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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A station like this one.

A station like this one.

GIRL is on her way home, her feet leading her along the familiar path to her train. MUSIC playing in her earbuds, she is minding her own damn business (as usual). Suddenly, a feeling comes over her, powerfully drawing her attention to a MAN and WOMAN walking ahead of her to the right.

(under her breath)

God – damn – it.

GIRL is pulled into their orbit, despite her keen desire to just get home. GIRL does not want to deal with these people because they are the worst kind of people in the world: Spanish people. GIRL cannot resist the calling she feels in her very DNA and approaches the couple, reluctantly pulling her earbuds out.

(in Spanish)

Can I help you navigate the Metro?

The MAN whips his head around to glare at GIRL, his lip already curled in disdain.


No! I know perfectly well how to navigate the Metro!

MAN makes a dismissive hand gesture, as if flicking GIRL away like a bug.

GIRL is suddenly supremely annoyed and decides to take a few moments out of her day to teach MAN a lesson.

GIRL opens her eyes wide in a look that appears innocent but she laces every word coming out of her mouth with sarcasm.


Are you sure you know where you’re going? Because you can’t go down that way.

GIRL has indicated the direction the couple is heading in.


Yes I can! This is the way to go!

GIRL flits her eyes over to the poor WOMAN traveling with MAN and is not surprised to see that she is meek, embarrassed and unsure how to proceed. GIRL points to the sign directly above the COUPLE’s heads.

This sign

This sign


No, you can’t. That way is an exit for the X train line. You actually can not go that way. I can help you get where you’re going if you’d like.

MAN sees the sign, understands that he’s wrong, that he was beaten by a girl. MAN becomes irrationally angry. As his face reddens, a train starts pulling into the platform furthest from where GIRL, MAN and WOMAN are standing.


See! That’s our train!

MAN grabs WOMAN’s elbow and drags her down two dozen stairs so they can race along the platform to the train. GIRL doesn’t move, she doesn’t run for any trains, and looks on, bemused. GIRL knows that two different train lines are serviced at that platform and that within the same train station, there are two more lines. MAN had a 1 in 4 chance of getting on the right one. GIRL hopes he’s not lucky.

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Coke racist

Someday, I’ll write the really good, salacious stories that illustrate how racist Spain is, but for today, here’s a little something to whet your appetite.

Sitting with a friend at a bar in Barcelona on a hot, hot day like all the others I spent there, I order a Coke Zero and she a regular Coke. Our drinks arrive a little while later and as the waiter is putting them on the table, her back goes rigid and her temper, aggravated by the heat, flares.

“I didn’t order this! I’m in Spain and I want Spanish Coca-Cola! Take. This. Back.”

The waiter starts to say that this is the only Coke they have and she gets up from the table, dragging me along.

Polish Coke 1

Even better than the real thing.

“Then we are leaving!”

Looking back longingly at my Coke Zero sweating it out on the table, I saw that her Coke had weird lettering on it, indicating that it came from somewhere close to Russia.

Later, drinking locally-sourced Cokes, I told her how in the US, Mexican Coke is highly prized because it tastes better. (It’s made with real sugar, not high fructose corn syrup.) She was horrified by this information but recovered quickly, making disparaging remarks about Mexicans and their relative levels of cleanliness.

I let the topic drop since convincing Spaniards that they’re racist jerks is a futile endeavor and I just don’t have the energy to engage with them on every big and little thing they do that’s offensive.

But I do think of her every time I get Coke that “fell off the back of a truck” as is sometimes the case when I order food from a local place. I don’t understand how the economics of this works out, surely the transport alone negates any savings, but it all tastes good to me. (And it’s always still better than US Coke, so I’m still winning.)


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This story takes place here.

This story takes place here.

GIRL is waiting opposite the exit to the Métro station. Across the way, a FAMILY catches her eye. The DAD, MOM, SON and DAUGHTER are clearly tourists and not very experienced ones. THEY are all wearing huge backpacks that protrude out at least a foot, irresistible to pickpockets, and aren’t mindful of their surroundings. THEY are staring intently at the Métro map, trying without success to understand it.

