TIL: French grammar is structured to reflect the belief that you are responsible for your thoughts, words, and actions, but not your emotions.
When I was studying in Paris, I met a man in his 20s who had converted to Islam. When I asked him why, he responded, “Like falling sick or falling in love, I fell Muslim.” I didn’t understand that then.
But today to explain the subjonctif, my prof explained that in French you would never say, “I’ve given it some thought and I’m afraid it’s too risky.” In that scenario, you didn’t actually think about it; your fear won.
If you catch a cold, that’s out of your control. Likewise, to Francophones, if you bump into someone and fall in love, that’s also out of your control. (And “falling Muslim” isn’t really up to you either.)
We Anglophones like to pretend, often by denying our emotions, that we have dominion over them. And while I don’t 100% agree with the French way, I am using this linguistic difference as a little more ammunition in my never-ending quest to be more gentle with myself.
My emotions aren’t inherently bad; feelings will come over me whether I want them to or not. But instead of passing judgment, I can simply acknowledge that they’re there. It’s what I do with them that really matters.