connect!

Smells Like Teen Spirit.

 Illustration by Valfré

Once a week I take myself out on a broke girl's lunch date to my favorite Parisian dive in the Marais; Le Saint Gervais. I order my usual glass of Bordeaux, plain omelette with a green salad, and settle in a corner booth with a book. Besides La Panfoulia, this is one of my favorite spots in the MaraisIt's not chic - certainly not by Marais standards - but it's old Paris. By 2 pm, the lunch crowd is gone, the dining room is quiet; only chatter from the front bar that caters to locals and their late afternoon wine and coffee cravings, and I can take up a back table as long as I'd like.

Sounds just perfect, right? Lately not so much. On my past few trips to what I now call "the other side of town", my tranquility has been greatly compromised. No longer can I sneak in, grab a back table and read many chapters of a book without massive interruptions. I now just end up reading the same sentence over and over and over, trying to filter out the cacophony that overpowers this small place.

What could be so intrusive that I can't even read? Any guesses? Could it be construction out on rue Vieille du Temple? No - although that would also be annoying. A late lunch rush? Nope - this is Paris, remember? Tourists? I think tourists would be a little turned off by the place. When I say "old Paris", I'm not talking Edith Piaf, I'm talking more Les Rita Mitsouko. So what has been breaking my attempts to a quiet afternoon? I'll tell you. Teenagers. French Teenagers - a special breed of teen.

I don't mind them so much but when they pile into the booth behind me so impetuously that I get jerked forward, or when they take their coats off without any regard that they have whipped me in the eye with their scarves, and when they talk practically in my ear where even I jump during the action portion of their conversation, then I mind. They also seem to be immune to the French huff and puff face because my futile attempts went disappointingly unnoticed.

Because I'm forced to the listen to them, now as soon as I see them bombarding in to order their one espresso or Coke each, I close my book and take out a magazine, something that doesn't require much thought like Grazia or Be for example. Well last week, I couldn't tune them out because for once they were talking about something that actually interested me: dating. This is when I perked up. Getting whipped by their Kooples scarves would be worth getting a bird's eye view to the new wave of French dating. So as it turned out, one of the fellas, let's call him Matis was saying that he loved this girl Esmeralda. How sweet. Well his pote Steve (American names are actually à la mode right now) didn't believe him and corrected him. Matis didn't love Esmeralda because according to "Steve" he merely "kiffé" (pronounced keef-ay) her. Geez, I haven't heard kiffer in years. I thought it went out of fashion like the inversion trend, like saying "Z'y-va", but I guess not...I also don't hang out with teenagers.

Apparently this is how the younger generation is getting around the je t'aime (that means both I love and like you - confusing, right?) debacle that the French language has been blessed with. I couldn't help myself but jump in (of course I did) to investigate further. I figured after disrupting several of my afternoons, these guys owed me this much. I turned around and surely with a red wine smile said, "Bonjour, les teens". The six of them froze and with wide eyes direct towards me, stopped their banter, and acknowledged my presence with a bonjour...madame. Ouch.

I told them that I couldn't help but eavesdrop on their conversation (I really am turning into my mother: the ultimate yenta) and if they didn't mind, could they elaborate more of this "aimer/kiffer" business to a curious American. Relieved that this was my request, they all spoke over each other explaining the meaning and its uses. Their enthusiasm as they vied for my attention was both really cute and flattering. They explained that the word is of Arabic origins which has been filtered down to the French language to mean like, and this is how they differentiate between loving and liking. Kiffer is less powerful than aimer. Perhaps a direct translation would be how us Anglos "dig" something?

To test it out, I tried to smuggle it into conversation with Aurelien this past weekend. Over our Saturday night apéro of winter cocktails and light munchies, I told him that when I first met him, I really "kiffed" him. He shook his head as he is now hip to my shenanigans and asked me what playground I had been hanging out in lately. Given my current profession, this wasn't a bad question to ask. Apparently this is expression is for the younger more urban set but hey, they won't be teens forever. I don't think as a foreigner over the age of 21, I'll ever get a pass to say that I kiffe something but at least there's somewhat of an alternative to that confusing je t'aime bien/beaucoup/plus que tu sais/plus que la glace/plus plus plus! madness that with pleasure - as I relish over these cultural and language comparisons - I obsess over.

32 comments:

  1. This was a fantastic post. As always Ella with your amazing way with words, I felt like I was there with you. Red wine smile and all! Living in the 17th, I am surrounded by annoying "les teens" if I decide to go for an apero at say 4pm. The boys are so small and skinny and pre-pubescent but smoking Marlboro Reds with their arms around some French girl who is the same age but much taller and with really big, long hair and dark lips and eyes... also smoking Marlboro Reds. they're such little punks.

    Hope you have a lovely day... madame ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hahaha yes! "The boys are so small and skinny and pre-pubescent but smoking Marlboro Reds with their arms around some French girl who is the same age but much taller and with really big, long hair and dark lips and eyes"

      EXACTLY!! Why are they always smoking reds!? Whenever these little kids ask Seb for a cigarette on the street, I'm so annoying and ask how old they are. If they say like 10 (which has happened), I say no and they get so pissed.

