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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”,
Boucher (butcher): louchebem
Boutique (shop): loutiquebem or
Femme (woman): lamefé
Jargon (jargon): largonji or
Paris : Laripoc or sometimes Laripette, hence the name “Toto
meaning Toto from Paris.
. the "langue verte" (the green language), rich with words, sometimes
poetical but also rich with vivid expressions
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
Policier (policeman): bourre (cop)
marmite (cooking pot), morue (cod), pierreuse (scrubber)
Souteneur (pimp): maquereau (maquerel),
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
DRACHLINE & Claude PETIT-CASTELLI
Casque d'or and the Apaches
have a bathroom on my chest with women in their bloomers, claims Leca...
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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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.
Détective, 10th &17th June 1937
most of the Musettes in Paris money is no longer demanded »
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...
Léon AGEL P357
Titi from the Red Children, 1993
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 opponent’s.
This meant: “Let’s
go outside to sort this out”.
The bar keeper made sure that no fights took place on his premises.
Outside, he didn’t
The crooks used to hide their “small
by the till or under the musician’s
the 30's :
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,
Cherries in brandy go down well too.
There is also “Vittel
(blackcurrant with Vittel mineral water) which is fashionable with some
Then comes the time of “diabolo”...
The Parisian of Paris, 1946
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!
Detective, 24th August 1933
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
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 didn’t
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)
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
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
Therefore the term “bal-musette”
(musette dance-hall) returns.
: a lot of french terms such as “dancing" or “bal”
have no direct equivalent in English.
Below is a list of descriptive
: 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
: is a ‘bal’
with musette dances and music.
: is a purpose-built hall or room with a dance floor (today’s
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.
: this noun refers to “moving
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.
It’s 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
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
said this one day”...
Son of Montmartre, Memories,1955
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
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
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
Guinguettes can also be found there...
|| Emile DE LA BEDOLLIERE
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
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
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
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
Here are a few famous names :
. Maison Coulomb
. Restaurant Jullien
. Maison Convert
. Chez Gégène
. le Moulin de Bonneuil
. le Robinson
. la Roseraie
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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...
Detective,13th October 1933
Underworld of the seas
The “Rue de Lappe“ in... New
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! Let’s 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 wasn’t
very good air but it was nevertheless the air from Paris. »