GIRL considers helping them but something about the DAD makes her reconsider. Just as GIRL has decided to watch the scene play out, DAD approaches the station agent.






Two AH-dult, two childs.

SON pulls on DAD’s shirt hem. DAD looks down, annoyed.

(in Spanish)

But, Dad. You don’t speak English.

Anger flashes across DAD’s face and it appears to GIRL that, just for a second, DAD considers slapping SON across the face.

(to SON)

You shut up! I don’t want him to know! Shut up!

DAD turns back to the AGENT, trying to understand how much he has to pay. The AGENT repeats himself twice and then finally points to the monitor facing DAD. DAD mumbles something unintelligible and swivels his head around, looking for the MOM.

Once HE’s located HER, HE snaps his fingers impatiently as MOM digs around a backpack and pulls out some money.

The transaction finished, the FAMILY moves to the Métro entrance and begins the process of trying to figure out where to put the tickets.

GIRL looks away because she doesn’t like scary stories or ones about domestic violence and she suspects that this story is going to end in a way she doesn’t like.


Word Mystery: blackout / apagón / panne d’électricité

Wednesdays, I explore the linguistic origins of the same word in different languages.

Things I was forced to learn learned recently include:

1. French fuse boxes don’t look like any fuse box I’ve ever seen.



2. French fuses come in different wattages (or whatever), look like bullets and live in little Japanese-pod beds.

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3. Spent (or used or broken or whatever) French fuses literally blow their tops off, revealing a tiny red mark that indicates they’ve gone to illumination heaven (which I imagine is actually a really dark place where they can all rest for once).

French busted fuse.

4. Those things from IKEA that look like surge protectors are actually not protecting anything.

EN → blackout — a failure of electrical power supply. ORIGIN Darkness is black. It’s not hard to figure out, people.

ES → apagónInterrupción pasajera del suministro de energía eléctrica. [Temporary interruption of the power supply.] ORIGIN Noun of apagar [turn off], from Latin pacāre [calm, mitigate].

FR → panne d’électricité — Arrêt momentané et accidentel du fonctionnement d’électricité. [Momentary and accidental shutting down of electricity.] ORIGIN Variation on penne [pen] from Latin penna [wing].

General note: all three terms refer most commonly to large-scale power outages. What happened to me recently, I remembered after thinking long and hard, was that I “blew a fuse” but that wasn’t Word Mystery fodder so out it went!

So angry, Howard. Why don't you calm down?

You’re so angry, Howard. Why don’t you calm down?

Sad note: I actually lived through a big blackout in Barcelona in July 2007 that made international news. I filmed a video of the immediate aftermath (which I’d love to share with you but WordPress wants me to pay to upload video and I refuse) because Catalan people be crazy.

Imagine the oddest reaction to massive electrical failure that you could possibly think of having. Now let me tell you what the citizens of the whole affected area did en masse — hang out their windows, just like Howard Beale wants you to, and bang on pots with wooden spoons. Other people uploaded their videos to YT and you can check some out here and see that I am not lying.

English note: disappointed again.

Spanish note: A thing about me is that telling me to “calm down” makes me super angry. This is because it’s a common thing Spanish people do and they mean it in the most condescending way possible. Suggesting that someone else is in hysterics is a great way to make oneself look infinitely superior which is a national pastime. Spain loses just for that and may get put in the penalty box for being such a jerk.

French note: I understand how “wing” became “plume” but am a bit confused about its jump to meaning cut or rupture. Maybe ’cause a wing has an articulation in it? I don’t have science, so I can’t say if that’s even true.

Today’s winner is nobody since all of these stunk. Next week better improve or I’m going to get as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!


I’ll be taking my business elsewhere, thanks

I actually walked in here one day and told them their sign was wrong and they told me to get lost since they knew better.

Bussines Center