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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Word Mystery: shop / tienda / boutique

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

My German friend doesn’t like France, the French people or the French language. I suspect there are cultural and geographical things at the root of her feelings (she grew up not too far from the border) but I try not to get into it with her.

We were in Luxembourg together once, a charming place that looks like a fairy tale setting. Having missed the tourist bus, we decided to explore the city ourselves and just started walking around, looking at things. “This is what I mean!” she exclaimed as we ambled down a cobblestone street. “All of these shops say ’boutique’ just because it sounds more expensive!”

luxembourg-ville

To be fair, everything here *is* really expensive.

I had to break it to her that the shops weren’t trying to be fancy by saying they were boutiques (as she’d seen when she lived in the US), but that “boutique” was the correct word for “shop.” To her credit, she was a little bit surprised and then laughed at her own assumption.

She still isn’t buying what the French are selling, but let’s see if you’ll have some of what she doesn’t want.

EN → shop — 1) a building or part of a building where goods or services are sold; a store. ORIGIN Middle English shortening of Old French eschoppe [lean-to booth] from Dutch schoppe.

ES → tienda4) Casa, puesto o lugar donde se venden al público artículos de comercio al por menor. [House, office or other place where goods are sold to the public at retail prices.] ORIGIN Latin tendĕre [stretch, spread, extend].

FR → boutique1) Local où se tient un commerce de détail, où exerce un artisan. [Retail space or where an artisan works and sells his wares.] ORIGIN Old Provençal (Southern French dialect related to Occitan) botica from Greek apothêkê [storehouse].

English note: In the US, it’s more common to call a place to buy things a “store,” but I wrote about stores on another day and didn’t want to return to the same material. Both words are used but, try as I might, I can’t logically figure out why some combinations are more common than others. For example, I’d never say “flower store” or “butcher store” but I’d also never say “grocery shop” or “corner shop.”

Spanish note: I like that the origin calls up images of merchandise spread out to be looked at. It’s less common now, but when I was younger, most shops we went to in Spain had all of their wares displayed in the windows and you looked from outside and only entered if you’d identified something you wanted. The arrangements were meticulous and required innumerable pins and layering and tiny prices next to sets of items. It was really something.

French note: Another good origin. If pressed, I would have guessed that “apothecary” was Greek, but I’ve only ever thought of it in conjunction with the man who gives Romeo the sleeping potion and assumed that it meant “pharmacist” or “olde tyme medicine man.” Color me wrong and corrected.

Catalan note: the word’s botiga, and like so many Catalan words I know, it’s my favorite of the bunch.

Today’s Winner could be any of the three, really. I like all of the stories and especially like that there is so much cross-polination represented and so many different ideas evolving slowly to be one thing… but, just because my friend gives them such a hard time, I’m going to give it to the French.

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Metropolitan diaries and cockroaches

Do you know about “Metropolitan Diary”? It’s a weekly column in the New York Times that prints letters from readers about funny New York moments. (Sometimes there are poems which are dreadful, but if you just skip them, the amusement ratio is high.)

Digging through the file I keep of things that make me laugh, I came across one from January 2010 that still cracks me up and is totally appropriate to reprint here.

Dear Diary:

I was recently reminded of an event years ago, when I was living in New York City.

We were visiting Toronto, and were at a very nice French restaurant downtown. As we were seated, the maître d’, with a flourish, took my wife’s napkin and placed it on her lap. When repeating the effort for me, the flourish released a large cockroach hiding in the napkin!

It crawled down my leg, hit the floor, and with (what I thought was) a smooth action, I violently dispatched the critter.

Without batting an eye, the maître d’ said, “Monsieur must be from New York City.”

We received a complimentary bottle of wine!

Richard Freeman

Read more

One letter from the Diary is printed online every day and isn’t behind a paywall. Reading it may count against however many articles one can read for free a month. I’m not really sure how that works.


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The Endorsement: Tekserve

119 W 23rd St. @ 6th

119 W 23rd St. @ 6th

The situation: You’ve got a Mac and Macs sometimes get problems. Occasionally, they’re serious problems, like when my computer decided to freak the hell out and destroy years’ of data and all my iTunes metadata and basically stop functioning. Other times, your Mac just runs slow or makes a loud noise when the fan is on. Sometimes, your Mac just wants to get kitted out in the latest fashions or check out what kind of upgrades it can get.

The solution: The best place to do all these things is an Apple-authorized store called Tekserve in Chelsea in Manhattan. Sure, you could go to the real Apple Store where no one will be able to help you for ages and you’ll be jostled by all the tourists and youngsters and people just milling about. It’ll be loud in there too and you’ll probably forget an important question you had and leave none the wiser.

At Tekserve, you get a number and you sit in a little area and you’re called up in a reasonable amount of time. (You can also drop off and they’ll get in touch with you later.) The person who helps you will know just about everything you could care to ask. They will address your issue(s), give you options if serious work needs to be done and make sure you’re okay about every step of the process. They understand that you live on your computer now, that all of your life is there and they treat it, and you, with the care both of you deserve. And lots of times, they won’t even charge you.

And this can happen

I was there on a day ending in Y so I was wearing a purple coat, purple hat, purple glasses and was carrying a purple shopping bag. I’d stopped in to get my purple hardshell-protected laptop air-blasted ’cause it was making funky sounds. An employee walking behind the counter passed me, observed how insanely I was coordinated and said, “She knows what’s up.” I *do* know what’s up, but so does that guy.

The location can’t be beat

After servicing your computer, you can go to the original Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. Who doesn’t want to have a legitimate reason to eat a ShackBurger?

Go here. Do it!

Go here. Do it!


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Other People’s Pantries

Among the many benefits of renting an apartment instead of a hotel when you visit a city is that you get to see what kind of food other people buy. If it weren’t for this, I never would have discovered Raynal et Roquelaure Lentilles cuisinées à l’Auvergnate. This would have been a shame as these lentils have become one of my new favorite things to eat.

Lentils 1

The package doesn’t look like much and I don’t really like lentils (another way I’m a bad Spaniard) so I never would have picked them off the store shelf regardless of the marketing. And, I can not impress this upon you enough, life would have been a shade less glorious than it is now.

Closer inspection of the ingredients shows why these things are so damn tasty: they are less than half lentils (only 45%!) and one of the main components of the sauce is duck fat. May the gods continue to bless the French and their desire to put duck fat on so many things. I love them for it.

Lentils 2Just for fun

Duck Sauce!

 


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On the road

Finally bringing all mes affaires up to Paris today, so here’s a picture of my route.

I haven’t actually traveled with my stuff in the same vehicle since 1999 as I’ve either hired moving companies or traveled ahead. It’ll be quite an experience to be in the truck with the dude for over four hours, making conversation in French.

More distressing is that I’ll probably be singing Movin’ Right Along in my head the whole time.