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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New York’s hottest train line is…

The Ñ!

New TRain in NY

These modifications are all over the city, but this was the best picture I got of one. Someone very carefully placed printed stickers over the Ns all over the subway system, making me smile a lot.

Learn something antiquated

The summer after my sister taught me to read in English (reports vary as to my age, but it was probably when I was between three and a half and four and a half), I taught myself to read in Spanish using a great book series designed for school use. At that time, there were 30 characters in the Spanish alphabet: all the ones you know from English plus “ch,” “ll,” “ñ” and “rr.”

When I went to live in Spain as an adult, I remember being disappointed that not all of these combinations existed as separate letters anymore. For a brief moment, I was pissed that I’d wasted possibly twenty seconds of my childhood learning something that no longer counted.

Then I got over it ’cause that’s a totally silly thing to be annoyed about and I had way bigger problems to deal with.

Stefon SNLTouristic note

Something worth legitimately being upset about is that I was never able to attend any of the (totally fictional) clubs Stefon recommended on SNL’s Weekend Update. I’ve been practicing my Wilford Brimley impression for ages and now I don’t know when I’ll ever be able to use it. (Here’s a super cut of Stefon moments, but if you haven’t actually seen the segments, it doesn’t make much sense.)

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Foreign to me now: roof decks

In Barcelona, almost all the places I lived in had huge roof decks. They were all bigger than the actual apartments and were also much bigger than any place I lived in the US. Realistically, you could probably hang out there 10 months a year, though you’d need a jacket for a few of those weeks.

That’s totally nuts (and unnatural) to me now. Humans shouldn’t live in places that are hot for so long.

My first place on Sardenya. The deck continued around to the left.

My first place on Sardenya. The deck continued around to the left.

And here’s a fraction of one of my other roof decks in Barcelona.


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The Day The Bastards Got Me Down

If you’re a person in need of letting go or just relaxing a bit, I have a solution for you. Allow yourself to be completely broken down and then build yourself up again. This advice may seem counterintuitive, but, having gone through it personally, I can tell you that becoming a shell of your former self and having all your ideas about what is good and true beaten out of you can be totally liberating.

This happened to me on June 21, 2007. I’d been in Spain for almost two years at that point, butting heads with people over just about everything and getting nowhere. I wanted to finally have all of my Spanish IDs issued properly (nat’l ID, passport, health card, etc.) but everyone in every government office was dead set on hindering my progress.

My American go-getter attitude wouldn’t stand for this kind of run around, so I quite literally spent all of my free daylight hours in federal buildings, waiting for my number to be called so that my paperwork could be rejected based on a technicality or have the teller windows close on me or be told, after sitting for hours in non-air-conditioned spaces, that no more people were being seen until the following day.

The bastards beat me that hot June day, but I lived to tell the tale and the whole nightmare taught me that, even though I may want to, I can’t control most things in the universe.

INT. GOV’T OFFICE BARCELONA— EARLY AFTERNOON

A GIRL wearing bicycle gloves runs in. She is sweating slightly. She looks excited. She approaches the main desk.

GIRL

(fumbling with her bag, extracts several sheets of PAPER)

Sorry, um, I, ah, was here last week to pick up these papers…

GIRL hands PAPERS to WOMAN behind the desk.

GIRL (cont.)

… but when I went to get my ID across town, they said it was missing a stamp, so, I, ah, want to get it stamped.

GIRL smiles. The WOMAN has tightly permed orange hair and red wire-rimmed glasses. Despite the heat outside, she is wearing a sweater that began to pill several seasons ago.

WOMAN

(looking over the papers)

Right. OK. They should have done that before. Hmmm, that has to be done in Madrid.

WOMAN turns as if to leave, though the office is scheduled to be open for another 35 fucking minutes.

GIRL

(clearly tense)

Wait, what? What do you mean? I requested these papers for the specific purpose of obtaining my ID and you’re telling me that they forgot to stamp it?!

WOMAN

(not giving two shits)

Try Door 8 upstairs.

INT. MAIN AREA, SAME GOV’T OFFICE. GIRL is looking around at signs, many handwritten, trying to find Door 8. GIRL sees an elevator and gets on.

INT. ELEVATOR. GIRL is now sweating more heavily than before. Theme music from “BRAZIL” begins to play softly in her head.

INT. GOV’T OFFICE, 2ND FLOOR. GIRL continues to follow all manner of signs promising the proximity of Door 8. GIRL turns a corner and is, no shit, confronted with this:

You can't make this shit up.

You can not make this up.

