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Written by Marc

France wants girls with short skirts

Feel free to listen to this blast from the past while you consider that France, too, has its fair share of idiotic racism. You may have read in The New York Times that a 15-year-old girl was sent home from school twice recently because the principal thought her skirt wasn’t short enough. That’s right, long skirts are offensive.

short skirt

The scandal of the long skirt is not because the principal is a creeper who must ogle all the legs (although, who knows?), it’s a religious thing. Or rather, an anti-religious thing. French phrase of the day: signe religieux ostentatoire. In English, “ostentatious sign of religion.”  Adjective of the day: laïque (secular).

This isn’t some post- 9/11 Islamophobia. Nope, it goes back to 1989 (or to the decolonization, or Medieval crusades, or…). Known as the “affaire du voile” (sometimes “affaire du foulard”), the French allergy to Muslim sartorial choices (or lack thereof) is, believe it or not, is meant as a sign of good will. Baring is caring.

Liberty's hemline

The rationale goes like this: France had to put up with a thousand years of Catholicism and monarchy, so when the Revolutionaries tried so famously to undo those things (my personal favorite attempt at secularization was their attempt to reset the calendar create metric-system 10-day weeks. Because, hey, the weekend just comes around too fast, doesn’t it?) they embraced (at least in theory) secularism (la laïcité) as a great emancipator. Think of it as freedom from religion. Not that you couldn’t be religious, but that’s your private business. The separation of Church and State didn’t become law until 1905 (just read the Wikipedia page if you want to know more about it, ’cause I’m about to finish this post), and the debates about the two are ongoing (just like they are in the USA).

There is a perverse logic to the French concept of laïcité (seriously, learn that word and throw it around like you write for The New Yorker): if public institutions act like nobody is religious, then nobody can be discriminated against. No, wait, that’s not it. If public institutions ban ostentatious religious displays then we won’t have to endure new iterations of 1980s Madonna “material girl” Jean-Paul Gaultier and ginormous crucifix fashion. No, wait. If we can make Muslim women look less Islamic then the world will have less terrorism. No, that’s not it. I know there are valid points somewhere to be made for 2004 law against headscarves (and other ostentatious religious symbols, whatever that means) Somewhere in there lies a brand of egalitarianism, it’s just really, really hard to find when you read stories like this.

Maybe there are some intelligent comments in the Obs French article about it. Peruse away. Reading comments sections of French posts is a win-win: French language practice + a daily dose of pessimism to make you just a tad more French.

Overused vocab you probably never use: du coup

du coup

So…um…like, yeah, well, you know, so anyway…and yeah…interesting blog post…and done.

I’m sure there are all kinds of socio-linguistic reasons for filler words (that I’m inclined not to look up because…hey…Oscars are on tv, and who doesn’t love listening to ritualized thank you list recitation couched in a self-congratulatory three-to-four hour spectacle?), but what intrigues me is how the inane repetition of unnecessary words (and some barely qualify as words) can bring you closer to “native” quality speech. And conversely, how one…euh…how you say…misuse of filler can make you sound foreign despite otherwise impeccable grammar and vocabulary.

French 101 classes have been teaching “euh” (to replace the American “um”) and “bon ben” (kind of “ok…well”), “bof” (to express indifference “whatever”) and others for years now, but I think “du coup” flies under the radar of most American students and teachers. Go eavesdrop on some Parisians, however, and you’ll hear “du coup” punctuating the dead spots of stories with almost the same frequency that an American says “like” or “you know” or “so”.

See if you can hear it in this gamer-dude’s Youtube vid:

If you weren’t too distracted by the virtuoso use of steadycam (rivaling Birdman or Russian Ark), you may have noticed “du coup” and “alors du coup.” But what does it mean? Why are people suddenly using it so much? Should you start to say it? Can you even say it?

What does it mean?

Let’s see what French people are saying over at “anglaisfacile.com” where user Guillaume asks how to translate 

“Cette fille est laide. Du coup, je ne m’étais jamais intéressé à elle.”

