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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String Bean Arm

My sister was totally grossed out by my dirty distorted foot (um, that was partly the point), so I thought I’d add another pic that makes me look all deformed. (It’s really hard to take pics of one’s own body.)

Attack of the Foot-Long Beans!

Attack of the Foot-Long Beans!

To me, these things are called judías because the only time I ever had reason to call them anything was in Spain. Sometimes I’d help my grandparents’ housekeeper shell a big bunch, but as the task was significantly tedious, I would often “accidentally” send some of the beans flying and would be dismissed from assisting any longer. My sister claims to have done it for hours but I don’t buy that. (We didn’t eat them that often.)

Anyway, my sister’s also the person who pointed out a while ago that a whole continent of people call string beans “Jewesses” (as that’s what judías are, female Jews) and, despite generally thinking that politically correct language has gone way too far and that people should just chill the hell out about a lot of things, even I have a problem with this based solely on the fact that I don’t see any connection. Even the Real Academia Española doesn’t explain anything beyond that the name may have come from Latin iudaeus from the Hebrew yəhūdī [Jew] but I don’t see what’s particulary Jewish about them in any case. Anyone have a clue?


Great Phrase: To be the milk

I generally give the Spanish people/culture/language a hard time in these virtual pages, but they have been known to do and say extraordinary things like coming up with saying that someone or something “is the milk.”

ser la leche [sehr lah leh-cheh] 1. loc. verb. vulg. Ser extraordinario. Este chico es la leche, siempre se queda dormido [colloquial verbal expression. To be extraordinary. “This kid is incredible; he’s always falling asleep.”]

The example provided by the Real Academia Española (the OED of Spanish) gives you a sense of how it can be used in a variety of ways, from genuine incredulity to ironic detachment. Like most expressions, there isn’t any one translation that really captures what is expressed, but let me throw some examples at you.

Things which are the milk

  • Lance Armstrong (both before and after his recent revelations)
  • The Duke boys
They just are.

They just are.

Things which are not the milk

  • Hamsters
  • Fran Drescher
Milk not The-Nanny

I honestly couldn’t think of anything worse.

Things which may or may not be the milk, depending on your feelings

  • U2
  • The Hobbit
I say no but other opinions are available.

I say no to Tolkien but other opinions are available.

Got it? Good. Start referring to things as the milk and see how your respective dairy level rises accordingly. And please let me know what you deign to be the milk!

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I don’t know what I was reading, but I stumbled upon a link to a 1992 clip in the New York Times that explained where the word “hello” comes from, and I didn’t buy it. From my Simpsons-watching, I knew that “ahoy” had once been in the running as the standard telephonic greeting, but surely the word “hello” had existed prior to its adoption as step one of proper phone etiquette.

A quick search in my dictionary says that it’s derived from the 16th century word “holla” which comes from the French “holà.” This made my brain explode in several directions at once. First, seeing it like that, it’s clear that the Spanish word “hola” comes from French. Second, “” means “there,” so it actually translates as “hey there.” Third, like so many things in life, I was reminded of The Princess Bride and the scene when Inigo is drunk in the Forbidden Forest, “waiting for Vizzini.” A member of the Brute Squad comes upon him and says, “ho, there!” which isn’t that remarkable, except that I always thought there was a secret joke slipped in here. Inigo’s reply is either, “keep your ‘ho, there'” or, as I suspect, a little bit of wordplay since Mandy Patinkin‘s Spanish accent makes it sound as if he says “joder” which is Spanish slang for, as the Real Academia Española says, “to practice coitus.” My interpretation is that Inigo’s saying, “go fuck yourself” and no one, especially not the MPAA, was any the wiser.