Indiana Daily Student

Column: Bobos, a.k.a. the French hipsters

One of the more entertaining stereotypes I have heard about the French is how, to Americans, most French people seem hipster.

Of course, I wasn’t too surprised when I found out the French have their own way to classify the term “hipster.”

They call hipsters “bobo,” short for “bourgeois bohemian.”

Bourgeois describes the socioeconomic status of the label, while bohemian describes their free-minded, left-winged attitude.

I’ve never been 100-percent sure exactly how one is or isn’t identified as a hipster, but there seems to be some basic characteristics most people agree on that fit the label.

In America, the contemporary subculture that enjoys things ironically, chooses to listen to alternative or non-mainstream music and dresses in vintage or thrift-bought clothes is typically, at surface level, labeled as hipster.

Though, the key characteristic most people seem to agree on is the fact that hipsters will never actually willingly identify with the label.

The first time I heard the term “bobo” was in my language and culture class. Oddly enough, it was actually a full topic of conversation in class that day.

French singer Renaud has a whole song solely describing this subculture of people.
The song describes habits like living uptown or in a loft, having well-behaved kids who attend private school, and liking Japanese and Korean cinema.

In the music video, a variety of people are represented in regard to gender, race and age. This made it clear the label defined a lifestyle and taste rather than a specific aesthetic.

Meanwhile, in the United States, it usually only takes a pair of black square-framed glasses before you are pinned as a hipster. Of course, the pretentious and aloof attitude helps the label stick.

Bobos in French culture appear to identify with an upper-class standing but adopt different political standings from their families.

According to an article in the French cultural magazine Les Inrockuptibles, bobos have the cultural resources and education of the bourgeois but seek to distinguish themselves from the traditional, mainstream bourgeois.

This description in some ways seems to ring true with the label in the United States as well.

I have heard multiple people criticize those who shop at stores such as Urban Outfitters, seeking that vintage look while paying for the brand name quality and establishing a look that is perhaps considered “alternative” while still maintaining a certain quality standard.

So, how exactly do you spot a bobo?

Well, if you are looking for individuals with thick-framed glasses who read and dress “alternatively,” you’ll fail miserably. Mostly everyone in France tends to carry a magazine, newspaper or book. European fashion, in general, might be classified as “hipster” by American standards.

A few times, when I have been dining at smaller, less-commercialized Indian restaurants, I was fairly certain I spotted a bobo or two.

They had dreadlocks or headscarves, but did not seem to be native to a country where that would be the tradition. They carried on long conversations about French literature with their partners and seemed to have fairly carefree attitudes.

It’s hard to put a finger on who exactly is a bobo, because it seems to be more of an overall attitude or lifestyle that is being described by the term, not just an aesthetic.

And of course, it’s a social phenomenon free from a scientific, well-defined origin.

So while the average French person might qualify as a hipster under American standards, be forewarned there is an entire subculture of individuals the French call bobos.  

anukumar@indiana.edu
@AnuKumar23

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