My voice teacher in college was a truly unique man. A New Yorker, painter, self-styled urban cowboy, French song interpreter, and gifted singer. He was particular–perhaps an acquired taste. He had a gaggle of devoted fans, mostly older women, who attended all of his recitals. He projected an air of sophistication, confidence, and elegance, unlike anyone I had met. I too was a big fan. I admired him greatly.
He taught me a word quite uncommon in Oklahoma. I had to ask what it meant. I don’t remember the exact context, but I will fill in the blank. During a lesson one day, he was describing something–a house, a hotel, a restaurant, an art gallery, someone’s fashion…can’t remember. In describing it he said, “Yes. Very chi-chi.” (also shi-shi)
Urban dictionary defines it (shi-shi/chi-chi) in this context as, “Used to define someone or something that is unattainably sophisticated.”
I believe it is akin to the French “chic.”
I don’t use the word very often. It only plays well with certain audiences. People who love musical theatre, art, fashion, or the same gender–and perhaps people in the social upper-class or who aspire to be.
Like the fish drawn in the dirt in ancient Rome as a secret code for self-identifying as a follower of Christ, perhaps a well-placed “chi-chi” is a code between the artsy and/or upper crust. It says, hey, it’s ok to let your sophistication-flag fly with me–for whatever that’s worth! Perhaps a well-placed “chi-chi” can even open doors.
Relatively early in my career as a software engineer, I was interviewing for a job in an office tower in north OKC. The company I had applied to would be moving to a new location soon and it just so happened that I had gotten a peek at it. It was a step up in style and elegance from most office spaces in Oklahoma–marble, brass, art, ornate architecture.
When my appointment time came, I strode confidently in to meet the interviewer. It was a first interview with this company which is usually with a recruiter or someone from the HR staff–not a technical person. These are the people who eliminate the riff-raff. It’s the time to demonstrate yourself as a friendly, competent, HIREABLE professional.
I introduced myself warmly and we sat across a folding table from each other. He already had a copy of my resume and was perusing it. I don’t remember much of the conversation but I could tell he had interviewed quite a few people that day and was experiencing some fatigue. Our conversation was starting off with a certain stale, perfunctory pattern. I knew I would have to engage him to distinguish myself. But how? How was I different than the dozen or so Oklahoma software geeks ahead of me?
But the opportunity presented itself. As he was describing the company to me, he mentioned that they would be moving to a new office suite soon.
In the previous few minutes, I had detected a certain manner—articulate, measured, perhaps gay, urbane, impeccably and stylishly dressed, sophisticated. Not a typical Okie male–especially for the early 2000s. And I knew what the moment called for.
“Oh yes,” I said. “I’ve seen it. Very chi-chi.”
That was the magic word. His face lit up. His eyes widened. He leaned forward and with great enthusiasm, said, “It IS chi-chi!”
The interview took a dramatic turn. He became very interested in me and my candidacy. We ended with a warm hand-shake and he said, “You will definitely be hearing from us. I think you are just the kind of person this company needs!”
I did get more interviews. I met the supervisor, I met the team, coded for them, and received a job offer very quickly. I turned it down. The branch wasn’t quite on its feet yet, and the salary was too low. But I learned the power of a well-placed “chi-chi”, and it will always be a special word in my social and professional repertoire.
Did I manipulate that man? Did I give him the impression I was someone or something I was not? I don’t think so. I don’t know if I’m chi-chi or not, but I know it when I see it!