The other night I was at a dinner with French friends. Everyone was talking and I was thrilled by how much I understood. Yet at the same time, the conversation was so infested with English words, words like “Borderline”…”hype”…”open space,” “too much,” and “offshore,” that any American tourist looking for the “Louvray” could have followed.
English words have become so commonplace in the French vernacular they’ve started to take on different meanings even. They’ve become as the French say “Faux Juneau X” (fake twins), and this drives people like me insane.
For example, the word “hype” in the US means buzz or media attention, whereas, in France, it means “hip.” Why the French couldn’t use hip the same way we do, I have no idea. Maybe they thought hip was too close to “hippie,” and since hippies aren’t cool in France anymore, a line has been drawn.Yes, a hip party can create hype, but that’s more a cause and effect thing.
And what makes a French party “hype” you ask? Often it’s the “French Touch” music being played. Apparently you’re a square if you don’t know what French Touch is, and often I’m scolded by my friends with a “Merd John, c’est le French Touch, where have you been?” type slap. French Touch, I’ve learned, covers the sort of music groups like Daft Punk, Air, and Phoenix play, a cutting edge brand of pop that exports well to places like Tokyo, Berlin, and New York. What these music geeks in France don’t know is that outside France, the term French Touch doesn’t exist. Those groups I just mentioned are known to be just French. The touch part we’ll let you decide.
Another bizarre thing is the way the French use the word “trash” to describe something provocative or punk. Yes, they use trash as an adjective. In France, the photos by Terry Richardson, for example, are considered “trash.” Ultra-violent films are trash, which doesn’t at all mean it’s bad, it’s just trash, not trash-y.
For us, trash, outside of what you see thrown on the street, refers to people who live in mobile homes and eat cat food. Sure these people may be punk or ultra-violent in their own way, but mostly they’re trash (the noun) as in Brittney Spears barefoot in a gas station bathroom trash.
And then there’s the all encompassing “too much” I hear all the time, and which in many ways, I find offensive. Why? Because in France, anything that’s “too much” has gone beyond the limits of acceptable, beyond the confines of what the French could possibly define as “trop,” and since it’s so vulgar and outlandish, it can only be captured with an American expression. Is it not a coincidence either that all of the deviant sexual terms in France are in English as well? Poppers, fist Fucking, gang bang fly off the French tongues as if these acts were invented in the US. And if they were, couldn’t you find an equivalent?
It goes both ways, though. Americans too use French words out of context just to give things some sort of classy or sophisticated or cultural edge whether it be cuisine, style, or bathrooms. I can’t tell you how many times my wife has blanched (another word the French don’t use) to see the price of her entrée. Entrée for the French is the appetizer whereas, in the States, it’s the main dish. And any American bathroom worth entering nowadays has to have a “bidet” (written bidey in French) and has to be considered “en suite” (French don’t say this), meaning, I guess, it’s attached to the bedroom? Near the bath you’ll often find “eaux de perfume” but with an “e” at the end. The French say parfum, but the Americans want it spelled phonetically, just so there’s no misunderstanding?
Arriving in France, my goal was to learn and speak French only because I didn’t want to be the American who everyone was forced to speak English to. I worked tirelessly on rolling my r’s and getting down the “I miss you” which in French is switched around and literally reads Tu me manques “you miss me,” and which, for the first five years, backfired on me repeatedly. Imagine we bump into each other for the first time in six months and the first thing I say to you is “Ah, you missed me, you know?”
“Too much” you’d probably reply.
And now that my work has paid off, you can often find me at a hype party, which is a little trash and a bit too much, sitting next to my “life coach” drinking “punch” trying to feel “successful” but not too “bling bling” and definitely not Americain. Hell, you might even think I’m French or, at least, possess a bit of the French Touch, and it’s only then, at that moment, that my complete assimilation into French society will come full circle, giving me the impression I’m not really in Paris, but back in New York.