GIRL laughs quietly under her breath, though she is not amused.

INT. ERROR CORRECTION OFFICE. There are several CIVIL SERVANTS sitting at desks and standing around a coffee machine. As soon as the GIRL enters, they all scatter off into corners like the cockroaches they are…except one rather portly OLDER CIVIL SERVANT. GIRL approaches his work area.

GIRL

(trying to sound casual, but not succeeding)

Ha, I have an “error” I’d like “corrected” please. You see, it appears that a stamp I need on these documents wasn’t put on and I’d like to have that done now.

OLDER CIVIL SERVANT

(gives a cursory glance to the documents, flipping each one over carefully in a studied manner)

Yes, I see. Mmmm-hmm. Ah. Well. Yes. You need to fill this form out…

OLDER CIVIL SERVANT pushes a practically blank piece of paper at GIRL.

OLDER CIVIL SERVANT (cont.)

… and then send it to the Madrid office for the stamp.

The GIRL‘s body sags, as if suddenly under an enormous weight. GIRL begins to tremble slightly. GIRL inhales sharply, as if gaining strength from an unspoken mantra (“Don’t let the bastards grind you down”) and then…

GIRL

(speaking very slowly)

There must be some mistake. I have waited for one and a half years — that’s eighteen months — for these papers. It is not possible that they have to go back to Madrid. That is just not possible.

GIRL shakes her head forcefully, refusing to accept what has been said to her. The theme from “BRAZIL” becomes a roar in her ears.

OLDER CIVIL SERVANT

Well, it may not be “possible,” but it is so. Should take. . .

At this, OLDER CIVIL SERVANT looks off into the middle distance, feigning the act of thinking.

OLDER CIVIL SERVANT (cont.)

… six months to process. You should have your stamp in six months.

GIRL

(visibly shaking)

No, no, no, no, no. These papers. . .

GIRL flaps the pile of PAPERS she brought.

GIRL

… were supposed to take six months and they took three times that. I can’t wait another year and a half. I can’t.

OLDER CIVIL SERVANT

(not a care in the goddamned world)

If you go to Madrid it won’t take as long. Maybe a month.

SMASH CUT TO: GIRL running out of GOV’T OFFICE building towards a bicycle. When she reaches it, she begins to take great big gulps of air but there is not enough oxygen in the Milky Way to calm her. She collapses on the ground next to her bike and starts sobbing. “BRAZIL” theme swells as camera FADES OUT.


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God Bless America, Part 1

America is so awesome! Look at some of the ways it kicks other countries’ asses!

You think 2000 calories is enough for an adult to consume each day? Well, we’re going to be 61% better than you!

CalorieConsumption_1You say that days off is good for mental health, improves productivity and promotes creativity? We say, screw you! Go back to Communism, you fascists!

Vacation daysBeing honest now

I used to wish that some things in Europe worked more like they did in the US (banks, websites, store return policies) but I’m totally convinced that the advantages of EU-living far outweigh the annoyances. The thought of going back to the States to live is so disagreeable to me now. (Though the presence of Mexican food is tempting.) It’s a wonder I ever lasted as long as I did.

One place I’ll never live again is Spain, where they’re finally out of the recession! (If you consider 0.1% growth progress. I think that’s probably within the margin of error of any data which means that they’re actually probably still in the shitter.)

UPDATE: Mitch tipped me off to this Oxfam photo series documenting families from mostly third world countries with all the food they eat in a week. This in turn reminded me of the book Hungry Planet by Peter Menzel which is a similar concept except the people selected are from wealthier (and less healthy) nations. You can see a bunch of Menzel’s photos on Time.

In final news

You may have heard that the Boston Red Sox completely destroyed the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6 to win the World Series. They’d lost two games earlier in the week. Those games were played on the two days that I wasn’t wearing any Red Sox paraphernalia. Coincidence? I’d like to think so, but I still made sure to wear my Boston pride during the rest of the Series because I didn’t want to be responsible for them losing. This kind of sports fan superstition isn’t something I’ve come across in Spain or France, and I spent years living under the global domination of the world’s best football team. Is this possibly an American thing?


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Things Each Country Excels At

I’m not sure about how accurate the data is, but here’s a map which shows the thing which many countries are good at (as defined by being better at than other countries). Spain came as no surprise to me (even the king is rumored to have a nose candy affinity).

Spain is really good atAnd here’s a spoiler-rific thing for THE DARK KNIGHT RISES which makes sense to put here because “My Cocaine” is what I will think about whenever I think of cocaine for the rest of my life.