      Compared to these little shits, I'm such a madame. Hahaha...ahh, French teens.

      Delete
  2. Heh, I "dig" you Ella! I have used kiffer, but felt a little foolish doing it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad I'm not the only one that has felt cheesy kiffing something. Hahah! I dig you too...and your lurking cat. : )

      Delete
  3. It's been very interesting for me to watch how French youth slang has evolved over the years to include Arabic, especially the inverted Arabic, such as you see with the term "Beur" which is "Arabe" inverted. I suppose in the US the same happened/is happening with the inclusion of what was once considered Afro-American-only slang or colloquialisms.

    You will be fascinated to know one of the slang terms for penis--"le zob"--comes from the Arabic, too!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Le zob! That is so NOT sexy. I love your big zob. Yeah, not working for me. I'm going to smuggle this one into conversation tonight! Let's see what happens! Thanks!

      Delete
  4. oh man who would have known? I'm glad you evesdropped so actively, though I'm sorry you got Madammed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hahaha, I wasn't really offended, just surprised. But really when it comes down to it, I'm going to be a 32 year old married woman next year. I think that definitely makes me a madame!

      Delete
  5. Love this post, felt like I was there. Makes me miss my days in Paris, though I am not sure I would have ever been able to jump in on a bunch of teenagers' conversation, so I'm glad you had the guts for all of us. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad you liked it! Thank you! I'm sure they all thought I was a lunatic (especially with my thick accent and all) but who cares, I learned something! Sometimes, you just gotta throw caution to the wind...why not, teenagers do it all the time!

      Delete
  6. Thanks for the little language lesson! I've heard that term a few times before but never fully understood what it meant. Shame that over-21's can't use it. It would be nice to have a substitute for "je t'aime" from time to time.

    Though does this all mean that you will no longer feel so bothered by them when they come around to your favourite Marais lunch spot again? (Or perhaps they got a reality check re: their decibel levels and will keep it down next time...)

    Milsters

    (http://www.littlepiecesoflight.com/)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey, don't listen to me, use it if you feel like it. I just feel kind of cheesy peppering my French with Arabic slang. But I know many who do, so go for it!

      Who knows what will happen the next time I go to my little spot. I've been changing my hours, trying to find the sweet spot for when they're either just leaving or coming as I'm going. I'll figure out their schedule...OR maybe since I'm so down with the cool kids now, I'll sit at their lunch table. Quelle horreur!

      Delete
  7. Did this happen in the place where we had lunch together?! If so, I feel like such an insider - not because of the "kiffer" part but because it's like I had lunch in some famous setting. Just wait and see, this cafe will be immortalized just like Hemingway's haunts! There will be Mlle Ella Coquine tours of the Marais!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes! It was where we ate a few months ago! My favorite spot in the Marais! Awww, that's so sweet but I'm sure someone fancier will beat me to the punch. Like Kate Moss will be seen there and then it's not longer chez moi! I'll have to take advantage before Kate jumps on the 80s brasserie movement that only I seem to be a part of!

      Delete
  8. I love that you actually interrupted their conversation to ask them :-)

    I feel that slang is a register that's lacking in my French vocabulary. Not because I don't know the words but because I'd feel weird using a lot of them, and not even teen slang words, but words that people my age use. I get the feeling French women use slang a lot less than men and I'm always scared that if I copy Understanding Frenchman and his mates, I'll end up sounding like a bloke!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hahah! I'm so turning into my mother! She would do the same thing, like "excuse me? hello!!" I just had to know.

      Yeah, slang is a tricky thing because you never know how you really sound. My suspicion is that you're like me and you probably use it more than you realize. : )

      Delete
  9. J'suis en kiffe sur ce post !

    I seem to learn argot before proper speech, so I learned this a while ago. I may ruin this word for you with what I say next... The first thing when I heard "kiffe" a few years back was another English slang word that rhymes with it.. starting with kw....

    Anywho, I've heard "kiffe" expressions regarded as banlieu French. It's not something you'd use with the in-laws or your boss. My bf doesn't like when I use it (I suppose b/c it sounds immature and uneducated). A rather educated friend of ours, not from the banlieu, uses "Tu kiffes quand...?" a lot on her Facebook statuses, but in a stand-up comedie sorta' way. That said, now that I think of it, when I hear it used on TV it's always from comedians!

    By the way, I love your commenters. "Le Zob" info is golden, thanks TPC!

    Red wine smile, hehe .. And "Madame" .. it can be a good thing no? Like showing respect rather than referring so much to your age..

    Sorry to hear about your hangout being over-run.. "Tu kiffes quand les ados....?" haha (I can't finish that line, my French isn't good enough!)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, this was one of the first slang words I used back in 09 and I haven't heard it used since. So when I heard it last week, I was surprised. I thought it had gone out of style, but I guess not!

      Yeah, the madame bit was funny! I guess I do look like a little madame these days, meaning: I'm exhausted!

      I'll return to my little spot. It's worth the rowdy teens and hey, I may learn something else!!

