Monday, May 16, 2011
C'est comme ça.
There is no other phrase, word, or expression in the French language that irritates me more than this one. The literal translation would be "It's like that," similar to our expression in English "That's the way it is." English speakers certainly use this phrase a lot, but seemingly nowhere near as much its French equivalent is used.
In the United States, we being the eternal optimists that we are, always try to look at the brighter side of things. When someone loses their job, one could be consoled by being told that they now have the freedom to find their true calling. Someone might tell this person that they are sure that they will find a new job. Or, at the very least, one could say that they are sorry to hear about the news, and give them a pat on the back.
Not so much in France. One is likely to say c'est comme ça and then rant about how France flat out sucks.
Heatwave in France? C'est comme ça.
Girlfriend run off with pizza delivery guy? C'est comme ça.
Car run over your foot? C'est comme ça.
A few weeks back, there was an article in the Economist that discusses how France has lots of reasons to be happy. It is becoming increasingly easier to set up a business here (I can attest to this). If you have a good idea, there are fewer barriers to get your idea off the ground than in the past. Not to mention, France has a high quality of life, beautiful landscapes, amazing food and wine, lots of time off from work...
Yet, when asked if they felt if 2011 would be better than 2010, only 15% of French people said yes. This survey was conducted in several countries, and according to these results, France is the most pessimistic about the future. By comparison, Afghanistan and Iraq are close to four times more optimistic about 2011 than the French. The Americans, who have had hard times and are becoming increasingly more pessimistic about the economic recovery, had around 45% of those surveyed say yes, that this year will be better than the previous year.
Why are the French so down about their chances? There was a quote that stuck with me from a book written by James Baldwin titled Giovanni's Room. In this novel, the main character, who is American, falls for an Italian bartender, and both have been living in Paris for several years. The main character mentions something to cheer up the Italian, who responds with something like, "Oh you Americans. Your country hasn't been around long enough for you guys to be pessimistic." Perhaps this holds true in Europe, as according to the above-mentioned survey, most of the old European powers are not terribly optimistic about their future, though they are not nearly as pessimistic as the French. However, China has been around a long time as well, and they are very optimistic about things to come.
When I was setting up my business last year, I had a meeting with someone from the state to explain the creation of my company. The lady I met with took a quick look at my resume as I explained to her that I would be giving eating and walking tours in Paris. She saw that I have a Master's Degree in Political Economy and Public Policy, and as a result, she commented, somewhat jokingly, that my new job had very little to do with what I studied. I went to tell her that in the U.S., things like this are possible. You work as a banker, but have always dreamed of opening a restaurant? You certainly can do that in the United States. If one has a dream, one can see it through.
The lady conducting the interview said that it's amazing how Americans can think like that. She said it is just not possible in France. There are too many restrictions, and mainly, people are taught when they are young that if they are satisfied with their occupation, chances are it was an accident. I told her that I beg to differ, that if she didn't like what she was doing, that she could find a way out, and that maybe she too could find the calling of her dreams. However, she seemed hesitantly resided to her fate, and uttered that over-utilized phrase to end all discussion-
C'est comme ça.