He ends up with “Thus, I had never been interested in her.” ok…so…that…sounds…fluent. Yeah, “thus” . Just use “du coup” wherever you would use “thus”.

Let’s try another approach. Here’s a tweet that uses “du coup”

This basically says, “ok, so…got to go, so, night.”

Some people might say that “du coup” is  “suddenly” (like in “tout d’un coup”) or “consequently”, but the way it’s being used these days is more vague and less forceful, like “so…” Chances are, if you take “du coup” out of an average conversation, you won’t lose anything.

Why are people suddenly using it so much?

I don’t know. But a blog post by French pulp fiction/crime writer Claudine Chollet suggests that by 2006 it had reached epidemic status (her first sentence: L’expression “du coup” se propage actuellement comme un virus et contamine toutes les conversations.) Read the comments section of her post and you get the impression that it’s cyclical. An 80 year-old woman says that when she was young, she was taught that commoners used that expression. For 60 years, she claims, it disappeared, only to resurface and torment her again.

Should you start to say it? 

Probably not. Mme Chollet calls “du coup” a form of intellectual manipulation—an impostor of “consequently” that presupposes your agreement with dubious logic. Yeah, but I don’t care about lexical morality, you say. Oh. In that case, it depends on your answer to the next question.

Can you even say it?

Most anglophones have trouble with the “u”  [y] and “ou” [u] in du coup—especially in such close proximity. If you have to make a conscious effort to say something that functions as an unconscious tick, maybe not. On the other hand, if you can say it three times fast with a great accent and an effortless sloppiness, then go for it. Spread the virus.

What “What The French?!” is up to

Ducks in a row

putting our ducks in a row

If you’ve noticed we haven’t been posting much lately, it’s because we’re ignoring you. We’re cruel like that.

Andrew is off in places you’ve never heard of doing linguistic research on languages that sound like something he just made up. Marc is cloistered away in an ivory tower writing agonizing academic twaddle.

But does that mean that we’ve forgotten the angry mob of would-be What The French?! users who have the misfortune of not owning a compatible Apple device? NO! In fact, we have brought in outside help to find a Kindle solution. The Apple authoring tool (iBooks Author) was easy enough to use that we could make the book by ourselves. Meanwhile, getting something into a suitable format for Amazon is a nightmare. But cross your fingers because I’m meeting with the guy (this Tuesday!) who is supposed to help us get this out to you, hopefully by fall.

Stay tuned. We will keep you posted on progress. The next book is also in the works, but we’ll talk about that another time. Now go make like a French person and do nothing for the rest of the month.

When a verb and a noun love each other…on the lovelock bridge

If you were wandering across the “lovelock bridge” today, you might have seen this:

wtflovelock

Somehow, a handful of  “Well son, when a verb and a noun love each other…” fliers (or flyers, whatever you prefer) got nestled among the hardware that weighs down the poor pont des arts.

Oh…here’s another one…

wtflovelock

and another…

wtflovelockbis

Why? Because What The French?! doesn’t heart lovelocks. We heart grammar. Actually we don’t “heart” things much at all. But we do like grammar enough to write about it just for you… and all your friends who someday want to go to Paris and, like the adorable lemmings they are, take hardware normally designed to exhibit your general mistrust of the civilized world and repurpose it as a declaration of love.

And it wouldn’t hurt few graffiti artists to brush up their grammar, as PTK (our beloved Pretentious Technicality Kid) will show you in a future post.

Save France, Save the World: Sneak peek at Edge of Tomorrow

I’ll be the first to admit that from seeing the trailer, I thought that “Edge of Tomorrow” was going to be stupid. But still freshly drenched in sweat from running to catch the last métro home after an avant-première in Paris, I will now admit that I enjoyed every minute of it—especially seeing Paris in post-alien-invasion mode. I’ll try to avoid spoilers, but let’s just say that the movie reinforces in the most entertaining way possible the idea that the French must always rely on external forces to save their butts in time of war, even in the future.

