Friday, October 15, 2021

Phrase Shift

Monarch on Toyon

Maybe Doris Day popped into my head this morning, although I can no longer trace the line of thought that would have led to such a thing. But the French phrase, “Que sera, sera” (“Whatever will be, will be”) popped into my head, followed directly by the American phrase, “It is what it is.” I asked myself what those two phrases might say about the respective national characters that produced them.

The French phrase seems to put the emphasis on the future, and the American phrase seems to put the emphasis on the present. In fact, though, the French phrase is actually suggesting that we enjoy the present and shrug our shoulders about the future. The American phrase suggests that we accept the present (because we’re too taciturn to “enjoy” it) and shrug our shoulders about the past.

I guess that’s the “national character” difference in a nutshell. The French remind themselves to enjoy the present, and the Americans simply accept that they’re stuck with all the bad decisions they’ve made. The French ideal is to drink champagne in the face of, for example, a changing climate and its portents of catastrophe, while the American ideal is to say, in the aftermath of the latest flood, drought, heat-wave, or wildfire, “No use crying over spilt milk; deal with it.”

The future will take care of itself, and the past is past. Nothing to do about the former, and nothing to learn from the latter.

Or, as Annie Hall would say, “La-dee-da, la-dee-da.”

And that, my friends, is why we call ourselves Homo sapiens, “the wise people.”

Pipevine Swallowtail

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