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The phrase "La vie qu'on nous vend bien tracée" in the song "Grandiose" by Pomme is usually understood as "The life that they sold to us" with negative connotation. What if we understand "on" as "we" in the phrase? What would be the meaning of the phrase? Can we interpret it as "we bought (from ourselves) a life with a clear provenance?" = "we designed our life as we wanted it to be" = "we are the source of how our life is"?

corrected

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    on could be translated they or one.
    – Toto
    Commented Feb 17 at 10:41
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    As it is written, this question seems to be asking for a translation into English. It should be rephrased to make it clear it is asking for the meaning of on the sentence La vie qu'on nous vend bien tracée.
    – None
    Commented Feb 17 at 11:08
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    If the meaning had been "the life we sold ourselves", the French would be "La vie qu'on se vend" and not "La vie qu'on nous vend." So because it's not reflexive, on and nous must be different groups of people. Commented Feb 17 at 13:00
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    I don't think it's that much of a contradiction — "The life that I had imagined for you, the well-arranged life they sell us, a life like that doesn't exist." Further, these lyrics contain other contradictions: Le gris de l'église de fond rose, so the fact that it's a contradiction doesn't mean that the interpretation is incorrect. Commented Feb 17 at 13:40
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    I love this song as well and my reading of the contradiction between "qu'on nous vend" and "que j'ai inventée" is that we're misled into thinking we want a certain life. We're told all these happily-ever-after stories of a particular way that life should turn out, and we imagine this is what we want (what we've come up with ourselves). But as we grow up we realize this isn't even our dream; it was just a template someone sold us and we swallowed it hook, line, and sinker. Not only that, that life doesn't even exist (cf. end of the chorus) — it's just marketing.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Commented Feb 17 at 13:49

3 Answers 3

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The phrase

La vie qu'on nous vend bien tracée,

cannot be interpreted in French as

the well-arranged life that we sold ourselves.

For it to mean that, you would have to use a reflexive verb:

La vie qu'on se vend bien tracée,
La vie que nous nous vendons bien tracée.

So here, on and nous have to refer to different things. So what it means (as the other answers say) is something more like:

The well-arranged life that we were sold,
The well-arranged life that they sold us.

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  • I agree - there is no "to ourselves". Someone else is doing the "selling" here.
    – Frank
    Commented Feb 17 at 17:54
  • @Frank is your opinion based on a broader context of the song or it is impossible for native speakers to understand "on as "we" in this phrase technically without any context? That's the question I'm interested in. Peter Shor reasons (and I like this approach but I'm doubtful) that "we" would require different phrase structure. Do you agree?
    – user33924
    Commented Feb 18 at 7:24
  • @user33924: In French, if you do something to yourself, grammar says that you generally need to use the reflexive. You can't say on nous where on and nous both mean we. Commented Feb 18 at 16:12
  • @user33924 I'm a native speaker. I agree with Peter Short too.
    – Frank
    Commented Feb 18 at 16:48
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For non-French people, "on" is pretty hard to get.

Conjugation

From a conjugation point of view, it is the closest to "it" (third singular person), but carries a different meaning.

Multiple ways to translate "on"

One meaning can be "we" as you refer. Your translation then starts with "we we" or something along those lines. But I don't think it is the case here since "we" is literally translated by "nous" in French, unless "on" refers to a group of people. Since I don't know the song and its lyrics, I can only do hypothesis.

Example:

  • "On m'a dit cela" is translated by "We have been told this/that" or "Some people told me this/that" in English

"On" can also refer to some people/community (back to the previous example) or a common opinion (or some saying/rumor) not necessary true.

Examples featuring the second idea:

  • "On dit que cet endroit est hanté" can be translated by "People say that this place is haunted"
  • "On dit que les chats on plusieurs vies" can be translated by "We say cats have mutliple lives"

To conclude

All in all, the closest translation of your sentence with "on" as "we" should be along the lines of:

  • "the life we have been promised"
  • "the life we are destined to live".

Answering the remaining questions

  1. Can we interpret it as "we bought (from ourselves) a life with a clear provenance?

The verb "vendre" should not be understood as "sell", unless you can sell ideas (English-native people can correct me). "Depicted" or "described" would be more accurate. The provenance is not clear since there are another interference (someone else is describing it) and also you did not earn it.

  1. "we designed our life as we wanted it to be"

I think up to this point you got the idea. If you need further explanations, don't hesitate to ask.

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    Thank you for the answer. However, I cannot get your point on "vendre should no be understood as sell". This is exactly the translations suggested by dictionaries: collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/french-english/vendre
    – user33924
    Commented Feb 17 at 12:24
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    @user33924: I believe mie is saying that vendre shouldn't be understood as "paying money to obtain something." But in English, sell can have a similar figurative meaning, so I think sell is a reasonable translation. Commented Feb 17 at 13:42
  • Yes you are right, but a word can have different meanings depending on the context deviating from its original meaning. When you "raise/lift one's spirit", you are not literally lifting/raising anything. But according to @PeterShor the translation is fine here.
    – mle
    Commented Feb 17 at 13:44
  • Yes, this is all clear. Thank you.
    – user33924
    Commented Feb 17 at 14:01
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To answer "Options to translate...", I think bien tracée shouldn't be overlooked, and the on can be translate by a passive form:

the tidy/neat life that we were sold

Or even closer to the original, but a bit iffy:

the life that we were sold as tidy

The on refers to parents, society, friends,... anybody who made the author believe that their life would have a clear or set trajectory. The author is saying that his life, or maybe life in general, is not as neat or tidy as people around you want you to believe.

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