Before I go on, I should mention that France just had a presidential election. So I did. Now then, about those shop signs… Oh wait – before I go on again, I’d like to thank the French voters (or rather the two-thirds of them who cast ballots for Emmanuel Macron) for acting sensibly and responsibly, which for many involved stifling their misgivings, and for some their gag reflex.
Whoever is elected president of France is never the majority’s first choice (as explained here by someone who should know what he’s talking about) (but probably doesn’t), and I heard that many people whose preferred candidate lost in the first round were tempted to vote this time for the losing extreme right party to “see what happens.” This would have been like the Americans who voted last November for a guy who promised to “drain the swamp” in Washington, which turned out to mean “drain the swamp and fill it with toxic sludge.”
In one sense, though, Americans are lucky. As a result of their election, whenever people in the United States want to feel as though their lives have been cruelly transformed into a bad parody of a dystopian science fiction disaster movie, all they have to do is wake up in the morning. To get that sensation here in France we have to go out and look at shop signs.
Risibly ill-advised English shop signs, that is. Using English words in French business names has been a powerful trend for many years. So powerful, in fact, that it has given me more than 20 articles on the topic. (Each one links to the previous one, like this, so that readers can retrace, like an FBI agent investigating Russian collusion in the U.S. election, the chain of lies – oops, I mean links – until it ultimately leads back to Number One.)
Of course, not being native mother-tongue Anglophones, French retailers and restaurateurs sometimes come up with trade names that miss the mark. Or, as we say in France, Mademoiselle Lamarck. The perceived purpose of using English is to give customers the impression that they are patronizing a cool, trendy, internationally minded business. But some of the names are so bizarre, cryptic and/or ungrammatical, they give customers the impression that they are journalists at a White House press briefing.
Perhaps we should call it “Alternative English.” Like, for example:
Hey, everybody makes mistake! Especially in the use of the plural:
A communication agency, no less. They could also have called it “We Are Not Linguist.”
Or, to learn the proper, although still weird, use of that phraseology, they could have taken a lesson from their fellow Parisians at:
Actually, the statement here is arguably true. Since the human body is 70 percent water, if you put one in a really big blender and left it on “purée” long enough, you would indeed end up with something about the same consistency as tomato juice. And color.
So there’s more logic at that juice bar than at this burger joint:
The oxymoron eatery! They also serve cold hot dogs, blackened whitefish and chunky smoothies in plastic glasses.
All of these places give me real admiration for the plain, simple logic of:
A wine shop called “Bottles.” A safe, sensible choice of name. Also boring and unappealing, but still safe and sensible. Just like:
That is, if it were a skating rink or vodka bar. But since “Ice Club” is a fabric shop in the Sentier, Paris’s garment district, we’re back in the realm of free association.
The neighborhood is full of shops that sell textiles, fashions and accessories. So many that it would make sense to call it “Clothesville.” Or less sense to call it:
Of course, the placement of the apostrophe here implies that the area belongs to one bag. Which one, we don’t know, but maybe the same one that owns:
The boutiques of the Sentier have supplied me with lots of lamentable English signage over the years. When I find a new one, it can really:
Except that this one is actually in Montmartre. And its name actually makes sense (kind of) because the letter “D” is pronounced “day” in French. It’s next door to a hair salon called “Dirty Hair I.”
Cute pun, huh? But not as cute as the name of this real-life hair salon:
Which in turn is not as cute as:
In addition to cashing in on the craze for Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches, this Elvis-themed eatery also serves blue suede stews and fruit with suspicious rinds, all cooked up and returned to blender.
It’s an Asian-American-European fusion concept. Just like:
Except that the pun here (are we supposed to think of “globetrotters”?) isn’t cute at all. Or, when you get right down to it, a pun.
In closing, I have a word of advice for Parisian entrepreneurs: get an English dictionary. Looking up proper usage and spelling isn’t like peeking at a blackjack dealer’s hole card, or like my first French girlfriend’s concept of fidelity.
In other words:
Have you seen a ridiculous sign in Paris, anywhere in France, or for that matter anywhere in the realm of human consciousness? Please take a photo and send it to me in care of firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.