As a dramatic person, I often get a bit carried away as soon as something bad, frustrating, or even simply surprising happens. Yet under the exact same circumstances, i have seen countless French human being shrug and also say C’est la vie – or some variation that that. 

C’est la vie is an expression you can have heard, too, also outside of her French class or travels. It’s one of those terms that’s been embraced by other languages (including English) or is simply very easily recognizable to non-French speakers.

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Let’s look at this above French expression – and some of its cousins. 

Interestingly, like C’est la vie, every one of them room the location or stop of a catchy song, which you’ll likewise get to find below! 

1 The an interpretation of c’est la vie
2 Other ways to to speak c’est la vie
3 C’est la vie: French people and tragedy

The an interpretation of c’est la vie

Note: over there is just one method to create c’est la vie. Se la vie, speak la vie, to speak la vee, cie la vie, and sa la vie are all incorrect.

So what go C’est la vie mean?

As girlfriend may be able to tell, c’est la vie literally converts to “That’s life.” In other words, “This is just how it is” – regularly with the implication that there’s naught you can do about it.

That might sound negative, and in numerous contexts, it is. I’ve eve heard of human being calling that a de-motivating phrase, because essentially, it way why fight. You can’t execute anything around the situation, right? No superhero is going to say it – or in ~ least, no common one; lock would shot to change things, as would lots of daily inspirational figures. 

But C’est la vie isn’t constantly negative. Because that example, take among my favourite songs, lining Berry’s “You Never deserve to Tell”. The a love song around two adolescents who loss in love and make the work regardless of being young and also poor. In this case, C’est la vie reinforces the fact that life is how amazing (“C’est la vie, said the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell.”)

Another good musical instance is Khaled’s Franco-Arab struggle C’est la vie which is around forgetting her troubles in love and also just enjoy it the night and dancing. In this case, C’est la vie could be viewed as a sort of “What can you do, there will certainly be problems in a relationship, now let’s dance,” or it might be that the act of dancing and enjoying life is what life is all about. 

As you can see from these songs, C’est la vie have the right to be provided in a negative, positive, or just observational context, and also sometimes that ambiguity have the right to yield part cool results. 

Other means to to speak c’est la vie

Of course, there are plenty of other ways to refer C’est la vie. Below are number of that you’ll routinely hear in French-speaking countries.:

C’est comme ça

According come this forum thread, C’est comme ça is often taken into consideration the translate into of the English-language expression “It is what that is.”  

But i don’t think the tells the whole story. It can be a neutral statement, yet it can additionally be a much more insistent version of C’est la vie – essentially, “That’s the method things are.” I often hear it supplied by parents whose kids complain around one of their rules, or something they can’t have actually or do. 

Here’s a usual example: 

– Je peux avoir un bonbon, maman ? (Can I have actually a item of candy, Mommy?)

– Non, c’est l’heure du dîner. (No, the dinnertime.)

– Mais maman! Je veux un bonbon maintenant ! C’est pas juste ! (But Mommy, I desire a item of liquid now! It’s no fair!)

– C’est comme ça ! Maintenant, mets la table. (That’s the way it is! Now set the table.) 

Note the this phrase can likewise be used confirm or fancy on a description. (Example: C’est comme ça mais avec plus de fraises (It’s favor that however with much more strawberries).

In music: “C’est comme ça” by delightful new Wave team Les Rita Mitsuko is well-known for its catchiness and award-winning video. That lyrics space notoriously enigmatic, yet the song is a an excellent way to acquire this expression stuck in her head. 

On n’y peut rien

On n’y peut rien (literally ‘We are/One is not able execute to anything here/there”) means there’s nothing to be done around an abstract situation (or life in general).  

Example: J’aime la paix mais faire la guerre fait partie de la nature humaine. On n’y peut rien. (I’m every for peace but warfare is a part of human nature. Yes nothing we can do about it.”).

In music: famous French songwriter Jean-Jacques Goldman’s “Et l’on n’y peut rien” is a song around how over there is naught we have the right to do when it involves love. 

