“Une Nana” learns slang!

The French language is different than what we are taught in schools, a fact I have become increasingly aware of.  The French language is not only spoken very quickly but, in familiar conversation, will often be shortened as well.  For example, the other day I asked my host mother a question at dinner to which she responded “sais pas”.  My ear, often not picking up on little phrases like that, perked up and I responded “sais pas? comme je ne sais pas?” to which she shook her head yes.  Basically, she had shortened the phrase from “I don’t know” to simply “don’t know”.  I equate this to in English when a friend asks me a question and I will simply respond “dunno” (a probably totally incorrect spelling of that word) instead of saying “I don’t know”.  This cutting of the language into shorter, more familiar, responses is something that has taken my ear a while to catch onto.  Again, for example, I was in class the other day when I asked me teacher a question and her response was “comme d’hab”. I thought, “comme dab? Comme d’hab?” what the heck is she saying.   It took me a second but I soon realized that what she was trying to say was “comme d’habitude” or, in english, “per usual, like always” something like that.  This shortening of the language, or slang (“argot” in french), is something that can be really hard for a person who has only ever learned formal, grammatically correct French. 

One of my favorite parts of the my time here in Tours has been learning and discovering these familiar words that are spoken amongst friends.  I discovered my favorite of these words the other day after being invited to go to a music festival with my host mother and two of her friends.  On the car ride home she was discussing with her friends a man she had run into at the concert who was in their salsa dancing group.  In the midst of this conversation she kept saying over and over again the word nana.  At one point she turned to me, waiting for me to respond to her when all I knew to ask was “je suis desolée, mais, qui est nana?” (“I’m sorry but who is nana”).  Suddenly, all of her friends started to giggle a little bit to which she responded that a nana is another word for fille (girl).  This word, for no reason other than that I loved the way it sounded, has become one of my favorite words in the French language.  Later in that week at La Guinguette (an open air cafe on the Loire river that is a favorite of every person in Tours) I was having a conversation with my friends about all of these different slang words.  I mentioned to them the word nana to which my friend Bilal, who has been here for six months already, started discussing other familiar terms for girls and boys.  He commented that a mec was another term for a garçon (a boy) and that a meuf was yet another term for a girl.  Curious, we started discussing the differences between a meuf and a nana.  Deciding that a meuf was potentially a more vulgar word for a girl I decided to take the issue up with my host mother and her group of friends.  As we were in the car driving, I asked her what the word meant to which all of her friends giggled a little and said it was a not good word for a female.  My host mother at dinner later on made sure to tell me to not say that word in my classrooms so my professors wouldn’t assume she taught me it.  The difference between how this slang word is portrayed generationally shows a gap in how this word, and others I am sure, are understood and utilized.

Since these interactions, I have come across many different slang words and expressions.  I’ve listed a few of them that I like the most below!

  • Conduire dans des nids de poule: Directly translating to ‘driving in the hen’s nest’ this is used to describe a road with many potholes
  • C’est Coton!: Another way to say c’est difficile (“its difficult!”).  Of course was heard after taking a test to which my teacher saw all of our faces and goes “c’est coton! oui? Bienvenue à niveau B2.2!” (it’s difficult, yes? welcome to level B2.2!)
  • Être Pistonné: The familiar way to comment that you were able to get a job because of knowing a friend in the enterprise.  The equivalent to the english phrase, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know!”
  • Neckel: Other than the word nana this is my other favorite.  After randomly deciding to spend a weekend in Bordeaux.  We woke up super early to catch our train and by the time we got into Bordeaux (where it was significantly warmer than in Tours) we were DYING for a coffee.  Finding a place on a small side street that looked like a hip coffee shop you would find in the U.S., we decided to go in.  Knowing nothing about Bordeaux we started asking the barista where we would go and what there was to do in the city.  After chatting for a bit he asked where we were from and when we told him Tours he responded “ah Neckel!”.  Looking over to my friend to see if she understood I noticed that she was also looking at me seeing if I could translate.  We asked the guy and he said it meant “very cool”.   This has been my new way of saying that something is cool since I learned it.

(a little slice of Bordeaux)

À Bientôt