I first visited a contact in Montparnasse – that’s one of the more affluent parts of Paris. He had a lot of interesting insight into Verlan from a semi-outsider’s perspective. Apparently, there are common words that almost everyone uses, but then there are some words that only the “gangster” kids can use.
Most useful for my project was when he talked about how he thinks about Verlan words. He said for him, there are two types of words: 1) those words that are so widely used that he no longer thinks of the standard French equivalent, and 2) words that are inseparable from the standard French word from which they are derived.
After chatting with him for a couple of hours (he was such a big help!), I went back to the hostel and took a quick nap. Then, I talked to one of the staff members of the hostel about how I could find more contacts who use Verlan. I really needed to speak with people living in the banlieu (the French equivalent of “inner-city”), but it’s not really a good idea for me to go alone.
Anyway, the hostel staff member was really helpful and introduced me to two Tunisian immigrants from the banlieu (they called it the “cite”). What was most interesting about speaking with them was that they did not use a lot of the common Verlan words used by Parisians in the center of Paris. It seems as if young people in the banlieu create the Verlan words, and continue using them until they become popular in Paris. Once that happens, the original users abandon the “stolen” word and find something new and different.
After speaking with them, I was thanking the hostel staff-member who helped me and then was approached by a woman and invited to have drinks with her and her two companions. It turns out they were in the area for an art show; one of the two men with her was a budding painter; the other was the webmaster of his website, and she was the manager for the show. They showed me his work, which was actually quite good! He was very talented. However, some of his paintings had a quasi-religious theme that, for me, was a little strange. For example, one of his paintings was a portrayal of a naked Madonna (yes, I did clarify with him – it was Madonna as in Jesus’ mother, not Madonna the pop star).
In all, they were very nice, and interesting to speak with. Plus, I got a little more “outsider” insight into Verlan.
I visited Montmartre (and a cemetery there – photo right), Amelie’s abode, and the home of the famous Moulin Rouge (photo left) and Paris’ red-light district. The woman I met last night told me it was very “1950s,” but I had trouble seeing that amidst the cabarets and nightclubs. I’m getting ready now to meet two of my research contacts at a bar in Paris’ 15th arrondissement.
Though I usually prefer the beauty of the outdoors (mountains, picturesque landscapes), I’m really beginning to fall in love with Paris! I’ve even been practicing the Parisian scowl that everyone here walks around with – those especially guilty are the too-tall, too-thin Parisian women.