Le cul entre les deux chaises

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


Spanish Bandstand: Lobo-hombre en París

The Bandstand series, where I expose you to non-English language music and we all dance.

La union lobo-hombre

1000 silhouettes!

There isn’t much good Spanish-from-Spain music, but this song is one of the great exitos of the Iberian peninsula.

Around 5:30 on a day before Daylight Savings, night was coming on fast as my foot touched the street in front of the Opéra Garnier. At that moment, my iPod shuffled to one of the few Spanish songs on it, La Unión’s 1984 classic <<Lobo-hombre en París.>>

The video, which I just saw for the first time, is appropriately moody and has pretty decent production values considering the era and that it’s Spanish.

It’s impossible for me to choose just one part of the lyrics to translate, as the whole song, about a werewolf named Dennis on the prowl in Paris at night is across the board fantastically 80s and therefore amazing (to me).

Here’s the beginning, just to give you a taste of what the rest is like:

Cae la noche y amanece en París,            Night falls and begins in Paris
en el dia en que todo ocurrió.                    on the day in which everything happened.
Como un sueño de loco sin fin,                  Like a lunatic’s endless dream,
la fortuna se ha reído de ti,                        Fortune is laughing at you.
ja, ja, sorprendido espiando                      Ha-ha! Surprised while peeping,
el lobo escapa aullando                               the wolf escapes, howling,
y es mordido, por el mago del siam.        and is bitten by a wizard from Siam.

The song goes on to talk about how in the dark streets of Paris, Dennis becomes a man and meets a woman who’s most likely a prostitute. Just after paying her “some francs,” he starts howling, so we can assume that whatever transpired made him turn back into a werewolf. (Keep in mind this was almost 15 years before BtVS’s great two-part “Surprise / Innocence” which has a similar plot point. I think this song is way better.)

If you don’t like 80s music, you will probably think this song is terrible. If this is the case, I am sorry that your life is devoid of fun and pleasure, but please do tell me what things bring you happiness.

Racism note: just in case you missed it, in the 80s, Spaniards were still calling Thailand Siam. In English, this hasn’t been the case since 1939. One could argue that Spain was a little busy in 1939 and didn’t get the memo, but by 1984, they could have caught up on the inbox.

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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.


Spanish commonality

I love when someone else breaks down data into ways I can understand it. If you give me a spreadsheet with a bunch of numbers, I will have no idea how to interpret it, but put that same stuff on a map and suddenly, it comes alive.

Here’s a map of “the most common surnames in Europe” as collected by some person on Reddit.

most-popular-surnames-by-country-europe_0I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the information presented, but it’s kind of fun to think about. I should note that everyone in Spain has two last names, one from each parent, so I’m not sure which one was taken into account here.

As an aside, when people in Barcelona heard where I was from, they invariably remarked that my last name wasn’t characteristic of the area. When I mentioned another family last name, they would respond along the lines of, “THAT’s more like it!” People move away from their home town / region so seldom in Spain that their last name alone often indicates where they come from. As an American, this freaks me the hell out.

Since I’m all about equal-opportunity-insulting and don’t think by any means that only Americans are idiots (I think most people are idiots), here’s a list of the most common spelling mistakes Spaniards make in English according to the people over at Cambridge English. (They run the English certification exams in most of Europe and have collected an impressive amount of data on ESL.)

Wich instead of “which”
Confortable instead of “comfortable”
Becouse instead of “because”
Accomodation instead of “accommodation”
Posible instead of “possible”
Belive instead of “believe”
Diferent instead of “different”
Bycicle instead of “bicycle”
Enviroment instead of “environment”
Beatiful instead of “beautiful”
Recomend instead of “recommend”
Begining instead of “beginning”
Responsability instead of “responsibility”
Demostration instead of “demonstration”
Recived instead of “received”
Oportunity instead of “opportunity”
Advertisment instead of “advertisement”
Until spelled correctly but regularly misused
Ruber instead of “rubber” (US: eraser)
Bussiness instead of “business”

As you’ll notice, a lot of the mistakes are from double-lettering, something that isn’t common in Spanish. In fact, I’m pretty sure the only correct doublings are “ll” and “rr.” (This excludes loan-words.) Other things  which trip them up are French-based words (always tricky) and words with difficult-for-them letter combinations like the “nm” in “environment.” This last thing is something that always confounded me since Spaniards are used to pronouncing every letter in a word and yet, in English, they often omit whole syllables or add letters where they don’t exist.

