Letter from . . . May 1994
The barbarian within
On the French government’s attempts to stamp out “Franglais.”
As one approaches Paris by train from the south, and probably from any other direction, even the most cursory glance out the window will inevitably fall upon the seemingly endless stream of “tags”—i.e., names and nicknames in colorful, stylized graffiti— adorning the retaining walls that line the railway’s path through the gloomy banlieues and into the city of lights. The broad cultural range of the names themselves—which during my passage included OTELO 93, MALIK, and ALI as well as the somewhat more Gallic FILOU and DéDé DREAMER—bears eloquent witness to a changing social landscape. Yet perhaps the most striking thing about this graffiti is its unmistakably American character, both in its content (i.e., names) and in the style of its swirling, sometimes illegible lettering. This...
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