Paris Shop Signs: From the Ridiculous to the Sublimely Ridiculous, Part Eight
- Published on Sunday, 22 September 2013 00:00
- Written by David Jaggard
Illustration by Charles Giai-Gischia. Visit his blog, Traits-Drôles, for a larger version and more drawings.
Even though it’s right in the middle of the Right Bank, the Sentier is probably the least famous, least popular, least visited district in town. Ask a thousand people to name their favorite Paris neighborhood (seriously — go out and do this right now; I’ll wait), and you’ll be lucky to find even one who says, “Oooh! The Sentier!”
And then your luck will run out, because that one person will be me. The reason that this particular bolt of the urban fabric appeals so little to visitors and so much to Alexandres intelligents like yours véritablement is that it’s the Garment District, which makes it a dull place unless you happen to work in garments (I usually work naked), but also gives it a disproportionate concentration of ill-advised business names.
I’m not sure why, but it seems that companies in the rag trade succumb more easily to the temptation of picking an English — and therefore supposedly “international” — name. And a lot of them succumb even more easily to the apparently even greater temptation of picking an English name that doesn’t make whole yards and skeins of sense to someone who actually speaks English.
This, of course, is exactly what I like to find for this recurring feature (see part seven, which contains a link to part six, which contains links to all the previous parts). And why one recent Sunday found me roaming the actionless, visitorless, point-of-interest-less streets of the Sentier, with a gleam in my eye, a camera in my hand and hope in my heart.
Oh, and garments on my back. I make certain concessions when working outdoors.
At the risk of sounding like Donald Rumsfeld, the shop signs that I found fell into four categories:
1) Names that I know I understand,
2) Names that I know I don’t understand,
3) Names that I don’t know if I understand, and
4) Names that, like Donald Rumsfeld, I wish I had never seen in the first place.
Category 1 includes some trademark choices that are not exactly wrong, but just seem kind of odd. Consider these three examples:
“How many men’s labels do you own?” “Just The One.” “And what’s it called?”
“What are you going to call your women’s wear shop?” “I think it will be Be Fun.” “Be fun to call it what?”
“So you specialize in trousers?” “No — dog collars. My poodle’s name is Arthur.”
Speaking of puns that should be punishable by law, still in Category 1, we have this footwear label:
As Ed Sullivan would have said, “The shoe must go on.” [Note to readers who don’t happen to know enough French to follow this one: sometimes ignorance really is bliss. Trust me.]
And that’s not the sole example of this kind of ped-antics:
A word of advice for Parisian business owners: If you absolutely must indulge in wordplay based on the title of this particular sitcom, the first word in your phrase has to sex-act-ing rhyme with “sex.”
You could start a towing service called “Wrecks in the City,” a yacht dealership called “Decks in the City,” a walking tour agency called “Treks in the City,” a Franz Kafka fan club called “Czechs in the City,” a live poultry stand called “Pecks in the City,” a hair salon specializing in anti-dandruff treatments called “Flecks in the City” or a currency exchange bank for Russian and Urkainian tourists called “Kopeks in the City.”
Another word of advice for Parisian business owners: Don’t.
Now then, what’s next in the city? Oh, yeah:
Is it a necktie shop? Or is it just trying to sound leading-edgy?
Which brings us to Category 2: shops whose names leave you wondering what the hell they sell. Here’s another one:
My guess is that the owner’s name is Gregory. And that his siblings own stores called Kim Burly, Rich Herd and Low Rinse.
But ol’ Greg doesn’t give us any hint of what he sells in his bloody boutique, unlike this next place, which brings us to Category 3:
I see two possibilities: either it’s an apparel shop whose owner thinks that “coffee” is a good metaphor for fashion (keeps you warm, many people make it badly, its basic color is black, etc.) or it’s a purveyor of hot potable stimulants whose owner thinks that “fashion” is a good metaphor for coffee (produced by low-wage labor in Third World countries, gets people excited without providing actual nourishment, etc.).
Which doesn’t bring us to Category 4, but I’m going there anyway:
You want to know what this place sells? I don’t either, because that’s a terrible, horrible, just plain repellent name for any kind of retail operation. Or sewage treatment plant.
Thus repelled from the Sentier, we exit the world of the wearable and enter the purlieu of the purportedly edible with an interesting Parisian restaurant sign spotted by helpful reader Karen Greenbaum-Maya:
Limit one per customer. Photo by Karen Greenbaum-Maya
That’s a big meal. So big that anyone who dines there would have to subscribe to the philosophy upheld by this next eatery on Rue Blanche:
If they decide to specialize in organ meats, they can keep the same sign and just move “Eat” to the middle.
Apparently not enough people (heart) I (Heart) Eat, because it's out of business, I (brain) because its sign (eye) dumb: it doesn't (mouth) “Eat what?”
Here’s another restaurant, also spotted by Karen, whose signage at least gives some idea of what to expect on the menu:
I said “some,” not “a clear.”
And, in the case of this soon-to-open bistro at the entrance to Passage Prado, I sincerely hope that the name does not reflect the cuisine:
“Hey! Let's go get some chow!”
My theory: I think the name was chosen in an attempt to cash in on the current trend in Paris for American-style hamburgers and hot dogs. Then again, maybe they really are going to serve ground hound. On a pure-bread bun with cur-y mustard and a pinscher of salt.
I have a pointer for that café owner: you — and any of the businesses mentioned above — would have been better off adopting the name of this café on Rue Chaptal:
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Reader Christine Taylor writes: "The Rhubarb wasn't a restaurant but a bar, long defunct. I lived on the same street for years and never got an answer to my first reaction to the name: WTF! Love your articles,"
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