I ran across this expression in a book I read recently. The context in which it was used easily conveyed the depth of its meaning, but I also did some research. Many times there aren’t truly accurate translations for certain words or sayings in another language. They’re culturally based and lack concrete explanations. This is one of those cases. However, my understanding is this — Bon Courage is used to wish someone well who endeavors to accomplish a challenging task where success is dependent upon personal strength or resolve. On the other hand, Bonne Chance, which translates more closely as good luck, is used to wish someone well in a situation where a person may succeed or fail due to purely external factors. In English, we don’t really distinguish between these circumstances and tend to wish people good luck for everything regardless of internal or external factors. I was charmed by the idea that the French have diversified this concept.
As my husband and I attempt to recover and relearn what French we can before moving to France, I realize that we have two options. We can take on the attitude of Bonne Chance or Bon Courage, sometimes shortened to the simple exclamation Courage! After all, there’s more to learning a language than just vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, and spelling. One must learn to understand and adapt to cultural mores as well. It seems like this business of luck would be a good place to start. We can choose to follow the path of Bonne Chance or Bon Courage and I, for one, prefer the latter. I think it truly requires a lot of willpower and determination to learn another language and assimilate to another culture at this point in ones’ life. However, I believe that if we make a concerted effort, we can transport our lives to France and transform ourselves into comfortable expats. The mental approach of courage, which correlates to our use of the word “courage”, makes the whole process sound so much more achievable.
Even before stepping one foot on French soil, I feel I have at least cracked open the door to a tiny bit of French culture. At the same time I am trying to speak like the French, I need to learn to think like the French.
What do you wish to achieve? Whatever it is, don’t wait for fate to get you there. Bon courage à tous!