“Flanieren” is a German verb that means “to wander about aimlessly” – but with panache. For the “Flaneur,” it’s all about getting an impression of the surroundings – and making an impression on the people.
The word has a long-running history. It originated from the old Icelandic and Old Norse word “flanna” (to wander), as early as the 11th century. But the German word is actually borrowed from the French “flâner” (to mill about or to meander).
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The French noun “Flâneur” is used in English, French and German alike to describe a certain type of character popular in Fin de Siecle literature (late 19th and early 20th century literature). Its first definition, in Pierre Larousse’s dictionary, describes the character’s personality traits as “equal parts curiosity and laziness.”
In writing, this character is meant to allow for a lot of reflective and observational writing, combining philosophy and poetry with occasional reference to suitably aesthetic snapshots of city life, people and the objects they come across in their walk.
The German verb borrows a faint fragrance from its literary cousin, but its emphasis lies on the ‘planlessness’ of the action. It’s the action of someone who has gone beyond purposelessness – they dawdle on the go, they drift along the currents of life.
This can be emphasised even more in German with the prefix “herum-” which means as much as ‘around’ or ‘about’. So, “herumflanieren” is some next-level meandering.
Nach ihrem Studium, flanierte sie erstmal durch Südasien.
After her studies, she milled about in South Asia for a bit.
Wie der Dichter durch die Stadt, flanieren die Sätze durch das Buch.
Like the poet through the city, the sentences meander aimlessly through the book.
Flanieren ist eine Kunst.
Aimless wandering is an art.