      Delete
  10. OMG, Sèb is just so relou... il se flambe un peu, don't you think? It gets really hilarious when the teen 'tude is being thrown about between kids who start to forget what language they're throwing around...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh he was just kidding, he's got such a big heart, he was only teasing me. That's just how we are.

      But let's be real here, a 30 year old American saying "je kiffe", I'm sorry, even I admit that I sounded ridiculous.

      Delete
    2. Je sais... deconnais. Je kiffe le mot relou, any excuse...

      Delete
  11. Finally caught up with all your posts since I've been away and you didn't disappoint, Ms. Ella. I totally agree with Kristen, your knack storytelling is out of this world.

    The one thing I still can't understand about "les teens parisiens" is that they all seem so much cooler than I was when I was their age. The teens in NYC look and act likes teens but in Paris, it's like they're way more attuned to the world than I ever was at that age. I'm not sure, maybe it's the cigarettes or my French high school teacher, Mme. Panella, telling all of us that we'll never be mature enough to survive in Paris? Oh well.

    Anyway, don't mean to take over your comment section but Jesus Christ, Mary and Joseph the bureaucratic paper work bullshit that you have to go through to get ANYTHING done in France is out of this world. I kinda just want to send the Mairie a quick little note saying "Guys, I'm just trying to marry this French guy, not run for President of your Republic so let's just take it down a few notches." You weren't joking when you shared your experiences. It really makes me wonder how France functions. Seriously, how is it possible?

    All that said, in 9 days I will be in Paris and all will be well and I'll be happy and finally update my blog. ;-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Sue!!! How are you? Long time!!!

      Thanks for this sweet comment! I'm glad that I am able to take you all on my journey. It means a lot that I am able to communicate though writing.

      The teens here do act older than American teens, I agree. I mean, they all order espressos. I still get a kick out of that. They sip their little coffees with crossed legs and converse sneakers. Your teacher said that you'll never be mature enough to survive Paris? What the hell is that all about?! So mean!!

      Oy vey, you're in the thick o' the paper work! I feel for you, really. It's annoying but once you get it all in order, it's so satisfying! Like a nerd, I flip through my binder of documents and feel the joy of my accomplishments! You will too!

      Good luck and bon voyage!!!

      Delete
  12. ROFL, I must bear that in mind for the next time I'm in conversation with a Frenchman I like :oD Or maybe I should try it on my mother, the ex-French teacher and see what happens...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hahaha tell me what happens when you drop the kiffe bomb! You should get a giggle or two! : )

      Delete
  13. You're a yenta!! Ha Ha! I love it! I've always thought of yentas as being wise like yoda so I'd take it as the ultimate compliment :)
    Now I have to see what the deal is with this kiffer business down my way. I'll let you know if any of the hip villagers use it (By hip villagers, I mean Honey Jr. That's all we got.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm SUCH a yenta. All New Yorkers are culturally Jewish, we can't help it. Yentas are wise little yodas! I haven't reached yoda status yet...one day.

      Please tell me what the slang is down there. I feel like it would be different. I'm curious. Do they kiffe in the LPV? :)

      Delete
  14. Too funny!! I just have to tell you, I've been doing some volunteer teaching at a high school, and I'm learning so much slang I've never heard before! Maybe it's just me... I stopped being hip the moment I graduated high school, but have you heard the word "ratchet"? Apparently it's the new "ghetto". Back in the day, I might have said something like, oh hell no, his car is so ghetto! Now the kids are calling everything ratchet. I tried it with my husband but he didn't get it. Did not get it at all. I'm so uncool!! Haha. Dangit...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't know the word "ratchet" and I just said it to Seb and like your husband, he didn't know it either. It must be really new. I'll ask my 11 year old student! So funny! Thanks for sharing some new slang! I feel cool now. : )

      Delete
  15. This reminds me of a scene in Cédric Klapisch's Paris - when the university professor played by Fabrice Luchini gets a big crush on his student (Mélanie Laurent) and sends her an SMS pretending to be a classmate... "T'es belle, j'te kiffe trop grave".

    Quelle horreur!:))

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hahahaahha eww! So creepy!!! Tell me what happens when we see each other in TWO WEEKS!!! Can't believe it. : )

      Delete
  16. Today has being the most happiest day of my life after 1 year of sadness and sorrow without being with the one i love, i tried all my possible best to make sure i make my lover happy but it never seems to work out well it was like am doing everything in vain but all thanks to Dr.Ogumen for coming to change all my worries and sadness to Joy. I knew the great man when i read some wonderful reviews about Him how he has helped a lots of people on there relationship problem i was reading a magazine which then i saw great testimonies as well which then i decided not to waste time. He told me not to worry that he assures me that within 3day everything would be sorted out i believed Dr.Ogumen so much because i believe he can't fail me and i sent him all my details. Truly Dr.Ogumen never failed me,my husband who left me for good a year come back to me. My husband and i have been living contentedly since this spell caster reunited us together with his love spells. Thank you so so so much Dr.Ogumen for your powerful spells. Expressions are not sufficient to say thank you, here is his email address(ogumensolutioncenter@gmail.com).

    ReplyDelete