It took Google more than a few seconds to result me this gem. Don’t get me wrong, I know exactly what it means, but I just wanted to see what The Internet had to say about it. This is actually a valuable lesson for the kids, I think, and I learned it myself from a Chinese literature professor in college: look up words you already know the definition of. It’s good for you.
I first heard “arriviste” watching “Loft Story,” in France, in the year 2000. Loft Story is their equivalent of Big Brother, and the arriviste in question was a French-Jewish woman who would prattle on for hours (seemingly) about her money and her connections. I had to ask whoever was nearest to me, what the word meant; though it was certainly to be inferred anyway. So I asked because I needed to hear it in French, then. And the whole room responded with their own version of a character, not simply trying to translate it directly into English. I’m grateful in hindsight that there was no smartphone on the ready to app-translate for us.
The respondents, anyway, are all in a room, in an apartment in Caudry, in Le Nord region of France. That’s not my pretentious way of saying I was in the north of France. It’s simply a region called “The North.” The region’s humility incarnate in the simple descriptive nature of its name, which in fact is a description only in relation to the rest of the country; like it can’t exist without the dozens of other regions under it, named after rivers, named after well… arrivistes. It might not have been Caudry, actually. This might’ve even been outside of the population 5,000 town, and in the population 200 hamlet of Caullery. All of this to say my neighbors were for the most part, blue collar or service professional natives with an inevitable lineage to farming in their recent heritage. I didn’t get the impression people moved into these bergs, so much as end up in them. Where better to learn the French word for “an ambitious or ruthlessly self-seeking person, especially someone who has recently acquired wealth or fame,” than in a place where everyone is willfully modest, ruthlessly unambitious.
This is all butter to help understand me. I dealt with a poignantly awful arriviste the other day, but I was confused at first by their lack of arrogance or greed. I suppose that makes this arrivisme insipid. The collective presence of the arriviste’s ego, manifest in social media affiliations and the kinds of questions they are so good at charading in praise, all served to humiliate me and I know I know, I can’t fault a person for having a persona. But this ladder-climb really bothers me today, even while the rungs lead perhaps toward rather my away from my own persona.