As a dramatic person, I frequently get a bit lugged away when something bad, frustrating, or even simply surprising happens. However under the exact same circumstances, i’ve seen plenty of French human being shrug and say C’est la vie – or some variation of that. 

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

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Let’s look in ~ this top French phrase – and some of its cousins. 

Interestingly, prefer C’est la vie, all of them are the location or stop of a catchy song, i m sorry you’ll also get to find below! 

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

The definition of c’est la vie

Note: over there is just one means to compose c’est la vie. Se la vie, say la vie, speak la vee, cie la vie, and sa la vie room all incorrect.

So what does C’est la vie mean?

As you may be able to tell, c’est la vie literally converts to “That’s life.” In various other words, “This is exactly how it is” – frequently with the implication that there’s nothing you deserve to do about it.

That may sound negative, and in countless contexts, that is. I’ve night heard of world calling the a de-motivating phrase, due to the fact that essentially, it way why fight. You can’t perform anything around the situation, right? No superhero is going to say the – or at least, no typical one; they would shot to adjust things, as would lots of everyday inspirational figures. 

But C’est la vie isn’t constantly negative. Because that example, take among my favourite songs, chuck Berry’s “You Never deserve to Tell”. It’s a love song about two teenagers who autumn in love and make that work in spite 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, claimed the old folks, it goes to show you never have the right to tell.”)

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

As you have the right to see from these songs, C’est la vie have the right to be used in a negative, positive, or merely observational context, and also sometimes its ambiguity deserve to yield some cool results. 

Other means to to speak c’est la vie

Of course, there are plenty of other means to refer C’est la vie. Right here are several that you’ll consistently hear in French-speaking countries.:

C’est comme ça

According to this forum thread, C’est comme ça is often considered the translate in of the English-language expression “It is what that is.”  

But ns don’t think that tells the totality story. It have the right to be a neutral statement, but it can likewise be a more insistent version of C’est la vie – essentially, “That’s the means things are.” I often hear it used by parents whose youngsters complain around one of your rules, or something lock can’t have actually or do. 

Here’s a typical example: 

– Je peux avoir un bonbon, maman ? (Can I have 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 candy now! It’s no fair!)

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

Note that this expression can likewise be offered confirm or fancy on a description. (Example: C’est comme ça mais avec add to de fraises (It’s prefer that but with more strawberries).

In music: “C’est comme ça” through delightful new Wave group Les Rita Mitsuko is known for its catchiness and also award-winning video. The lyrics space notoriously enigmatic, however the track is a good way to get this phrase stuck in your head. 

On n’y peut rien

On n’y peut rien (literally ‘We are/One is no able carry out to noþeles here/there”) way there’s naught to it is in done around an abstract situation (or life in general).  

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

In music: well known French songwriter Jean-Jacques Goldman’s “Et l’on n’y peut rien” is a song about how over there is nothing we can do when it concerns love. 

You may have noticed the l’on in the title rather of on. Typically, l’on is offered in composing or more formal contexts. This is an alleged to it is in a famous song, though, so ns assuming it to be done right here for reasons of sound and also rhythm.

Que veux-tu ? /Que veux-tu faire ?

Literally translated, this expression method “What do you want?” or “What execute you desire to do?” that is English indistinguishable is “What have the right to you do?”  

Essentially, yes sir no point in fighting or wanting something else, this is how it is.

Note the this expression is rarely, if ever, provided with vous, since the tu here have the right to be the person you’re talk to, or simply a means to deal with a team or vague entity.

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

In music: modern-day French group Yelle’s fun track “Que veux-tu” addresses a to like as many of us do in our hearts: Que veux-tu, je suis folle de toi (“What deserve to you carry out – i’m crazy about you!”) 

C’est la vie: French people and also tragedy

When French together founder Benjamin Houy and also I were pointing out this article, he claimed it would be exciting for me to include any kind of observations I might have around how the French deal with tragedy: Is C’est la vie typically the French approach to life?

The question gave me a lot to think about.  

First, it’s essential to say the “the French” or “French people” is, the course, a ceiling term. There room all kinds of French people, and they might all react in different ways to things. I know some French civilization who cried when Johnny Hallyday died, or that tear up as soon as they clock the exact same TV mirrors I (an overly emotional Italian-American) do. I’ve seen French world holding each other and also quietly sobbing ~ above the street while looking in ~ impromptu memorials set up because that friends that were victim of the 2015 terrorist attack at the Bataclan. I recognize French civilization who have tattoos in memory of deceased love ones.

But overall, the French perform seem to take it a C’est la vie approach to tragedy. Probably it’s a little like the brothers “stiff top lip” idea, or its existing incarnation, “Keep calm and carry on.” once a sad or tragic occasion is extended on the French national news, the newscasters might seem contempt moved, however we space nowhere close to Jimmy Kimmel (who, granted, isn’t specifically 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 space recounted in a calm, much information voice.

Tragedies no dwelt on here. While there are yearly ceremonies come commemorate every little thing from the courage and sacrifice of soldiers in both people Wars, to the victim of recent terrorist attacks, as soon as news the a destructive event occurs, it’s no lingered over. There aren’t souvenirs commemorating the Bataclan strike the method there space 9/11-related objects of every sorts. The French are much more reserved around showing your emotions. Nobody denies these events are sad and even traumatizing, but that’s all kept neatly away. 

On a personal level, everyone is different. However when yes a sad or tragic event, French people collectively it seems ~ to focus on enhancing the situation or obtaining past it, rather than wallowing. 

After 9/11, it was impossible to think of anything else. Funny talk shows and other humor-related offerings stopped airing because that a while. Top top the various other hand, almost immediately after the November 2015 terrorist strikes here in Paris, i was astonished and full of admiration because that the reality that Parisians determined to deliberately sit external at restaurant terraces. It to be a blog post that their way of life would not change, no issue what taken place – a true “We execute not negotiate v terrorists” if there ever was one.

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In this way, C’est la vie really could be the suitable overall French solution to tragedy, even if it is you think the expression is about feeling like this is exactly how it is and also there’s nothing we deserve to do, or saying “This is how it is, currently let’s relocate on and not let negative things avoid us native living.”


Alysa Salzberg is one American writer, worrier, teacher, and cookie enthusiast who has lived in Paris, France, for more than a decade. She has taught English and French for more than ten years, many notably together an assistante de langue vivante because that L\"Education Nationale.She recently published her very first novel, Hearts at Dawn, a \"Beauty and the Beast\" retelling the takes place during the 1870 Siege of Paris. You can read around her adventures here, or feel totally free to stop by she website.