Striking Changes in Paris

img_2397forwp.pngParis has changed more in the past five years than in the past few decades, in my opinion! After several years away, as a reaction to 9/11, I suspected this from my contact with friends and French TV and films. But I had no idea how true it was. During my stay there last month, several friends asked for my observations so I wrote them down for them. There are two categories of this, social and linguistic, and I imagine they are all related. Below is my list of new phenomena in Paris:


img_2449.jpg1. Natives riding bicycles throughout the city’s streets! I never saw any bicycles in the streets there before and, now, they are everywhere! – Most are rented from “Vélib,” short for “Vélibataire,” Paris’s new bicycle rental program. Launched this summer, it has met with surprising success.The French, as usual wary of safety rules, of course, don’t necessarily wear helmets or stop at red lights, making it risky to be a pedestrian. I saw a gentleman holding a baby who was almost run over. – There are electronic rental stations, with dozens of parked bikes, every few blocks. – Keith Miller, NBC’s “man in Paris,” reported in the October 25 edition of Nightly News, that it’s “the biggest self-service bike program in the world.” In just two months, he added, the bikes were rented five million times. And it’s still growing! – The term “Vélibataire” is a combination of “Vélo,” (bike) and “liberté.”

2. Less formality on many levels: aside from the above bike system is “le tutoiement” – addressing others by “tu” rather than the more formal “vous.” Mistakenly doing that has always been a major pitfall for my students and I’ve been warning them about that for years. Now, it might be a less horrific faux pas, but, since Americans can never tell, I still advise them to use the safe, respectful “vous.”

3. The globalisation of stores we find everywhere – GAP, McDonald’s, KFC, Starbucks, etc. Branches are replacing boutiques all over Paris.

4. After long disdaining American fast food but eating at McDo’s on the sly, the French have come up with their own versions. Two are la Brioche d’Or, a cousin of Starbucks, and Quick, a cousin of McDonald’s. A case of “if you can’t beat them… “? New bench styles discourage sleeping, and even sitting.

New bench style discourage sleeping, and even sitting

5. Many public benches in public waiting places now appear to be manufactured to keep homeless people (“les SDF,” standing for “Sans Domicle Fixe”) from lying down on them. There were even two different styles of them, one not even allowing waiters to sit comfortably.

6. I saw a new kind of graffiti on smooth surfaces, mostly windows. Instead of using paint, these new graffiti artists use sharp objects to carve words they want eternity to see.

LANGUAGE CHANGES : (check out the new words page for a list of new French words)

7. There are many new expressions like “A+” (short for à plus tard) “A tout” (short for “à tout à l’heure), “carton” (a hit), “cartonner” (the have a hit), and, of course, “pipole.” My friends think there are two reasons for this: what they called “SMS” (Short Message Service, or text messaging) and the increasing influence of its young immigrant population.

8. The new word that reflects a new phenomenon first called “peoplisation,” then “pipolisation.” The first step was the deformation of our noun people, used as either a noun an adjective and in the singular as well as plural! Gérard Depardieu, for example, is probably the best known French “people” in the States. The second step, was the term “une presse people” I kept hearing with puzzlement. The use of “une,” indicating the singular but used with “people,” which is plural in English didn’t make sense. Did that mean that “people” had become a French adjective? The answer is Yes. It modifies “presse” here and refers to celebrities, so the entire term refers to those tabloid papers like our “Star” that feed off celebrity gossip. The most recent step is the “pipolisation” of the press in general. So, even President Sarkozy is “un pipole” and his divorce is described in as much detail as possible in the “presse pipole.”

susan-and-yellow-shirtwp.jpg9. Common acceptance and use of what French grammarians have always considered errors. They seem to come from contamination from similar expressions. There are, for example, two verbs meaning to remember: “se souvenir de” and “se rappeler” followed by a direct object with no preposition. (A correct example of both would be “Je me souviens de ma jeunesse” and “je me rappelle ma jeunesse.”) After hearing more and more people – including learned ones – use “se rappeler” followed by a “de,” I asked an erudite friend what the story was. No one in France would ever use “se rappeler,” she informed me, without the following “de,” even though she averred that it was officially wrong. A similar example of contamination is the use of the subjunctive after “après que” because “avant que” takes the subjunctive. The essence of the subjunctive makes it obvious that this is incorrect but, if all the French make the “mistake,” has it not, perhaps, become correct? Do I want to teach my students to speak like grammar books or like French people? Two other former no-no’s are anglicisms that now seem to be accepted: “réaliser” meaning to realize instead of the more correct “se rendre compte (de)” and “opportunité” meaning opportunity instead of the more correct “occasion.” My college professors would be horrified at all these changes but are they necessarily bad?

susanandfriendforwp.jpg10. An extra syllable is now added to French words that do not end in “e.” I started noticing it over 20 years ago but it has gotten so pronounced, a friend of mine even railed againt it in his blog ( Eric Jabouille I particularly noticed that all French people pronounced the number 22 as “vingteu-deux.” I wondered what the reason for that was and could now see that my friend considers it like a virus, eating up the French language.eric_5.jpg

