Le cul entre les deux chaises

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


Flu 2.0, classy edition

Many people have called me classy over the years. None of them have meant it.

“Classy” suggests a kind of sophisticated elegance and I am neither interested in, nor do I have the time to waste on such frivolities. If I could get away with it, I’d wear fleece pajamas with elastic waistbands all the time and drink exclusively from containers because I don’t like doing dishes.

A classic example of me just being the way I am is when I was recently felled by another version of the flu that’s going around. Taking matters into my own hands, I whipped up a smoothie to provide sustenance, vitamins, protein and hydration to get me through the illness, but none of the glasses in this apartment are big enough. (Stupid Europeans and their tiny drinking vessels piss me off like crazy.) But not being classy means I also have no shame so I did the only thing I could do.

Tupperware as glass.

Tupperware as glass.

It worked perfectly well and the concoction (frozen banana, peanut butter, frozen berries, fruit juice and milk with Desenfriol) worked like gangbusters. It’s so good that I’m kind of looking forward to the next time I’m sick.

Learn something

In Spain, reusable plastic food containers are called tupper, as in «¿Tienes un tupper para la pasta?»

Next Week

  • Some stuff about England and geography (with maps!).
  • Beer is better than wine.
  • The return of “Mad Men” triggers a Word Mystery.


Word Mystery: bleach / lejía / eau de Javel

Word mysteries are where words in languages that I know don’t correspond to each other at all despite those languages often sharing lexical histories. These words are both mystifying (why are they different?) and annoying (why must you be different?!).

bleachMan, that flu really knocked me on my ass. I was basically useless for six days, a personal record, and went through a box and a half of Puffs. When I’m sick, I just sit and blow my nose all day and then throw the tissues on the floor because I’m sick, dammit! This means that once I’m better, I have a lot of picking up to do, but for good measure, I also like to sanitize the hell out of my living space. If I could, I’d boil everything (myself included) to make sure that every germ was killed and not coming back, but as that’s an impossibility, I turn to the two next best disinfectants: lemon cleaning products and bleach… bringing us to today’s Word Mystery. Continue reading


Cold weather cocktail

I don’t actually drink cocktails (not enough liquid to sate me) but when I get sick, I do enjoy whipping up a little medicinal mixture as needed. In the US, this is infinitely easier since over the counter (OTC) drugs are fairly effective, can be purchased without a prescription and are available at the nearest 24-hour drug store. In Europe, substitutions must be made and dosages increased to reach a nearly equal level of efficacy.

This past week I had to make just such adjustments as, despite actively avoiding touching people or touching things that other people have touched, some jerk gave me the flu. Wisely, I always keep my drugs case within easy reach and came up with this recipe.

cold meds

From France, Strepsils, a very nice tasting (honey and lemon) soothing throat lozenge. They have some kind of numbing powers so that throat tickles and almost-coughs are stopped before they attack.

From the US, generic Benadryl (diphenhydramine) which I take sparingly because it is potent and hard to get.

From Spain, Desenfriol, a powder that is similar to Emergen-C but both tastes better and is stronger. If you ingest a couple of these when you feel a cold coming on, you can usually preempt the fucker.

The most important item: Puffs Plus with Aloe. I don’t understand why these aren’t available internationally but they are absolutely necessary if you’re going to be blowing and/or wiping your nose several times a minute. If you’ve had other brands of facial tissue “with aloe” and not been impressed, I can assure you that Puffs Plus with Aloe is an entirely different proposition. They’re soft like moleskin and not greasy and they are wonderful. I only pull them out when I have a Serious Cold because they’re too precious to waste on everyday use.

Of course, if this particular cold gets to DEFCON 1, I’m going to have to go nuclear on it which means breaking out both DayQuil and NyQuil and my super secret weapon: Vicks Vapo-rub.

This made no sense

This made no sense

Actual information

I wish I could say that I learned about the DEFCON alert system from someplace classy like Sidney Lumet‘s 1964 movie Fail-Safe, but that would be a lie. (You can watch the whole thing here! Thanks, Internet!) I probably first heard about DEFCON from cheesy 80s movies like WarGames. The numbers indicated military alerts levels; the higher the number, the lower the perceived threat. The way to remember which way it goes is that the men in the War Room were counting down to mutually assured destruction (5, 4, 3, 2, 1, boom). The Homeland Security Advisory System, adopted after 9/11 replaced the DEFCON system with a rainbow, creating total confusion. They stopped using it ten years later because it was completely idiotic.

Something happier to bring the tone back up!

One of the longest slogans in modern marketing history has to be “The nighttime sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching, stuffy head, fever, so you can rest medicine.” It’s one of the best though, and is truth in advertising.

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French germs

Imagine my surprise when a NYT story about the new design for the city’s yellow cabs quoted a French guy in California talking about an issue that’s important to me all the way over here in Paris

Being French, I’m not germophobic in the least.

The French care not a whit for the Dracula sneeze

The French are anti-germophobic. They’re pro-germ. Their attitude is laissez-le germe. It’s genuinely sickening (in that I’ve been sick more often). People here don’t bother covering their noses and mouths when they sneeze. They have no compunction about wiping their noses with their hands and then grabbing a subway pole. Seeing this kind of behavior activates my gag reflex and makes me want to go home and boil myself.


My first French hospital visit

I was in the hospital last Wednesday and still haven’t gotten over the experience. My visit was to have an out-patient procedure done (nothing serious), so I figured that I’d show up, sit in a waiting room and then go into an exam room and then be discharged. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Partly due to my insane phobia about being late, I got there almost an hour early and checked in with the nurses. I was immediately ushered into a private room with a bathroom much nicer than any I have seen in France (hotels included).

About twenty minutes before my procedure was supposed to start, an orderly pushed me to an operating room and then, once I was done, back to my room in my bed. Almost immediately afterwards, lunch was delivered: leek quiche; a salad with carrot, cherry tomatoes and a hard-boiled egg; a banana and a pôt de crème caramel (French flan). It was egg-taculous.

When I was finally discharged a couple hours later, I had no complaints (other than the long commute back to my house) and I’ve got say that I do miss that awesome bathroom. If this is what being sick in France is like, sign me up!

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