The article from which this info came notes that Spaniards have come up with 237 different ways to spell “because.” This is genuinely shocking to me. I don’t think that even if I tried for a week I’d come up with 100 different ways, but the Spanish are a special lot of individuals. (Especial is the colloquial way Spaniards express that someone is “difficult,” “touched in the head” or “generally impossible.”)

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Word Mystery: hug / abrazar / étreindre

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

Click me.

Click me.

One of the more American things about me is that I do not like physical contact very much. I have my dance space, you have your dance space. If I’m in line for something, I have an invisible bubble around me that I don’t want to share with you. When I meet someone for the first time, I want them to be satisfied with a handshake or a nod.

None of these personal desires count for anything over here. There is so much touching all the time. If I actually think about it, I feel a little sick because people just do not wash their hands enough and I don’t know where anyone’s mouth’s been and it’s just too gross to actually think about.

Everyone is so hell-bent on physicality that they even sign off written correspondence with assaults on your person. Initially, it was too much for me. Reading a message from someone I barely knew that ended un abrazo made me recoil a bit because I felt like they were invading my space through the screen.

Now, let me encroach upon your personal space by spreading my digital arms around your brain and massaging some knowledge into your gray matter.

[General note: these are only the verbs forms and not the nouns or more colloquial ways of expressing this idea.]

EN → hug — hold someone tightly in one’s arms, typically to express affection. ORIGIN mid 16th cent.: probably of Scandinavian origin and related to Norwegian hugga [comfort, console].

ES → abrazar —  ceñir con los brazos. [Encircle in/with arms.] ORIGIN Brazo [arm] from Latin brachĭum [arm].

FR → étreindreserrer quelque chose, quelqu’un, le saisir fortement en l’entourant de ses membre, empoigner. [Hold something or someone, hold tightly in one’s arms, grasp.] ORIGIN Latin stringere [draw tight].

English note: “Hugga” should be the name of some cozy brand of clothes, like the OnePiece which I just learned about and am in love with.

Spanish note: I am surprised to learn that brazo has no connection to “branch” or “bronchi”. In my mind, they were all kind of related in an abstract way.

French note: I don’t speak Latin, so I’m not sure how one would pronounce stringere properly, but it bears commenting that Stringer Bell was wont to draw things tight.

Today’s Winner is English, since it’s the only one that’s kinda fun.

Not all hugs are terrible

Shel Silverstein, the writer and illustrator, bears mentioning here for his poem “Hug O’ War”. I’ve always loved his books and am pleased that there are no dark secrets in his life to taint the memory of his work.


Thank you for smoking

This is a sign from the tabacconist near one of the places I lived in Barcelona which always made me smile.

"Thank you for smoking. In moderation."

“Thank you for smoking. In moderation.”

I still kind of think about how much I miss smoking all the time, by which I mean that I don’t obsess over it but that if I could peel back the layers of my consciousness, I’m pretty sure the whole not-smoking issue would be close to the surface.

This past week, I’ve thought a lot about how I haven’t smoked since November 26, 2006 and it’s all Matthew McConaughey’s fault. That guy knows how to smoke, which is to say that he relishes smoking as much as I did. Seeing him on HBO’s TRUE DETECTIVE and in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (for which he’s favored to win the Oscar) smoking the hell out of things is making me miss the days when I could just light up anywhere (even in a bank!) in Spain.

But then reality sinks in and I remember that being sick isn’t fun and that the pleasure I derived from smoking wasn’t enough to compensate how terrible I felt all the time so I just mute the sound and watch McConaughey light one cigarette off another and contemplate the injustices of the world.