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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The bane of my current life

I answer the phone and, right away, accusations.

“I’m where your office is supposed to be and you’re not here!”

I try to take charge of the situation before it spins wildly out of my control.

“Where are you right now ma’am? What do you see?”

“I’m right on Line X where you said you’d be and you’re not here! I asked everybody and they said that I *am* on Line X, but you’re not! And I am!”

This woman is irrationally angry and she is now 100% my problem.

“Which station on Line X are you near? Can you see any signs — street signs, restaurant signs — anything at all?”

“Whadya mean ‘station’? I’m on Line X! Where are you?!”

Sigh. Really, people are the worst.

“Ma’am, Line X is a subway line that goes across the whole city of Paris. There is no one geographical point that is Line X. There are multiple stops, or stations, along its length. You are probably near some station of Line X, but until you give me some more information about your location, I can’t give you directions. Now, please stop walking, take a deep breath, and tell me what businesses you see around you.”

Sullen silence on the other end of the phone. I wait.

“There’s a bank called LCL.”

I shake my head since the wall is too far away for me to pound it against.

“Ma’am, there are hundreds of banks in Paris, please give me the name of a restaurant or a street so that I can help you.”

“There’s a restaurant called tear-ass. It’s spelled t-e-r-r-a-s-s-e. Do you know where I am now?”

I do not know where she is, but I am sure now that I am in hell.

She could have been almost ANYWHERE here.

She could have been almost ANYWHERE here.

Really, why did you even leave the house?

Telling a co-worker about this insane lady and her complete lack of street smarts, she commented that there are tourists and there are travelers, a turn of phrase I’d never come across before. The difference is that travelers embrace new experiences and are armed with (at least) basic navigational skills. Tourists are idiots who somehow managed to leave the house with a passport, get on a plane and arrive in another country, demanding that everything be just like back home.

I need to rewatch William Hurt and (Oscar-winning) Geena Davis in THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST again to see how she cures him of being an ignoramus. Till then, I’ll be giving creative directions to all manner of lost people all over the Paris area.

You needn’t be so burdened though, so you should check out this list of 21 quotes about the wonders of seeing the world.

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INT. METRO STATION, PARIS — EARLY EVENING

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.

GIRL
(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.

GIRL
(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.

MAN

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.

GIRL

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.

MAN

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

GIRL

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.

MAN

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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EXT. PARISIAN ELEVATED MÉTRO STATION — DAY

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.

DAD

Ing-glish?

AGENT

Yes.

DAD

Two AH-dult, two childs.

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

SON
(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.

DAD
(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.


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Euro Adapter: Americans at Notre-Dame

This may be the end of this feature since I think it pretty definitely proves that I’ve become European.

The scene: the second level of Notre-Dame, where many of the most famous gargoyles watch over the city of Paris. It’s also the midpoint, stair-wise, if you want to go to the top. Originally designed as a service area for the men who worked the bells, there’s not a lot of space.

This ugly mug is here.

This ugly mug is here.

I’m near the front of the group waiting to go up the second stairwell to the top. There is only one narrow stair so access is staggered — one group of 50 goes up then one group of 50 comes down. Coordinating the alternation is a very tall French man wearing a uniform, holding a walkie-talkie. At the moment, he’s entertaining a group of school kids with stories of the gargoyles and the history of the church. He’s doing a great job of keeping them under control in less than ideal circumstances. Behind me, a group of impatient asshole American tourists start pushing and shoving to get ahead of everyone in their way.

Finally, I snap. “There’s nowhere else to go! Stop your damn pushing!” I yell at the people trying to crush me. The man closest to me seems surprised that anyone speaking American is taking such a position and yells back, “Well, no one’s moving so we’re making YOU move!” I explain why no one’s moving and he gets really defensive. “Well, there aren’t any signs anywhere! How are we supposed to know about the stairs?” I ask him where exactly on a centuries-old building he’d like to have signs affixed. “Idano! I mean, how’re we to know what’s going on if no one tells us?!” I indicate the tall man who clearly works there and say that he will let us pass when it’s our turn and not before. “Well, he could let us know what’s happening,” responds the guy, clearly deflating. I reiterate, “He’ll tell you when it’s your turn. That’s when you’ll know you can go. Until then, you can assume that it’s not your turn.”

Behind this guy and his group is a cocky young guy and his girlfriend. I’d already clocked him as trouble and he proved me right. “Well, what if we want to go down? I don’t want to see anymore of this church anyway.” The pair of them are led through the crowd and allowed to cross the rope. “Down,” the guard says, indicating a direction with his finger. “Yeah-yeah,” the young guy says and I see everything play out in my mind, exactly as it will come to pass because All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.

I wish this guy would eat rude people.

I wish this guy would eat rude people.

Seconds later, he and his girlfriend are ejected back into the area since they had tried to go up but were run over by the group of 50 that was still coming down. They tried to blend into the front of the waiting group but, as it was all kids, they stood out. “Back of the line,” I said to them because I don’t have any patience for jerks, entitled Americans or dumb tourists.

The good news is that all the people concerned were significantly shamed or embarrassed enough to keep quiet the rest of the time we were waiting. It’s a marvel to me that Americans (especially) expect everyone else in the world to speak English but are then surprised when someone understands them as they disparage their non-American surroundings. You can’t have it both ways, you idiots.

I hate everyone

So does David Sedaris (kind of) in a story about running into loud Americans on the Métro who don’t think anyone understands them. “Picka Pocketoni” is from Me Talk Pretty One Day, and part of it can be read here.

I had forgotten how many useless words Americans pepper their speech with. The first guy started almost every utterance out of his annoying mouth with “Well.” Is this supposed to soften the following statement? Make him seem more thoughtful? I found it annoying since in practice it served no real purpose.

Seriously: you’re on vacation — what’s the hurry? Chill the f°ç# out! While you’re waiting to go up the stairs, enjoy the god damn view and shut the hell up.

 

Apparently not interesting enough to get Americans to keep quiet for 7 minutes.

Apparently not interesting enough to get Americans to keep quiet for 7 minutes.