Let’s BlaBla … and Bla!

Seize the day and just go for it!

Allez-y! …. Allons-y! ….. On y va!

I imagine that the French people must have some fascination with movement: even the name of the party created by Emmanuel Macron, who became the first President in more than 100 years to sweep into power as an independent, is en marche, which means “on the move”.

Another interesting factoid: all French verbs that involve “movement” (for example, ascend, descend, and so on) are “êtreverbs rather than “avoir” verbs and follow different rules.  I have never heard an explanation for that, although maybe French grammatical rules are in general not terribly interesting or rational in most people’s eyes  ….

Back to Allez-y! then – I don’t mean to suggest zipping off to one of those pretty villages that surround Paris.  Come to think of it, though, that is not a bad idea and I can think of a few possibilities – Troyes, the medieval town with the striking Gothic cathedral (just over an hour south-east of Paris), or Barbizon, the village near the Fontainebleau forest that is famous for its school of art that is about Whistler-style rural landscapes (and less than an hour almost due south of Paris)!

What I mean is that, if Uber, the name of the on-demand-taxi company, has now become a verb (and yes I even saw it in an article in a French newspaper!), just as Yahoo became a verb in the late 1990s and Google did so in the mid-2000s, then let’s make BlaBla a verb!  In fact, I will look forward to one day finding it in the dictionary when I play French scrabble!

As for why BlaBla deserves to be a verb … well, the story goes that there was this company called BlaBlaCar that got its start because its Paris-based founder had committed to going home for Christmas but had left his travel plans to the very last minute.  He couldn’t get a seat on the trains and he didn’t have a car, and eventually, his sister made a 150km detour to pick him up.  As they were heading down the A10, he looked around and saw that most of the cars had no passengers and thought, why not put all these cars with empty seats in a search engine?

Now with over 25 million members in 22 countries, the company has become one of a small number of “unicorns” (young, “new economy” companies with valuation of over US$1 billion, or licornes” in French) and is perhaps the most well-known of Paris’ start-ups (and yes the word “start-up” is much used too).

That BlaBla’s car-pooling – or what one could call sharing a la Française – is taking over the world may be reflective of the coming of age of the start-up ecosystem in Paris: I have been told more than a few times that there are more startups (or “star start-ups”) in Paris than in London or Berlin.

And so, as fate would have it, one of the most successful Parisian start-up companies has a definitively English-sounding name!

And it was an early employee from BlaBlaCar whom I met at one of those popular hangout places for start-ups, Le Champollion in the 2e, who enlightened me as to the reasons for the name: members of the service can signal how much they want to talk with the others they are pooling their ride with by signaling with a single “bla” if they plan on taking a quiet journey and “blablabla” if they like to chatter away the whole ride.

Funnily, Jerome, my BlaBla guy hadn’t taken a BlaBla ride himself.  He biked around Paris and used the train for most inter-city journeys.  However, he was firmly of the view that BlaBlaCar was changing the world for the better.  He started telling me about how BlaBlaCar vehicles moved four million people a month and its members saved an amount of petrol that was equivalent to driving around the world 250,000 times a year.  As a Parisian, he was proud of the city having the world’s first bike sharing scheme.  Apparently also, a BlaBlaCar journey can cross international borders; the longest trip proposed so far is from England to Russia!

Well, I didn’t seize the day and BlaBla somewhere, but I blah-blah-ed a little and learned a little about the one of the most interesting economic stories in France.  I also now know that I can blabla to Troyes or Barbizon next time instead of taking the train.  It is right on trend too: BlaBlaCar continues the French’s love affair with mobility … but please someone tell me whether I should use “être” or “avoir” to conjugate the verb!