It was Samuel Johnson who said, in an essay on future U.S. presidents: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” If he were alive today, he would probably say, “Uhdv fnn glsh szzz frrs fffffj oooh mrrst.” Because, hey, the guy would be like 250 years old. But what he would be trying to say is, “Inadvertently funny English shop signs are the first refuge of the humorist.”
Dr. Johnson would say this because, as a C’est Ironique reader, he would know that this is the 20th installment of this recurring feature (as observant readers like James Boswell have already noticed, I called the last one part 18, but I had forgotten to count this one). And Paris still hasn’t run out of ridiculous, ill-advised, inappropriate or just plain weird English shop signs.
This is not one of them:
“But” is also a word in French (meaning “goal”), so this homeware outlet is not, in fact, attempting to cash in on the perceived cosmopolitan trendiness of English trade names. But I’m sticking it in here because I like to imagine the receptionist, if the name were English, answering a wrong number:
“Good morning! But!”
“Is something wrong?”
“Huh? I might have the wrong number. What do you sell?”
“Everything but — what?”
“That’s right! We’ve got the biggest But in France and we’d like to show it to you inside out!”
“Uh, not today. Bye!”
“Well, any time! My But is your But!”
There’s a lesson to be learned here: when you call a French business, you need to:
The name of this spa space at Charles de Gaulle Airport illustrates a common phenomenon in France: the desire to use English far outweighs the desire to actually learn English. So we end up with idiotic, syntax-defying business names like “Drive My Clothes,” “United We Art,” “Tee and Sweet” and “Come & Wok,” all of which appeared in part 11 of this series.
Speaking of people making a constant effort to come up with short, off-putting phrases, it was Ernest Hemingway who said, “Paris is a moveable feast.”
Like so many other famous supposed quotations (“Gild the lily,” “Let them eat cake,” “Play it again, Sam,” “The winner is Donald Trump”), this is a misconception. As a joke, Hemingway used to pronounce some English words with an affected French accent, and he was actually calling Paris “a moveable fist.”
But the city is, coincidentally, known for its excellent restaurants. Few diners, after sampling fine Parisian cuisine, come away unhappy. Except of course at this place:
And this place:
So it’s best to choose your restaurant with care. If you want to experience truly great French cuisine, you should go to:
It was James Joyce who said, “Oh yeah? What makes their salad so great?” Well, Mr. Joyce, I hope you’re reading this, because the answer to your question can be found in this closeup of that menu down there in the corner:
Five choices, all with English names, and only one that anyone would find even remotely appetizing.
“I’ll have the Cat with a littering of croutons, my sister will have the Iron with low starch and my stepfather here wants the Electra.”
But there’s more to life than food. It was Confucius who first called Paris the “City of Love,” and indeed it has been the setting of millions of real-life fairytale romances.
It could happen to you! It might begin with just a:
Which might lead to a:
If everything works out like in Blue Lagoon (or Moonrise Kingdom), you’ll end up in a:
And then, if everything works out like in When Harry Met Sally, there’ll be a mariage (wedding) in the works. Maybe even a:
Or, if Fifty Shades of Grey is more your thing, an:
But if you want to live happily ever after, you’d better hope that it’s not a:
It was Johannes Brahms who said, “Hey! How come you’re always making fun of English signs in France? You think there’s no such thing as a dumb French sign in the United States?”
So, in conclusion, the interest of fairness, and response to the great composer’s question:
This is a fancy eveningwear store in North Carolina. With a name that isn’t as fancy as they evidently think.
The French word for “chic,” of course, is “chic.” There is a French word chique, but it means “chew, or something chewed,” as in a plug of tobacco.
Still, it might be a success. Then maybe they’ll open a branch in Paris. They could call it “Spit and Ball.”
Have you seen a ridiculous sign in Paris, anywhere in France, or for that matter anywhere in the solar system? Please take a photo and send it to me in care of firstname.lastname@example.org.
The next new C’est Ironique will appear on April 5.
An album of David Jaggard’s comic compositions is now available for streaming on Spotify and Apple Music, for purchase (whole or track by track) on iTunes and Amazon, and on every other music downloading service in the known universe, under the title “Totally Unrelated.”
Note to readers: David Jaggard’s e-book Quorum of One: Satire 1998-2011 is available from Amazon as well as iTunes, iBookstore, Nook, Reader Store, Kobo, Copia and many other distributors.