Sympa that is. Sympa is the most useful adjective in Paris. Initially, sympa is short for sympathique. Is sympa something that is nice. People, places, moments, activities can all be sympa. Being fantastically non-committing, ‘sympa‘ grew to become tremendously popular an adjective. Non only can most things be sympa, they usually are. In Paris, there is really only one answer to the question “C’était comment ?”
Using it extensively, Parisians managed to empty the word of its very substance: the way it is said gives it its actual meaning. To decipher what a Parisian really thinks of something or someone, it is key to be attentive to the tone of the ‘sympa‘ he will most likely come up with as an answer. Tone and facial expression. Only then will you know a bit more about what the Parisian really thinks.
If sympa became such a popular adjective in Paris, it is because it sends out messages the Parisian is happy to convey about himself. Being short for something, sympa is vaguely colloquial. Making the Parisian seem vaguely laid back when using it. On top of this, sympa is a fantastic buffer against any form of enthusiasm. Sympa is nice but it is still very far from excellent, génial, exceptionnel, formidable or fantastique. It is just sympa. By saying something or someone is sympa, the Parisian gives it a good point. But not too good of a point either.
Parisians could not invent a better word even if they looked for it. Sympa is about the object. It is not about the person who says it. The object exhales. The Parisian is weirdly passive in judging something or someone as sympa. He becomes a mere receptacle for the world he lives in. This posture of passive humility is yet another reason for the popularity of the term. I judge without judging. Whatever I say, it is not my fault. Parisians these days love this tepid feeling of social innocence. Flamboyance gone.
Making sympa such a close companion, Parisians mechanically diminished the strength of its original meaning. Thus making phrases like ‘hyper sympa’ or ‘super sympa’ major hits. Amongst younger Parisians, the word sympa is so prevailing that its use deprived of hyper, super, vraiment or carrément is suspicious.
If a young Parisian tells you that a place was sympa, he probably actually didn’t think much of it. With nothing but positive words, Parisian youth downgrades reality.
Paris lovers: rest assured: Parisianity shall never die…
Useful tip: There is no connection whatsoever between sympathique in French and sympathetic in English. Faux amis!
Sound like a Parisian: “C’était sympa, mais je suis rentrée tôt, j’étais crevée”