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Welcome - English Version

In this section, youll find plenty of details on the Musette of yesteryear...
The slang
Habits and customs
"Passez la monnaie" (lets have the money)
The guinguettes
The "Musette" abroad

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The slang

There were many ways of speaking, sometimes directly related to professional groups:

                . the verlan, still in use today

                . the javanais, which consists in adding ve between each syllable.

                . the largonji and its variation, the louchebem, spoken by the butchers in La Villette (a meat market in Paris), which consists of replacing the first letter of a word by an L and by adding that first letter to the end of the word, followed by em, i, oc and others...
Examples :

Boucher (butcher): louchebem
Boutique (shop): loutiquebem or loutiqueboc
Femme (woman): lamefé
Jargon (jargon): largonji or largonjem
Paris : Laripoc or sometimes Laripette, hence the name
Toto Laripette meaning Toto from Paris. 

                . the "langue verte" (the green language), rich with words, sometimes poetical but also rich with vivid expressions such as:

Accordéoniste (accordionist): boutonneux ("buttony")
Argent (money): osier (wicker), oseille (bread, dough)
Argot (slang): jarre (jar)
Bal (dance): guinche (dance)

Chapeau (hat): galurin, galur, bada, bitos, bloum, papeau
Costaud (sturdy): malabar (hulk)
Couteau (knife): lardoire (larding needle), surin (dagger)
Danser (to dance): faire le tour (go around), gambiller (to jig), guincher (to dance)
Doigts de pied (toes): nougats
Fesses (buttocks): valseur
Offense (offence): vanne (a jibe)
Parapluie (umbrella): cure-dent (tooth-pick)
Paris : Paname, Pantruche
Parler (to speak): jaspiner (to natter), jacter (to chatter), débagouler (to babble)
Policier (policeman): bourre (cop)
Prostituée (prostitute): marmite (cooking pot), morue (cod), pierreuse (scrubber)
Souteneur (pimp): maquereau (maquerel), julot
Tatouage (tattoo): bousillage (botching)
Vin (wine): picton
Voyou (lout): gouape (delinquent), escarpe (filcher), affranchi
Yeux (eyes): châsses (eyes)

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As a distinctive sign, the tattoo was important for the Apaches:

. a blue spot marked with Indian ink under the left eye
. 3 dots on the hands
. a heart, a dove, a bunch of flowers, etc.

At the end of the 19th century, tattooing had become so fashionable that some princes and even kings got themselves tattooed.

What ?

Casque d'or and the Apaches

« I have a bathroom on my chest with women in their bloomers, claims Leca... The womens flesh is pink and their bloomers are red, white and blue... Just behind my left shoulder I have a snake that goes under my arm, wraps itself around an artistic vase and ends up sucking my heart... Here, I have a scorpion and further down, a star (Leca was pointing to his right bicep). These are the symbols of the disciplinarians. On this arm (showing the left one), I have a priest who is creased up with laughter because in front of him, on the other arm, is a peasant who is being stung on the nose by a wasp... Elsewhere I have a musketeer, a swallow, a bracelet, a dice, an Andalusian... But my best tattoo is on my back... It is an oasis with a lioness, a lion, palm trees, a sphinx, pyramids, cacti and a large sun in a beautiful African sunset !... »

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Habits and customs

" Let's have the money ! " 

Until about 1930 / 1935, the tradition was to pay for each dance.
The music stopped, the token or coin collectors came and the music started again.
To prevent people from cheating, the dancers were sometimes encircled by a rope.
The lady paid most of the time!

Here is the evolution of prices:

                . 1890 : two to four sous (a "sou" = five centimes)
                . Then, five "sous" (twenty five centimes)
                . Lastly : fifty centimes

The token collectors shouted “Allez, roulez !!!" (Come on, roll it !!!) when they had finished.
This was the signal to start the music again.

What ?

Marcel MONTARRON     P343
Détective, 10th &17th June 1937

« In most of the Musettes in Paris money is no longer demanded »
« It is a major revolution which happened without any fuss ».


