress and the fact that I hadn’t slept well in months (it was summertime).

This all came back to me recently as I lay in bed, unable to move and wondering how in the hell I was going to explain what was wrong with me in French. I’d woken up and, when I tried to spin my body to the side of the bed to reach my slippers, I’d found that my right leg wasn’t cooperating. A cursory inspection revealed that my knee was swollen to the size of a coconut. (Normally, it’s between a nectarine and a small grapefruit.)

Adding irony to injury, since I couldn’t go anywhere, I was listening to podcasts while breathing through the pain and Radiolab’s episode about rating levels of pain came on. Staring at the ceiling and cursing everything I’ve ever known, I came up with some choice phrases to express my level of pain in French as well as awesome new combinations of multilingual curse words.

It turns out that I needn’t have worried about the linguistic issue so much. The source of my pain is clear (seriously, it’s hugely swollen) and the doctor I went to see started off by saying as much. Then she did a sonogram and diagnosed me with minimal weird attempts at explaining myself.

Truth be told, I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t going to get to use any of the many little phrases I’d come up with (the best being how the muscle around my knee felt like overcooked meat), so I’ll just have to wait until I have some kind of injury that isn’t manifest.