In hidden europe 3 (July 2005), we carried an article on the curious argot of those foreign territories that are the Paris suburbs beyond the boulevard périphérique. It is a language called verlan, that gives hidden status to those who master its criss-cross babble. Of course, it is not unique, and all manner of words, clothing and other symbols confer status on their bearers. The symbolism of the nun's veil, the business man's suit or the designer label are as potent as the words their wearers utter.
Changing trains at Thun in Switzerland's Aare valley a month or two back, there was the palpable collective apprehension of the late night stragglers as a half dozen skinheads strode assertively down the station platform: five young men, a woman who looked by far the toughest of the lot, plus a close cropped dog who bought up the rear and snapped at anyone who came within a few metres.