In 1937, men still used to whistle to attract women from a distance, so as not to look stupid should their invitation be turned down !!!

A woman who turned down a dancer
s invitation could not - without some risk - accept another invitation for the same dance. Read the following...

What ?

Léon AGEL     P357
Titi from the Red Children, 1993

Around 1926-1927 :

« she could easily get slapped and a fight between the guys would inevitably break out. When this happened, not a word was said. The one who felt offended stood up with a drink in his hand and came to clink his glass with his opponents. This meant: Lets go outside to sort this out. The bar keeper made sure that no fights took place on his premises. Outside, he didnt care. ».


The crooks used to hide their small material by the till or under the musicians buttocks...

What ?

In the 30's :

« Several times during the evening, and whilst playing, I had to stand up to allow some nicely-dressed gentlemen to deposit their artillery or their cumbersome objects in the box of the seat, under my buttocks. »



Dancing makes you thirsty...

One drinks red wine, beer, lemonade.
Cherries in brandy go down well too.
There is also
Vittel cassis (blackcurrant with Vittel mineral water) which is fashionable with some crooks.
Then comes the time of

What ?
Claude BLANCHARD     P209
The Parisian of Paris, 1946

« Diabolo is essentially a Parisian drink. In the "Musette" dance-halls, the small cafes and bars, it is popular to drop a cloud of redcurrant syrup into the lemonade. This cooling drink is unknown in wealthy districts, so much so that, based on this drink, one could draw a line to divide Paris and define exactly the working class area. »


For a long time, the crampedness of the establishments, the tobacco smoke, the bad ventilation and the heat given off by the dancers resulted in a powerful and intense smell in the "musette" dance-halls.
In short, you got a nose-full!

What ?

René GIRARDET     P 277
Detective, 24th August 1933

« As soon as you come in, a three-fold stench of stirred dust, smoke and cheap perfume seizes you by the throat. A particular smell of sweaty human flesh hangs in the air... »

Then comes the time of the dance-halls...

What ?

About the Balajo :

« Mahé's setting, that was quite something, really atmospheric... Vents resembling large chimneys sucked in the smoke whereas cool or warm air was pushed out from beneath the seats.... Thick smoke was terrible in musette dance-halls... but with this system it didnt smell too bad, it just covered the smells... »  


At the beginning of the century, the "band" is sometimes made up of only one musician. Due to the lack of space, he often has to stand on a platform, or balcony, sometimes quite high up !

It can happen that the ladder - providing access to the stand - is removed in order to prevent the musician(s) from being behind the bar more often than behind his (their) instrument(s).
However, to be fair, a bottle (of wine) was left on their pedestal.

Sometimes the dance floor is separated from the rest of the dance-hall by a barrier or a swinging door...


For a long time the "bal musette" (musette dance-hall) was badly lit but thanks to the coming of electricity, multicoloured lights and mirror balls it got the name dancing-musette.

But people found the word dancing-musette too long to pronounce.
To call them
dancings however could be confused with the traditional dance establishments.
Therefore the term
bal-musette (musette dance-hall) returns.

Explanatory note : a lot of french terms such as dancing" or bal have no direct equivalent in English.
Below is a list of descriptive definitions...

.bal : this is a place to dance, indoors or outdoors, where music is played. It can be a bar, cafe, dance-hall or room, square or a park cafe with tables and a dancing area outside. Note that the English term ball refers to a (mostly formal) dance event, but not a place to dance”.
bal-musette : is a bal with musette dances and music.
. dancing : is a purpose-built hall or room with a dance floor (todays equivalent is a disco). Note that in France, there are still some dancings in existence which tend to play a mixture of music and attract older people on the whole.
. danse : this noun refers to moving to music. In English however, the word "dance" also refers to a dancing event
... eg. going to the village dance”.
. "guinguette": cafe with music and dancing, often in the open and typically Parisian.

