Paris Slang

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Paris Slang

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The long, multi-cultural history of Paris has resulted in an interesting slang vocabulary. Even if you never mastered the subjunctive, a quick glance at these words and phrases will give you a solid handle on Paris slang.

So you've mastered "merci" and "bonjour," but can't quite follow the lyrics to a French rap song? Don't worry – we've got you covered (and French rap's ridiculous anyway). To get around Paris and experience it like a native, you'll need a few key words and slang phrases to help you blend in.
1. Coloc

Roommate, from "colocataire," literally translates as "co-renter." I learned the phrase much later than I should have. For months, I went around Paris saying "copine de chambre," which produced everything from giggles to gapes (copine de chambre translates as "bedroom friend," which you can take in a variety of ways). Whether someone initially taught me that phrase as a joke or I just invented it on my own, I'll never know. All I know is coloc is a vital slang phrase.

2. Nase

Nase means boring, dull, or ordinary. A chain of Parisian clothing stores in Paris runs an ad campaign with the most blandly hipster real-life couples you can imagine modeling the clothes. My friend rolled her eyes and just said, "Nase." (Naze, with a z, means tired – as in, you feel tired, making an easy pair of words to remember).

3. Kiffer

This is slang for younger Parisians and means "to like." Legend has it that "kiffer" comes from the Arabic. You conjugate it just like a regular French verb: je kiffe, tu kiffes, and so on. An alternative spelling is kifer.

4. Bof

Just like the English "uh," or "hmmm," "bof" is a Paris slang term with a variety of different uses. It's an exclamation more than a word and can be used to mean, "I don't know," "let's see," or "look at that!" Not to be confused with the exclamation "bah," which is more like "well" (Bah oui!).

5. Bateaux Mouches

Translated, this Paris slang phrase means tourist boats on the Seine. Parisians always translate this into English as "fly boats," which is the literal translation, but which has so many possible meanings in English that it's actually meaningless. In this case, fly means like the insect – because they speed along. Parisians have told me different things, so make a note of it and move on; nobody knows.

6. Moche

Local lingo for "ugly" is "moche." This works for buildings, people (usually girls), or clothing. It's pretty strong, but not offensively so. Les Bateaux-Mouches sont si moches, n'est-ce pas? (The fly boats – the tourist boats on the Seine – are so ugly, don't you think?)

7. Bobo

Bobo is local language meaning bourgeois or bohemian. Yes, this one comes from the English, but it's gaining popularity in Paris, just as other English expressions. If you live in a big city, you already know the type: rich kids who pretend not to be by living in up-and-coming areas, dressing like hipsters, and so forth.

8. Petonk

Petonk is a game involving rolling metal balls to try to hit your neighbor's ball out of the center of the ring. On the weekends, you can find many Parisians, old and young, at the Petonk courts in the middle of the Luxembourg gardens. You can try to play yourself, but you'll need a Petonk set of your own and to make reservations ahead of time for most of the areas. A friend tells me that France is the best in the world at this game, which I can believe, considering that they invented it. He then added that the Japanese are gaining.

9. Nul

Nul is common lingo for "idiot." French kids can be hard on themselves and say this about themselves when they get the answer to something wrong ("Moi, je suis nulle!"). Definitely an insult, though not the strongest one you can imagine in French.

10. Cirer les pompes? (someone)

In Parisian local lingo, "Cirer les pompes?" refers to "sucking up." I've never been accused of this myself, at least not in French. You know – teacher's pets? This is what they do. I've also heard "Cirer les bottes de" (someone) as an alternative phrasing.
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