You may have noticed the l’on in the title rather of on. Typically, l’on is used in creating or more formal contexts. This is supposed to it is in a famous song, though, so i’m assuming it was done below for reasons of sound and also rhythm.

Que veux-tu ? /Que veux-tu faire ?

Literally translated, this expression way “What perform you want?” or “What execute you desire to do?” the English equivalent is “What deserve to you do?”  

Essentially, yes no suggest in fighting or wanting miscellaneous else, this is just how it is.

Note that this expression is rarely, if ever, used with vous, because the tu here deserve to be the human being you’re talk to, or just a way to resolve a group or faint entity.

Example : J’essaie de faire un régime mais que veux-tu – ~ above habite au dessus de la meilleure pâtisserie de la ville ! (I’m trying come diet but what can you do? we live above the best bakery in town!)

In music: contemporary French team Yelle’s fun tune “Que veux-tu” addresses a to like as many of us execute in our hearts: Que veux-tu, je suis folle de toi (“What have the right to you carry out – i’m crazy around you!”) 

C’est la vie: French people and tragedy

When French with each other founder Benjamin Houy and I were stating this article, he stated it would certainly be interesting for me to include any kind of observations I might have around how the French attend to tragedy: Is C’est la vie usually the French strategy to life?

The question gave me a lot to think about.  

First, it’s necessary to say the “the French” or “French people” is, of course, a ceiling term. There room all type of French people, and they may all react differently to things. I know some French civilization who cried as soon as Johnny Hallyday died, or that tear up as soon as they watch the very same TV reflects I (an overly emotionally Italian-American) do. I’ve watched French human being holding every other and quietly sobbing ~ above the street when looking in ~ impromptu memorials collection up for friends who were victims of the 2015 terrorist attack at the Bataclan. I understand French people who have tattoos in storage of deceased love ones.

But overall, the French carry out seem to take a C’est la vie method to tragedy. Possibly it’s a little like the brothers “stiff upper lip” idea, or its existing incarnation, “Keep calm and carry on.” as soon as a sad or tragic event is spanned on the French national news, the newscasters may seem contempt moved, but we space nowhere close come Jimmy Kimmel (who, granted, isn’t exactly a newscaster) crying end Cecil the Lion. The story is spanned in a neutral way, there is no seeking out drama. Also the saddest details room recounted in a calm, informative voice.

Tragedies no dwelt on here. While there are yearly ceremonies to commemorate whatever from the courage and sacrifice the soldiers in both people Wars, to the victims of current terrorist attacks, once news of a destructive event occurs, it’s not lingered over. There aren’t souvenirs commemorating the Bataclan assault the way there space 9/11-related objects of all sorts. The French are an ext reserved about showing your emotions. No one denies these events are sad and even traumatizing, however that’s every kept nicely away. 

On a an individual level, anyone is different. But when yes sir a sad or tragic event, French human being collectively seem to emphasis on boosting the instance or gaining past it, quite than wallowing. 

After 9/11, that was impossible to think of noþeles else. Funny speak shows and also other humor-related offerings quit airing because that a while. On the various other hand, practically immediately after the November 2015 terrorist strikes here in Paris, ns was astonished and also full of admiration because that the fact that Parisians decided to deliberately sit exterior at restaurant terraces. It to be a article that their lifestyle would no change, no issue what happened – a true “We execute not negotiate with terrorists” if there ever was one.

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In this way, C’est la vie really can be the appropriate overall French solution to tragedy, even if it is you think the phrase is about feeling prefer this is exactly how it is and also there’s nothing we have the right to do, or speak “This is exactly how it is, currently let’s relocate on and not let bad things protect against us native living.”


Alysa Salzberg is one American writer, worrier, teacher, and cookie enthusiast who has actually lived in Paris, France, for more than a decade. She has actually taught English and also French for an ext than ten years, most notably together an assistante de langue vivante because that L"Education Nationale.She freshly published her an initial novel, Hearts in ~ Dawn, a "Beauty and the Beast" retelling the takes place throughout the 1870 Siege of Paris. You deserve to read about her adventures here, or feel cost-free to protect against by her website.