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Its interesting to note that espadrilles (rope-soled sandals) will continue to be fashionable for a long time...and that high society takes pleasure in mixing with the lower classes...
Never forget the scarf around your neck, the cap or felt hat and the cigarette stub - lit or not - which must be hanging from the corner of your mouth.
Want to know more?
Go to the section
They said this one day”...

Where did you get that hat ?
What ?

André WARNOD     P143  
Son of Montmartre, Memories,1955

Around 1920 :

« High society and the bourgeoisie are very keen on dressing up as louts and tarts. »

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Regularly mentioned in the media, the interest in guinguettes never really disappeared.

The origin of the word guinguette is not really known:

. The verb guiguer (jump) refers to the jig, therefore to dancing
. The word
guinguet (narrow) could be referring to a little house
. The
guinguet (vinegarish wine, cheap and made in Ile-de-France, Paris) is supposed to have given its name to the place where it was drunk.

As far as the definition is concerned: the guinguette refers either to the food or to dancing.

During the 18th century, guinguettes develop in villages close to Paris on the other side of the barriers.
The success of these establishments increases during the 19th century in Belleville, Montrouge and Bercy.

Then on the eve of the 1870 war, their success begins to decline.

At the same time, in the first half of the 19th century, the banks of the Seine and the Marne attract boaters.
Guinguettes can also be found there...

What ?
A tour of the Marne, 1865

« Since the restaurant owner Jullien (from Bercy) installed his main establishment, this island became the meeting point of boaters. He has created beautiful lounges, comfortable cabins and built a huge tent under which numerous customers enjoy dancing every Sunday in a nautical-country atmosphere. This is where the cream of the boaters meet after each regatta organised on the Marne either by the nautical sporting group or by the regatta association. »

This is where the guinguettes thrive at the beginning of the 20th century...

From 1920 to 1940, the guinguettes in the west of Paris disappear.
However, the ones along the Marne river attract the crowds.
Their success is even greater after 1945.
As times changed, the guinguettes later went into decline and became ordinary
dancings (places to dance) or restaurants.
But in recent years there has been a revival...

Customers have always wanted to drink, eat, have fun and dance.

. white wine, anisette, matelote, fried food, bœuf gros sel (boiled beef...)
. boating, swings, fishing tackle, bicycle races, tests of strength, ball games, skittles, archery, card games, dominoes...
. waltz, polka, mazurka, scottish then musette waltz, tango, swing musette... 

Here are a few famous names :

. Maison Coulomb
. Restaurant Jullien
. Maison Convert
. Chez Gégène
. le Moulin de Bonneuil
. l'Ermitage
. le Robinson
. la Roseraie

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The Musette abroad

Today, the Musette has a much better reputation abroad than in France.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Musette could already be found in other corners of the world, adapted for local consumption such as in Berlin, Barcelona and Cairo (!) or it was a straight copy as in New York...

What ?

Etienne HERVIER     P276
Detective,13th October 1933 

Titre : Underworld of the seas
The Rue de Lappe in... New York !

« Under the strong light from the wrought iron street light, a policeman dressed in his Parisian uniform paced the pavement and rushed to the doors of the arriving cars. He wore a long beard... He was famous in New York because he was the living replica of the famous policeman at the Saint-Denis gate. Narrow stairs with ox blood dripping down the walls lead underground. We went down. The noise of a band playing came closer. A band from home with the accordion letting out its sad tune from the suburbs covered with mud and smoke, and the jazo-flute warbling its worrying song of crooks. A Musette... It was a real musette, similar to the ones around Les Halles (market). Nothing was missing, neither the musicians with their pimp-like faces "à la Carco" nor the girls in pleated skirts and red aprons. Small lights, set between silk petals, decorated the ceiling. As we entered the room, a large girl went by shouting Go on, hurry up! Lets have the money with that undefined accent of the Parisian suburbs where you find all the melancholy of long evenings fading behind the factory chimneys, all the weariness of the men who have trailed behind their whole life and all the gloomy despair of the drunkards lost in the night. I was breathing a bit of the air from Paris: maybe it wasnt very good air but it was nevertheless the air from Paris. »

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