Sailing in a sea of languages

Photo credit: Convservation Bytes

Photo credit: Conservation Bytes

At UNESCO, the official two business languages are French and English. It is common to hear people switch from one to the other in meetings, conversations and even in emails. French is a beautiful language, however Parisian French is a dialect that takes on its own unique form. In some cultures that speak French, they take extensive measures to preserve the language. However, in Paris, the culture seems to accept some English and evolve the language as they sit fit for marketing, advertising, slang and everyday use. To jump on that band wagon, I have even created my own slang, which is a melange (mix) of English slang expressions translated into French. First, here are some interesting examples of how French has evolved through slang. Mixing in English: It is common to see advertisements and people incorporate words like go, stop and good into their French.

From a French music blog called,

French music blog called, “On y go.”

  • On y go: The correct way to say, “let’s go” is on y va (let’s go there). But, most Parisians say, “on y go” to express the same meaning.

Verlan: Verlan is a form of French slang that plays around with syllables, kind of along the same lines as Pig Latin in English. For a French learner this can be really confusing, because they take the word you know and mix around the letters, so you basically have to learn and practice if you want to sound and understand.

From a YouTube video.

From a YouTube video.

  • Ouf: The French translation meaning crazy/awesome in verlan, but the backwards of fou (crazy).
  • Mec: Although the word for man or boyfriend is “homme” or “petit ami/copain” mec refers to boyfriends as well as guys in general.
  • Looc: This means, cool, which is used in French and in English but spelled backwards in verlan.

My own concoctions: In trying to re-learn French, add Parisian slang and stay true to my silly self, I’ve created a couple sayings that I hope will soon be incorporated into everyday use.

  • RLT (raccrocher le téléphone): Raccrocher le téléphone literally means, “hang up the phone” in French. However, I use the acronym of it to mean, “whoa/that’s crazy or I don’t believe you!

Example: “I was walking down the street and I saw a pig flying in sky!” Response: “Vraiment?! RLT!” Translation: “Really? That’s crazy, I don’t believe you.”

  • Puis je vie? (can I live?): The saying in English became popularized recently (and even used by President Obama) to mean, “chill out” or “let me do my thing and leave me be.” I like to use it when a really complicated situation takes place and I have no solution or no moral to the story.

Example: “I had a deadline for this report due, but before I could send it I had to get it approved by three different people for no apparent reason, which made me really frustrated. Puis je vie?” I hope you enjoyed this small urban dictionary guide and hopefully I will add to it soon.

Gently shaking the world…from Paris with love

Gender Equality, Paris, UNESCO
Celebrating Renaissance culture at UNESCO

Celebrating Renaissance culture at UNESCO

« Quand à Rome, fais comme les Romains » When in Rome, do as the Romans. It has been a month since I have arrived in France and started working at UNESCO. Oh, how time flies. My first couple weeks have been very exciting. The UNESCO building reminds me of a museum, art adorns almost all of the spaces. The “C” in UNESCO stands for culture, and almost every day there is an event celebrating a country or holiday. UNESCO is an international organization, so there are many different work styles that create the office culture. The overall sentiment is that your division sets the work pace and you have to accommodate other divisions because their pace might be different. This requires patience. Time appears to be of the essence, depending on the culture, and this has been a wonderful learning experience for me; I have realized that there is no single correct way to get something done. In order to be culturally sensitive, I usually tell colleagues that I have a North American work ethic and then allow them to respond or act however they choose. Some laugh, and so far I have been commended for my work, which has been rewarding thus far.

American conception of time (photo: Business Insider)

So, what have I been up to lately? Since the Gender Equality (GE) division is a global priority, my work covers all the various sectors at UNESCO. Because of this, I have been fortunate to work on many different initiatives from evaluating university gender studies programs, to consolidating field office reports and creating summaries for the next general executive meeting and attending intellectually stimulating conferences on behalf of GE. In addition, I have had the privilege to write a few articles for UNESCO’s website. My first piece was about a conference I attended that focused on women in business in the UAE and France, and the speakers offered some great opinions that shattered many of my preconceived notions of what business must be like for a woman in France or the Middle East. I also wrote two other pieces which you can read here and here.

“Youth and the Internet” Conference at HQ

Besides that, Paris is heating up and air conditioning is scarce, so I’ve been staying up late and practicing my French wherever I can. Even though French is technically my second language, I speak Spanish as well so it’s been an interesting experience trying to pronounce words and having people look a bit confused at first. However, my confidence is growing as well as my vocabulary. Until next time, I will continue to gently shake the world….from Paris with love.