This morning, I was at the exhibit in the Jardin du Luxembourg that shows press photos from the journal Excelsior of WWI in France. You can see the 175 photos in exhibit on parisienimages.fr. I highly recommend it. Tom Cruise is nowhere to be seen.

You can also see “Edge of Tomorrow” soon, which has Tom Cruise in every scene, and not-so-subtle WWI references with the “Angel of Verdun”—not Rodin’s sculpture, but rather the kick-ass love-interest (thankfully, minimally so) and fighting companion of Tom Cruise, who seems to embody the good old USA saving the world. Have I said too much already?

In a year filled with WWI and WWII retrospectives (at least here in France), it’s nice that we can also honor WWIII (or IV or V or whatever number they’re up to in the future where aliens have once again shown complete disregard for the Eiffel Tower) knowing that France will be quickly overcome by alien forces as they were in WWII, and that only Top Gun Cruise can help.

I’d love nothing more than to report the cynicism of the French audience in the face of another USA-centric Hollywood blockbuster, but the fact is, they ate it up (as they do most Hollywood fare) and so did I. As I ran to catch the métro (at the Louvre station no less), I gave the still-intact Louvre a smug look of American superiority. On behalf of all pearly-white toothed Americans of all future invasions, we, the Americans of Hollywood, would like to say, “You’re Welcome.”

The myth of the “Love lock bridge”

lovelock

I am in Paris right now with a bunch of students. When they first arrived a few weeks ago, we took a boat ride on the Seine. As we passed under the Pont des Arts (its real name), the tour guide called it the “love lock bridge” and preceded to explain that lovers come here, put a padlock on the bridge, and throw the key in the river as a sign of their undying love—as if this tradition had been around as long as Héloïse an Abélard. Well, what the friends, it hasn’t. In fact, it hasn’t even been around for 10 years. So let’s just demystify this lovelock thing with a little self-plagiarizing. Here’s part of a post I did (on my neglected photoblog) way back in 2010 when the lovelocks were, if not brand new, well, like, toddler new. In 2009, you would have seen some scattered locks, but nothing like completely parasitic infestation that now sprawls across this and other bridges. And now, some of that post:

 


When I was photographing a bridge on day 1 of a trip to Paris, I noticed this lock with the words “I love you” attached to the bridge. How romantic, I thought. But also, What an eyesore! Still, you could imagine the scene: two lovers visit Paris, put the lock on the bridge as a symbol of their undying love, and throw the key in the river Seine to show that the bond will never be broken.

Then, I walked to the pont des arts—the artsy, bohemian bridge where artsy bohemian Parisians and groups of young tourists gather nightly for picnics until 1 or 2 a.m.

The pont des arts has a chainlink fence—all the better to hold padlocks. Hundreds and hundreds of them (which you’ll have to imagine, because my photos must have been blurry and hence, deleted). Here, the locks fit the mood of the bridge and felt like the sort of art installation that asks for audience participation. But as expressions of love, I have to say that the aesthetics left something to be desired:

Let’s take Olivier, who heart heart hearts Laura. Assuming he didn’t just happen to carry a padlock around with him in case of a sudden bout of eternal love, he must have taken the trouble to go somewhere and buy a padlock and a sharpie. Is this the best he could do? Why choose a lock with a huge XINLEI brand marking right where the hearts go? Or is this a love triangle between a man, a woman, and a padlock company? Get on that, XINLEI marketers.

Olivier could at least take a cue from the Sid and Nancy aesthetic of Vick and Julien:

Or is it a serial killer aesthetic? A ransom note? Maybe not the best choice after all.

Then there’s more ephemeral choice that I’ve only seen once so far:

A photo that, in all likelihood, will outlast their summer romance.

I overheard a couple of Italian women walking by (this one was near Notre Dame) and wondering if this was some sort of Paris tradition. It’s not! I wanted to call out in Italian. But unfortunately, my spoken Italian doesn’t extend beyond ordering gelato these days. I was in Paris for three months this past fall and there were no locks to be found. So where did it come from?

