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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Green eggs and duck

George Costanza can keep all the salsa in the world: mustard is the condiment for me.

It may be cheating to claim all variations of mustard as one thing but, as we’ve established, I make the rules around here and what I say goes, so I’ll allow it.

One of my early and most enduring mustard loves is Savora which I recommend everyone seek out, but I’m no snob so I also love classic American yellow mustard when appropriate and finer Dijons when a stronger flavor is called for.

A new entry into my mustard museum is this one made by Maille, a 267-year old company (now owned by Unilever).

green Maille Fines Herbes Mutarde

Naturally, I was drawn to its avocado coloring and the promise of three herbs. Its flavor is divine and I’ve taken to classing up regular fare with it. Here are some green eggs and duck, made all the brighter in taste and appearance.

Green eggs and duck

It must be said that I do not own this plate.

Here’s a thing I dreamed up on the bus and proceeded to chow down on: warm chicken, orange pepper, soft cheese (Camembert?) and green mustard in a lettuce wrap. Perfect picnic fare this.

Green chicken lettuce wrap

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Word Mystery: cash / efectivo / espèces

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

I was right receiptThe cashier at my new local grocery store doesn’t like me. I suppose this is my fault, but I’ll explain what happened and you can judge for yourself.

She rang me up on one of my first visits, a total of 19,67€. Using the one math trick that I know, I gave her a 20€ bill and 17 cents.

“What’s this?” she asked, indicating the 10-cent piece.

“That gives me 50 cents back,” I told her.

“What? No it doesn’t! I don’t want this!” and she pushed the coin into my shopping bag, making it impossible to reach since it fell underneath all my purchases.

“Yes,” I insisted because this is the one math thing I can do right. “I give you 17 and you return 50.”

I may have pushed this point a little too hard. I should have taken her disproportionately angry initial response as an indication that she was in a bad mood.

“Don’t you tell me how to run my register!” she yelled at me. Yelled. In the middle of the store on an otherwise normal day. I backed down immediately, but the receipt proves that I was totally right, something she realized as soon as she counted out my change.

Today we went through the same thing; I was counting out the 33 cents that would give me 50 back but she changed up the operation and grabbed a one-Euro coin from my palm and, in a flash, gave me 17 cents in 1- and 2-cent pieces. I’m fairly sure that she did it just to piss me off, which worked, but she also made the rest of her shift impossible.

As a former cashier and person who had to cash out registers at the end of the night, I know that you want MORE denominations of coins so that you can easily make change. If you give all of your 1-cent pieces to someone out of spite, then you’ve screwed yourself by not being able to spread out their dispersal over your shift. Her behavior makes no sense to me and only results in both of us being penalized for her bad mood and inability to grasp mathematical concepts that even a complete idiot (me) can master. Makes no cents at all.

But dealing with surly cashiers is one of the disadvantages of paying in cash, today’s Word Mystery. I’ll ring you up below.

EN → cash — money in coins or notes, as distinct from checks, money orders, or credit. ORIGIN Old French casse [box] from Latin capsa [box].

ES → efectivo4. adj. Dicho del dinero: En monedas o billets. [4. Money term, in coins or bills.] ORIGIN Latin effectīvus [of practical implementation].

FR → espèces4. monnaie ayant cours légal. [Legal tender.] ORIGIN Latin “species” but its evolution is unclear. Possibly from the sense of “commodity” but even that seems a stretch.

English note: I’m disappointed that I never made the connection between “cash” and “caixa” before. The latter is a term seen in lots of places all over Spain as it’s commonly used in bank names, like Caixa Galicia.

Spanish note: Effectivus for the rest of us, I guess?

French note: In my mind, espèces was related to “spices” which made sense as they were used as currency. That it’s related to “species” makes no sense to me.

Today’s Winner is Spanish since it both confounded me the first time someone said it to me (“You want me to effectively do what, exactly?”) and, because of the three options, it’s the least annoying.


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Word Mystery: success / éxito / réussite

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

Every image to illustrate "success" is really cheesy.

Every image to illustrate “success” is really cheesy.

Oh, man. What a year. Except for that time that a North European pickpocket caused me to not have an Internet connection for a million years, I’ve been posting five days a week. This feat impresses me, especially since I didn’t really set out to do it any real sense, like, it wasn’t on my To Do List for 2013. It just kind of happened and I’m pretty psyched about having made it this far. I guess I have an endless supply of dumb stuff to share. Like today’s knowledge crumbs!

success — the accomplishment of an aim or purpose. ORIGIN from Latin successus, from the verb succedere [come close after].

éxitoResultado feliz de un negocio, actuación, etc. [Favorable result in a business dealing, performance, etc.] ORIGIN Latin exĭtus [exit].

réussiteBon succès. [Good success.] ORIGIN Borrowed from Italian riuscita [success] from uscita [exit], this from Latin exire [to leave/exit] from ex- + eo [go outside of].

Huh. I’ve got to admit that this is the most puzzling Word Mystery yet. I don’t really understand any of the evolutions, and that they all come from Latin makes it somehow more frustrating. What does leaving have to do with accomplishment? George Costanza is the only connection I can make between the two ideas, and he came a few years after the Latin language developed so I’m stymied.

Today’s Winner: Latin, obviously, since it showed me that just when I thought I was so clever and productive, I’m the same idiot I was when I started writing this damn blog.


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Word Mystery: snack / grignoter / picotear

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

The best paht? This is a StopNShop in New England.

God bless America.

Readers of expat blogs or visitors to expat grocery stores might think that all immigrants crave is their native junk food since most of both of those types of spaces are dedicated to memorializing food that contains more chemicals than actual food. Being guilty of both writing about crap that I long for and frequenting stores that sell the wares I want, I’d say that a big part of the appeal of such things is their specificity, how they mean something or represent something specific to the people who eat them.

Generally speaking, I don’t think I snack very much. In Europe, I’ve had a hard time finding things that I actually like to munch on. It took me four years to find a decent Cheetos substitute in Spain and I left the following year. In France, a decent dry roasted peanut has continued to elude me.

But I do hanker for something sweet or something salty now and again. The difference is that instead of indulging in a candy bar, I’ll go to the bakery and get something fresh and delicious and I’ll eat that instead of indulging in typical American snacking behavior (like eating a whole bag of chips or a pint of ice cream).

EN → snack — a small amount of food eaten between meals. ORIGIN Middle English “snap, bite” from Middle Dutch snac(k), from snacken [to bite], variant of snappen.

ES → picar / picoteartomar una ligera porción de un alimento. [Eat a small portion of a food.] ORIGIN From pico describing the beak of a bird, suggesting the way in which a bird eats.

FR → grignoterManger (qqch.) par petites bouchées. [Eat little bites of something.] ORIGIN From grigner [gnash teeth], circa 1170 from Dutch grînen [grimace : an ugly, twisted expression on a person’s face].

The winner today has to be Dutch, right? I mean, two totally different languages adopted words from it for the same thing.

My Brain Says

→ “The Suicide” episode of SEINFELD features a manipulation-by-favorite snack when Jerry gets Newman to promise not to tell on him, all for the price of one Drake’s Coffee Cake.The show regularly featured specific name-brand snacks (Junior Mints, Snickers bar, etc.) which wasn’t really common at the time.

→  If you like junk food, beautiful pictures of junk food or someone who tells involved stories about their youth and then illustrates them with junk food, you should check out Food Junk.