Le cul entre les deux chaises

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


The Diner Experience

My brother had a Spanish girlfriend who, on her first visit to the US, freaked the hell out when he took her to a diner. It was way too much for her. She’d never seen a menu with so many pages listing countless options of things and then, when she actually ordered, there were so many other choices to make that she hadn’t anticipated. And then the portions were so big and numerous that she was totally overwhelmed.

If you’ve been to a decent diner, none of this will come as a surprise to you because this is just how diners operate, but she’d never experienced such a thing.

For the first time since I left the States in 2005, being in a diner reminded me of her, not because the story was funny, but because I totally empathized with her position. The menu in diners *is* way too long. Several pages of small print listing hundreds of combinations, covering all possible meals, usually supplemented by a “daily specials” list is more than one person can handle. New Yorkers think the rent’s too damn high? Their menus are too damn long.

Anyway, I thought of this story when I went to a diner for my last dinner in New York and had a mini-breakdown while ordering something totally simple off the chalkboard so that I wouldn’t have to open the opus of edibles on offer.

Me: I’ll have the roast turkey special with a seltzer please.
Waiter: What kind of soup? Matzo, chicken noodle, vegetable, onion —
Me: Matzo!

1. Diner matzo ball soup
Waiter: What kind of dressing? Italian, thousand island, French —
Me: Ranch!

[I didn’t take a picture of the salad because it wasn’t in any way exciting.]

Waiter: Two vegetables; mashed potato, French fries, green beans, corn —
Me: Ah! Mashed and beans!

Canned beans haricots verts.

Canned beans ≠ haricots verts.

At this point in my head I was thinking, “Christ, please go away because I can’t make any more choices and you’re totally stressing me out,” but then he asked if we wanted bread and an extra bowl of gravy and I just yelled, “Yes! Yes!” and he ran away because I looked crazy.

The meal was good and totally worth the trouble, but I can tell you that I am very happy to be back in a place where you get two, maybe three, options for each course and that’s it. Too much choice is paralyzing.

2. Diner turkey dinner


Word Mystery: turkey / pavo / dinde

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

This map is almost irrelevant.

This map is almost irrelevant.

Well, that was a missed opportunity. Last week’s Word Mystery should definitely have been “turkey” but I schedule these posts so far in advance that I frequently pass up perfectly good holiday tie-ins. Though, truth be told, if I had an oven, I could still be eating Thanksgiving leftovers a week later since it’s my favorite meal in the universe… so, yeah, I totally meant to post this today! Whether you believe me or not, waddle on down and let’s talk turkey.

EN → turkey — a large mainly domesticated game bird native to North America, having a bald head and (in the male) red wattles. ORIGIN applied to the guinea fowl (which was imported through Turkey), and then erroneously to the American bird.

ES → pavoAve del orden de las Galliformes, oriunda de América. [Bird of the Galliformes order, native of America.] ORIGIN Latin pavus [peacock].

FR → dindeGrand oiseau de basse-cour originaire de l’Amérique du Nord dont le cou et la tête sont rouges et dépourvus de plumes. [Large game bird native of North America whose neck and head are red and without feathers.] ORIGIN Spaniards brought the bird to Europe from Mexico and in France it was known as “chicken from India” [poule d’Inde] since Columbus and the Spanish still thought the Americas were India.

English & Spanish note: man, people used to be really bad at geography. Like, way worse than I am at math which is hard to comprehend.

Second Spanish note: the definition for pavo was the longest I’ve come across, so I edited it down considerably. I have *no idea* why this of all words required such a lengthy, zoological description.

Spanish note, tercero: In modern Spanish, a peacock is called un pavo real [a royal turkey] which I like to interpret as a veiled insult to monarchies solely because that amuses me.

French note: The male of the bird is called a dindon, but it’s the female who gets eaten so she gets to be Word Mystery-ed.

Today’s Winner: it’s obviously French because that origin story is awesome, hilarious and makes Spaniards look like idiots. It’s a Word Mystery hat trick!

