7

I came across the following sentence in Le Petit Prince:

C’est tellement mystérieux, le pays des larmes.

From the context, as well as from what my intuition tells me, I think that le pays de... should mean something similar to: the world of...

In this sentence that would be:

It's very mysterious, the world of tears.

Then I realized that the noun pays is used (and not the use of the word monde for example), so the literal meaning would be:

the country of tears?

Is this the general case in French language, that the word pays is used for that purpose?

Is the expression le pays de... used in French in exactly the same context, as you would use the world of... in English? Could you for instance use it to say things like: the world of opportunities, the world of mystery, etc.?

Can you give me some examples of other usages of le pays de... in a sentence?

  • 6
    "The world of" seems very planet-ey to me, it's a little too much for a region of the worlds. I see "le pays de" as a chronological evolution of "the kingdom of" or "the realm of". I can't think of a non-medieval term but the meaning is more region-like than world-like. – Teleporting Goat Nov 8 '16 at 12:18
  • 1
    Perhaps relevant: My country, officially Kingdom of the Netherlands, is called "Les Pays-Bas" in French. – Kevin Nov 8 '16 at 12:59
  • 3
    @Kevin but it's the term "Netherlands" that translate to "Pays-Bas", not the Kingdom part. The official french name in the long form is indeed "Royaume des Pays-Bas". – zakinster Nov 8 '16 at 15:04
  • 2
    If you translate pays with land instead of country the examples make sense in English as well: the land of tears, the land of opportunity. Of course, land isn't used (anymore?) in English to literally refer to countries, but it does seem to have an etymology in that direction, as evidenced by several of the examples on wiktionary. – Jasper Nov 8 '16 at 16:27
  • @Jasper - well, we have the Netherlands, Ireland, Scotland and, of course, England as countries, and Jutland (or Jyland in Denmark) and Rutland as regions... – user11977 Nov 8 '16 at 22:59
13

This expression would be used in french to describe a place where something is plentiful, or from where something originates.

Off the top of my head an example is France sometimes being referred to as

le pays des droits de l'Homme

in reference to France's historical role in human rights.

However, as in the example you provided, "le pays" does not have to refer to an actual country, and can just refer to an area or even abstract poetic concepts.

For instance, sleep is sometimes called

le pays des rêves

Furthermore, many children's books may refer to "au pays des géants" or such examples, referring to some land containing giants.

In terms of translating it, I would use the expression "the land of" as opposed to "the world of".

Common expressions are "the land of the free", to talk about the United States, "the land of the rising sun" to talk about Japan, or "the land of giants" to refer to my above example.


In terms of other usages of "le pays":

  • at its most basic, just means "the country"

    L'Espagne, c'est le pays où je vais le plus souvent en vacances.

  • sometimes can refer to where someone is from

    Je retourne au pays => I'm going back to my hometown/home area

  • can be used to describe visiting the country side/various parts of a country

    Le week-end dernier, je suis allé voir du pays

  • Thanks! Do you then also use in French an expression that would be closer to English the world of..., like le monde de...? Can you give me some examples? – camillejr Nov 8 '16 at 12:28
  • 4
    "le monde de" is a valid expression and everyone will understand what you are saying. For example, Finding Nemo was called "Le monde de Nemo", literally "the world of Nemo". You could also use it to talk about fields, such as "entrer dans le monde de la politique", which would mean entering politics/the field of politics/the world of politics. – Nico Mezeret Nov 8 '16 at 12:41
  • Okay! I see the difference now. Just as a comment: after reading your explanation I think I would chose to say le monde de larmes, rather than le pays de larmes. The example you've given: le pays des rêves, is indeed more of a poetic concept, however it does express that when you fall asleep you enter a different place... But tears here are more of a concept then a place. At least that's how I feel this sentence :) – camillejr Nov 8 '16 at 13:25
  • 3
    English uses the word “country” with a non-nation meaning too. “Land” is a good translation, but it might be helpful to the asker to point out these non-nation uses of “country” as an intuitive comparison to dilute the ideas pays only means nation-state. Consider “We can't stop here, this is bat country!” (which isn't saying it's a nation-state of bats, just a geographical region of plentiful bats). We also see it in phrases like “We went for a walk in the country.” – SevenSidedDie Nov 8 '16 at 16:29
  • 2
    @Camille If you translate "pays" by "world" in Saint Expury's le pays des larmes you miss the whole emotional concept that "land" carries and that "world" (more neutral) does not convey. – Laure Nov 9 '16 at 7:36
10

Pays translates the English word "land"1 in

le pays des larmes...

Lewis Carrol's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland has been translated into French as Les Aventures d'Alice au pays des merveilles.

The various translations of Le Petit Prince I have consulted all translate

C’est tellement mystérieux, le pays des larmes.

as

It is such a mysterious place, the land of tears.[eg]

Laurent PetitGirard's piece of ballet music Le Pays des larmes for Le Petit Prince has retained the translation "The Land of Tears".

To respond to OP's comment to @NicoMezeret that "tears here are more of a concept then a place", I'll point to the song by English singer Julian Cope "When I Walk Through the Land of Fear", where there is no reference to a place whatsoever, but to a state of mind.

"Land" is used in place of "country" when the word refers not to the political, administrative or geographical entity but to an emotional one. Let's think of "the Land of Plenty" to designate the US (Film by Wim Wenders), "Land of Fear" to designate here a district of Cairo, "land of fear and loathing" used here for England.

A popular catchphrase nowadays is au pays des bisounours2. Le pays des bisounours being a land peopled with rather dumb-witted and gullible creatures.

Alain Juppé veut prouver qu'il "ne vit pas au pays des Bisounours"

Cyberattaque : l'édition vit-elle au pays des Bisounours ?

1 See wikipedia definition 7.
2 Les Bisounours: The Care Bears.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.