Friday, September 29, 2006

Learning English

Just when I thought I was making progress in French I discovered that there’s plenty of English left to learn. My American friend who lives in London introduced me to the word “chav” – an acronym for “council housing active vermin” or “council housing adolescent vermin”. Defined by wikipedia as:

. . . a slang term in wide use throughout the United Kingdom since 2004. It refers to a subcultural stereotype of people fixated on fashions such as flashy "bling" jewelery (generally fake gold), and genuine (rarely seen on chavs) or knock-off (more likely to be seen) designer clothing with the beige Burberry pattern (most famously the baseball cap which has since been discontinued by the company), and such brands as lonsdale, Berghaus, Burberry, Von Dutch, Louis Vuitton, Adidas, Nike, Lacoste and most well known Sergio Tacchini. . . .

Whatever the definition, my friend warned me that it’s a derogatory term and cautioned me against using it. That’s like telling a schizophrenic not to hear voices. However, before I was able to incorporate it into my vocabulary it dawned on me while walking home from Cacharel with what I thought was a nice purchase that I might be a bit of a chav myself.

Was Cacharel the French Burberry?

I consulted my beautiful and stylish French girlfriend Isabelle Francois (an obvious authority) for her opinion on the matter. Having experienced a perilous period in the late 80s and early 90s, Cacharel had since rebounded and saved itself. Pierre Cardin, she continued, had not been as fortunate. After a licensing rampage, his name was slapped on mass produced purses, belts, luggage, pens, watches, etc., eventually losing any air of exclusivity. (I was relieved to receive Isabelle’s opinion because the Cacharel item I had purchased was for my friend’s baby. It would be very cruel to mark an innocent child with a plaid “C” so early in life.)

Although Cacharel was in the clear, I wasn’t so sure about me. I distinctly remember purchasing Cacharel (and Givenchy) leather goods from Mervyn’s in Fullerton during the time frame in question - this sentence alone says it all. I was definitely a chav, the word just hadn’t been created yet. I was ahead of my time in at least one respect. But what about now? I consulted an expert who diagnosed me as follows:
Wannabe chav
You are 15 % chav
You clearly know you are not, nor will you ever be anything even closely resembling a bonafide chav but that doesn't stop you from jumping on the bling bandwagon every now and then. There's nothing wrong with a bit of pretending though you'll never be able to hold your own with the true Burberry brigade.

The Wall Street Journal recently covered this issue in the context of brand association and marketing. Here's an excerpt:

"No Kick From ‘Chavpagne’"

Young, Loutish British 'Chavs' Have a Taste for Champagne
An Image Problem for Makers?

By Jenny Clevstrom and Christina Passariello, The Wall Street Journal, 1219 words
Aug 18, 2006
Given their rowdy and generally unsavory reputation, being associated with chavs has posed problems for some high-end brands. When chavs adopted fashion house Burberry's signature beige, black and red tartan as their uniform a few years ago, U.K. sales of the brand dropped, and Britain became Burberry's weakest market by January 2005. Burberry PLC, which markets to young consumers in general, acknowledged that traditional customers were put off when chavs sported the brand. "It has not been helpful," finance director Stacey Cartwright told the press in January 2005. . . .

Full article available on WSJ's website

The article went on to discuss Prada and how the designer no longer distributes a certain style of black sneakers in England because of chavs' love for the shoe. Cristal was also mentioned in this article and it's association with chavs and hip-hop artists.

Fortunately, I’m no longer the label conscious girl from the late-80s. I learned after high school that all a pair of Chemin de Fers can do is get you a date for Sadie Hawkins and a ride in a Camaro. Not so important in 2006.

P.S. While we're on the subject of learning, I recently discovered:

(a) If you simply ask a butcher for "filet mignon" in Paris, he will give you pork by default, not beef. He explained that it may vary by region. I confirmed this with my Parisienne French teacher. Are they messing with me? I know it's a cut, but I thought it was beef. I'm going to have to check with my mother-in-law.
(b) Another American friend living in London informed me that the beer Stella Artois is often referred to as a "wife beater" due to its high alcohol content. Not politically correct, but funny nonetheless.


Anonymous said...

Say it isn't so with Cacherel!! I bought the best shirt in Avignon at a Cacherel boutique back in 2001 or was it 2002? Anyway...I still have it and wear it on occassion. It does not have a Burberry pattern so I think I am ok. I also drink Scharffenberger Sparkling Wine...which i doubt any Chav or wannabe Chav would want...and I have found over the years that Prada clothing is not as well made as Armani and does not look good on short pudgy guys like me (it's the filipino diet). Oh well...part of learning. Since we are on the subject of learning..Like you, I learned after high school that a pink Izod shirt with collar up, Gloria Vanderbilt jeans with Sperry Topsiders (no socks, aviator sunglasses - (I'm early 80's!) are back again in 2006! Check out the latest fashion magazines and People and US! YIKES!

Katy said...

Hey Amy, Gil sent Ed and I today's blog, as Ed has been trying to educate Gil on 'chavness'.

You may wish to Google Michael Carroll. - He is the king of all chavs, (along with his beautiful Queen Chavette) particularly since winning 9 million pounds in the National Lottery!

For celebrity chavs, check out Jordan and Peter Andre.

Riana said...

Yes, if you order filet mignon you get POrK... the first time, I thought that I said it wrong when the butcher went for the pork neck looking thing. What you want is ChateauBriand...
here is a good site

One day, I bought buffalo by mistake because I choose the butcher at the market with the shortest line!

Paula Lawhon said...

I guess this means I can't buy that big Coach bag I've been eyeing. Hopefully, the new Bloomingdales (I would have said "Bloomies" but didn't want to be a chav about it!) across the street will offer some more interesting selections that not everyone in SF already has! But really, this is one reason I've never followed the fashions - who can keep up???!!!

David said...

What am I, since I only wear t-shirts that I get from running 5K's, etc.? Even the Chav's probably don't want anything to do with me. Oh, well, better just shut up and drink my 40 ouncer of King Cobra -- Oakland's answer to wife beater beer!

Loulou said...

I too have learned "english" since arriving in France. I now know the proper terms for; pants, eggplant, zucchini, tennis shoes, tank top, sweater, cilantro, etc. And I now know NEVER to say fanny.
Two countries divided by a common language!

Mary said...

I hate to inform you, but the label conscious girl of the 80's is alive and well in Texas. Your label hungry spirit now inhabits the body of your 12 year old niece, Erin. She is trying to decide if she wants a colored ipod nano or a pair of coach shoes as her big Christmas gift. I explained to her that shoes go out of style and her feet are still growing and she could have 5 pair of converse for the same price. She was not swayed. On the other hand, Meagan is the complete opposite. Erin proudly showed Meagan the Juicy purse I had purchased for her...Meagan took one look at the purse, then her sister and said, "Eew, you're one of those girls!" Meagan currently owns five pair of converse.

Gumbo Girl said...

Wife beater! I never heard that about Stella. I'll have to tell my Belgian husband, although he might interpret it as blasphemy.