Learn one more thing

You may not have noticed the pun in the introduction and since I both love puns and want people to make gooder English talking, here’s an explanation. “Talking turkey” means to talk about something honestly. In this sense, turkey is also not bullshit which is another thing to love about it.


Vendredi noir en France?

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to regular readers that I’ve never done Black Friday. The first time I ever heard about people waking up before dawn the day after Thanksgiving to go shopping was in high school when a friend told me that it was her and her mom’s big bonding day of the year. They were really into it and would map out routes in the mall in advance, essentially planning a military attack on commerce, hoping to execute perfect shopping experiences. To me, that sounded like the worst possible combination of things which could reasonably happen to me.

Waking up early? No thanks. Missing out on eating Thanksgiving leftovers? No way. Spending hours on my feet in a crowded place? Not gonna happen. Shopping for hours with my mother? Pass. Hauling bags of odd sizes along with winter outerwear in a mall? Nope.

For the last several years, I haven’t even thought about Black Friday since, lacking Thanksgiving, Europeans don’t have it as an excuse to go nuts.

Until now.

Habitat Black Friday 2013

“It is on this long-awaited day that Americans take advantage of exceptional discounts to commence their Christmas shopping.”

Color me disappointed in Habitat. The store is a British version of Crate & Barrel, which is to say they carry pretty well designed contemporary home furnishings at reasonable prices. The next time I need something like cloth napkins, I may consider shopping elsewhere.


Happy Thanksgivukkah


The day before I left Paris for the US I noticed ads like the one pictured at right all over town.

JDate, in case you can’t tell from their pretty straightforward logo, is a dating site for Jewish singles.

Days later, while in New York, I saw ads like the one below which alerted me to the confluence of events now known as Thanksgivukkah (since Americans will never turn down an opportunity to portmanteau).

Gobble Tov

People who can math have said that this is the first time in history that both holidays have fallen on the same day, though this is kind of a cheat since Thanksgiving didn’t exist as a nationally recognized date until 1863 and the Hebrew calendar isn’t as immutable as the Gregorian one (has been since 1582). Regardless, I won’t be celebrating either holiday for two simple reasons: I’m not Jewish and I don’t have an oven. (You totally need an oven for Thanksgiving.)

Turkey bread

In French, a turkey glougloute [gobbles].

Here’s hoping that next year I’ll be able to cook up a bird and some green beans and maybe get a fancy bread like the one I saw at Poilâne.

UPDATE: Man, I was really trying to avoid making more SNL references for a while but then HAIM, who appeared on my 2012 Winter Playlistreleased a cover of Adam Sandler’s “The Chanukah Song,” first performed on Weekend Update on December 3, 1994, so I clearly need to link to it.

Leave a comment

Great Conjugation: fusionneront

Here’s a text message I got a while back:

France Télécom et Orange France fusionneront le 30 juin 2013 pour devenir la sociéte ‘Orange’.

I glanced over it and then said, “Hot damn!” because fusionneront is an awesome verb conjugation. How much cooler is it to say fusionneront than “will merge”? Being really poor at number things, I calculate that it’s approximately awesome x infinity to the nth degree. (That sounds about right.)

Another kind of fusion I can get behind.

Train of thought

Merge →→ Mergers and Acquisitions, a thing that people do in movies about corporate finance. [Ed. Also possibly in real life.]

→→ Patrick Bateman was in that division, though he called it Murders and Executions. (What a laugh riot, that guy.)

→→ In French, it’s called Fusion-acquisition, commonly referred to as “fusac.”

→→ FUSAC is a free magazine in Paris whose name stands for France USA Contact. (I think it sounds like a failed US military program.)

→→ You can pick up a copy of FUSAC at Thanksgiving, the American grocery store in the Marais. This is the only place I’ve found regular, original, yellow-boxed Cheerios.

→→ I love Cheerios.