11. French pronunciation has deteriorated. “A revoir” is often heard now instead of “Au revoir” from contamination from “A bientôt.” Similar to See ya instead of See you. “Pathétique!,” exclaimed my friend about the deterioration. When I asked another friend whether she’d noticed it, she responded: “Je n’y avais pas pensé mais maintenant que tu le dis, c’est sans doute vrai. Hélas.” Other words now pronounced sloppily are “Je ne sais pas,” now pronounced “ch’ais pas,” and “oui,” which is often “ouais.” These are similar to our Djeet yet? for Did you eat yet? and Yeah for Yes. My friend continues his lamentation on the deterioration in French as follows: “Beauoup de “heus” à la fin de tous les mots et qui viennent remplacer les e muets : ils disent “j’arriveuh” au lieu de “j’arrive”. “Suzannheu” au lieu de “Suzanne.” Et le pire c’est que même lorsqu’il n’y a pas de “e” à la fin (comme dans “Eric”), ils prononcent “Erikeu” ! He adds the following notes: – plus une seule cravate nulle part – plus de chaussures normales mais des nikes (running shoes) partout – la disparition totale des librairies de quartier – la disparition des lettres papier (plus que des emails ou SMS) – remplacé par Skype, SMS, ou mails. Même moi, je ne téléphone presque plus. – le très mauvais état des arbres (platanes et marronniers) totalement détruits par la pollution. Et personne ne fait rien pour s’attaquer à la cause. Ils préféreront comme toujours geindre sur les effets ! – l’accélération du temps : les gens sont de plus en plus pressés. He concludes sadly: “Les changements que je vois sont surtout un signe d’un effondrement de la vieille Europe.”


5 Responses to Striking Changes in Paris

  1. Stephanie says:

    Bonjour, Your blog is great – I really enjoyed reading this post! I moved from Boston to Paris two years ago and let’s just say I am still getting adjusted!

    It’s so true that everyone says “ch’ais pas” and in fact people don’t even say the “ne” at all half the time, as in “J’ai pas mangé” for I didn’t eat! I was so confused when I first got here. My husband’s name IS Eric and pronounced “ErikEU” – with actual emphasis on the “eu” part!! I laughed so hard when I read your entry because I used to make so much fun of this and now I say it too. Thanks for making me smile!

    Actually now that I think of it there is another one that perplexed me at first – it sounds like this: “Tank-yet” I finally figured out that this is “t’inquiète” as in “ne t’inquiète pas”. However apparently it is enough to just say “t’inquiète” – the ne and pas seem to be understood! Usually accompanied by a shake of the head, I have heard this many a time at the daycare (said by a mother to a child.)

    Expressions I had never heard before I came – but everyone says absolutely all the time (and I may be spelling things wrong): “J’en ai marre” – something like “I’m fed up” and “Je suis crevé” – “I’m exhausted”. Also, an ugly woman is called a “thon”!! I learn more and more each day.

    I am happy your blog is here and I will check back in soon. Bon journée et A+!


  2. Thanks for the update from Paris!

    Yes, “T’inquiète” has become common. It comes from “Ne t’inquiète pas,” meaning “Don’t worry.” They also say, “Ne t’en fais pas” or, nowadays the abbreviation, “T’en fais pas.” Have you heard that too?

    As for “crevé” and “J’en ai marre,” I teach those. The latter is familiar for “J’en ai assez” and they also say “J’en ai ras le bol” to say the same thing.


  3. Michael says:

    Wow – wonderful update, Susan! A small disagreement: “ch’ais pas” was said commonly for “je ne sais pas” among my friends when I was a student 30 years ago.


  4. Susan says:

    Salut, Michael!

    You’re right, “Chais pas” (spelled that way now) is one of the oldest on the list. Kind of equivalent to our “I dunno” or “Jeet yet?” I’ve seen it in books this century, though, and am not sure if I saw it there in the twentieth.


  5. PYEE Doris says:

    Dear Susie,
    Great observations but there is a lot more to it, would love to talk to you about it. Found your blog “par hasard” while surfing on the net. See, with pleasure, that intro to wine tasting wine is part of the curriculum. Bye bye the Coke addict days??? Great to see you are doing well. To sum up the several years –an eternity– during which we have not been in touch: I am divorced from H. Robert (we are still great friends), retired in France, sold my 35 sq meter apartmt in Paris ( a 6 floor walk up) at an outrageously high price (Paris immo oblige!), moved to Bordeaux last Xmas, am now looking for a place to buy. Bordeaux is WARM, (had many severe health problems, but I am a survivor!), close to the ocean and not bad as a city (also has “Velib”). The real estate is also still affordable: I just could not move to the suburbs in Paris.
    Do you know anyone there? I made a few friends but could enlarge my “circle”. If you don’t mind talking/emailing to a ghost from the remote past, I would be most happy to get some news from you. With my internet provider I can call free of charge almost everywhere in the world (this is not THE reason why I gladly would talk to you). It has been such a long time since we had dinner in an Indian resto in Cambridge and you came to hear the Acadian Antonine!
    Excuse my lousy English, since I moved back to Paris in 2001 English is no longer “une langue très vivante”.
    Looking forward to hearing from you if you have some time so share, that would make me very very happy.


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