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.