Google to the rescue. According to an article in The Telegraph, the lock phenomenon is a worldwide one. Locks can be found “on fences and bridges in Moscow, Verona, Brussels, and Mount Huang, China.”

The origin?:

It is unclear who started the fashion. Italians claim it was sparked by a romantic novel called I Want You, by Federico Moccia, in which the hero and heroine attach a padlock with their name onto a lamppost on Ponte Milvio, near Rome, kiss and throw the key in the river Tiber.

Who are these Italians claiming it was sparked by a novel I’ve never heard of? Certainly not the women on the bridge.

For me, what started as an isolated case of quaint bemusement has become an irritation. When I went to photograph the pont Alexandre III, easily the most beautiful bridge in Paris, I saw this:

That’s a whole lot of Photoshop work for me and a whole bunch of ugly for Paris.

If I could talk to these lock loving readers of Italian fiction, I would tell them to use my own personal rule of graffiti: If it is well done and adds interest to an otherwise drab and dull space, then go for it.

But if it defaces something that is already beautiful or has historical significance, then you’re just an irresponsible vandal.

Want to do something romantic on the bridges in Paris? Throw some rose petals in the Seine. It could use a little freshening up.

End of incredibly long self-plagiarizing. To conclude, let’s look at one last photo: Matt’s lovelock proposal to Sarah.lovelockproposal

How romantic, right? Maybe on their first anniversary they can return and see it. Or maybe not. It all depends on how fast the bridge fills up. Because every so often, some poor city employee has the Sisyphean task of playing the love grinch, bolt cutters in hand, ready to weed out the signs of last year’s dreams. Now that’s a photo I’d like to take.

in Paris…

guerillawtf (1)

2014-05-10 17.13.55

Market WTF?! and earn big bucks (in some other job)

What The French?! flyer

 

Imagine a career working in the marketing department of What The French?! : Dining with the jet set at Le Meurice, meeting with foreign dignitaries, developing your signature cologne/ mime repellant spray.

Now imagine getting none of those things but instead having the personal satisfaction of helping us find people like you who love French but don’t like expensive stuffy textbooks. Over the next few weeks, flyers might magically appear all across Paris (maybe. not that I would in any way endorse activities such as inserting flyers into free magazines at sandwich shops, posting them next to tawdry ads for massages, or dropping them in the Louvre.) and maybe in your town. What if, say, somebody were to print a flyer from this post, and cleverly distribute it in some legal-ish fashion, perhaps documenting their efforts and sending us a pic for a future blog post with virtually no hope of any reward? Tempting, right?

mime flyer

Unglamorous France

Just got back into Paris from Giverny, most famous for Monet’s garden where he painted this:

Claude_Monet-Waterlilies

Now, I could post photos of pretty flowers, but that’s not what we’re about at What The French?! We don’t want to makes posts that fill you with Facebook status update envy, so instead, here’s an unglamorous view of what you would have seen today on the bridge at Giverny:

Unglamorous Giverny

More unglamorous French life coming during the next six weeks or so.

Meanwhile, practice insulting mimes in French by buying our book. It costs less than the entrance fee to Monet’s house and you’ll be in the company of a far more elite group.

How the French see Americans: two videos for your viewing horror

“Le conseil du jour 7 – L’ancien corres’ américain” par Le Conseil du Jour sur maTVpratique.com

I can’t decide: Is this video simply not very funny or is it funny but so painfully accurate a portrayal of an American in Paris that it’s hard to laugh. You decide.

Next, let’s see what insight “travel expert Kate Thomas” can glean from her real live local friend Elise:

So there you have it: French people don’t hate Americans. If we just treat them like cats all will be well with the world.

We here at What The French?! may never have the kind of astute and nuanced socio-cultural awareness exhibited in these videos, but one thing we do know is how to help you learn French. Buy a copy of What The French?! on iTunes/iBooks, and you too can sit at a café that serves food on giant triangular plates. You too will be able to bombard locals just like Elise with your own needy questions—only you will be doing it in French.

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