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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The Postman Rang Twice (with the loot)

Because I am an experienced traveler and have developed a keen sense of when a suitcase is overweight, I took the precaution of sending myself some things from the US. As usual in such cases, I chose wisely as the package in question weighed 13.25 lbs. (6k) and my luggage allowance was 50 lbs. (23 k).

Here’s what the mailman came twice to deliver (really! He left a note the first time and the package the second):

2013 Loot from USA

→ Envelopes filled with the few actual photographs I still have. Many of them will be scanned and then shredded because I don’t believe in keeping lots of stuff.

→ The only love letter I probably won’t ever throw out. In keeping with my own twisted logic, it’s not from anyone I actually dated, nor does it contain any declaration of love but that’s why it’s my favorite.

→ A whole stack of my original Super López comics, including my favorite issue! You can tell they’re the real deal because they cost 395 pesetas! (That was just over 3 bucks back in the day.) These books have traveled more than many people.

→ An Italian phrasebook I bought in 2003 as my one defense against the rudest people on earth. It didn’t make them any nicer to me, but at least I knew I was being polite to their asshole faces.

→ On Writing Well, William Zinnser. I’m gonna master this whole expressing-with-words-on-pages thing.

→ The Big Screen, David Thomson. Books about movies are two of my favorite things in one! The only way to make them better was if they were edible.

→ Mythologies, Roland Barthes (2012 translation). I will most likely not understand anything, but I’ll try.

→ Complete Works, William Shakespeare. It is possible I have three different versions of this but I won’t know for sure until I finally unpack all my belongings and take stock.

→ My name tag from college when the locally owned video store I worked for got bought out by a chain. A friend of mine called me Brain and that’s his crappy writing on the tag.

One night, a young guy and his girlfriend came up to the counter and he looked at me, then my name tag, then to his companion and finally back at me and smirked, “Hi, ‘Brian.’ Do you have [some stupid movie I didn’t bother to register in my memory]?” To which I had to say, “Actually, it’s Brain,” and I very condescendingly ran my finger under each letter so that he could see how un-Brain he was. “And we currently have multiple copies of [whatever Hollywood crap fest] on the New Release wall. It’s that huge wall that runs the length of the store. With a neon sign. That says ‘New Releases.'” And then I smirked right back at him. God, that was the best job.