When we think of France, we can’t help associating it with ideas like love and romanticism. For many of us, Paris is the ultimate city for lovers. In addition, the French way of life – with its easy blend of sophistication, culture and a respect for good food – is globally renowned and is one of the things that other countries most envy about us. So it is not surprising that French literature, cinema and even everyday language are full of words and phrases relating to love and life. At the end of the day, love and life are inextricably linked – each is nothing without the other. Two people in love are essential to produce life, but love cannot exist without two living beings.
Whether writers, artists or scientists, great men have often placed the concepts of love and life at the forefront of their works. We’ve all heard Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s famous definition: “Love does not consist of gazing at each other, but of looking outward together in the same direction.” Taking a major life decision (such as to have a child) implies pooling the energies of two people in pursuit of a specific goal.
Love makes life more beautiful. It transforms our everyday existence and gives us a reason to be. All the great acts that have been achieved in the world have been the work of passionate people. Moreover, loving someone opens up the gates to happiness. In her well-known song, Edith Piaf declared that love made us see “la vie en rose” (literally, “life in pink”, in other words through a rose-coloured lens or with optimism) and brought “a share of happiness” into our hearts. Love turns our everyday cares into mere trifles. As Piaf sang in another song, Hymne à l’amour [Hymn to Love]: Peu m'importent les problèmes /Mon amour puisque tu m’aimes (“Little matters to me if you love me”).
There is no doubt that losing our beloved or someone close to us brings unhappiness and the death of the one she loved (boxer Marcel Cerdan) was a very painful ordeal for Piaf. But would we really want to live without love in our lives? We agree with Hervé Bazin, author of the renowned autobiographical novel Vipère au poing [Viper in the Fist], who said that “a life without love is a life without sun.”
Love is not content to make life more beautiful, it goes above and beyond, creating something out of the ordinary. Generally speaking, only those who love are able to achieve what seems impossible to others. Loving our country, our profession or our family helps us to push beyond our limits and leads to acts of heroism. This was probably what Marcel Proust had in mind when he wrote, in In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, that “life is strewn with these miracles, for which people who are in love can always hope.”
Finally, it can never be too often repeated that life is our most precious asset. “One must love life, even in its least attractive forms,” as the famous oceanographer and director Jacques-Yves Cousteau liked to say. Today, we tend to forget that the world of the living should not be destroyed under any circumstances, while our capitalist society very often prioritises material things and instant profits. Plants and wildlife are sadly mistreated, and we are all responsible.
“C’est la vie” – “That’s life!” Something we’ve surely all said at some point or another, aware that life is a series of good and bad. It’s a phrase that most frequently expresses our resignation in the face of events over which we have no influence. There are numerous similar idioms that deal with loving feelings and the concept of existence. Some are better known and easily understood, while others require more explanation. “Avoir le coup de foudre” (“to fall in love at first sight” or, literally, “to have a bolt of lightning”) perfectly evokes the feeling of falling in love very suddenly. In French, to have a “coeur d’artichaut” (“the heart of an artichoke”) means to be fickle in love, and we use “déclarer sa flamme à quelqu’un” (“to declare one’s love to someone”) when we are expressing our feelings for our partner. Another French expression of love is “avoir le cœur qui bat la chamade”, meaning that your heart pounds every time you see the one you love. The word “chamade”, derived from the Italian “chiamare” (“to call”), once signified the trumpet calls or drum rolls used by besieged troops to signal a call for help or a request to end hostilities.
What’s the usual way to refer to the person you love in France? What kind of sweet talk do French people use to refer to their beloved on an everyday basis? Terms like mon amour (“my love”) and mon chéri (“my darling”) are familiar to all of us and have equivalents in other countries around the world. In fact, if you are looking for a pet name for your other half, you are spoiled for choice in French: mon ange (“my angel”), ma belle (“my darling”, literally “my beautiful”), ma biche (“my pet”, literally “my doe” – Louis de Funès’ favourite term), mon chou (“my sweet”, literally “my cabbage”), mon canard (“my darling”, literally “my duck”), ma puce (“my pet”, literally “my flea”), mon lapin (“my dear”, literally “my rabbit”), mon trésor (“my treasure”) – the options are plentiful! I’m sure many of you may be surprised by terms like “duck” or “flea” in reference to your beloved, and we quite understand!
Finally, French cinema is a treasure trove of unforgettable romantic lines, including the classic “You have beautiful eyes, you know.” Jean Gabin’s compliment to Michèle Morgan in Marcel Carné’s Le Quai des brumes [Port of Shadows] remains one of the most famous lines in French cinema. This masterpiece (with dialogue written by Jacques Prévert) portrays the story of a deserter, Jean, and a mysterious and melancholic young woman, Nelly. Another work of art that puts love at the centre of our existence!