Stuck in my head: France Gall “Ce soir je ne dors pas”

Stuck in my head today is France Gall’s beautiful song “Ce soir je ne dors pas” so I thought I’d share it here. I’d be grateful for a French person’s opinion on the translation query at the crucial part of the song.

In French:

Ce soir, je ne dors pas
Comme la toute toute première fois
Où tu es venu contre moi
Où j’avais peur de toi
Ce soir, je ne dors pas
Comme la toute toute première fois
Où tu dormais dans mes bras
Où je prononçais ton nom tout bas

[Refrain] :
Quand j’étais enfant, mon prince charmant
Était si différent de toi
Quand j’étais enfant, mon prince charmant
Était bien autrement, pourquoi

Ce soir je ne dors pas
C’est la toute toute première fois
Que je te sais loin de moi
Et le vide n’en finit pas

[Refrain]

Ce soir je ne dors pas
C’est la toute toute première fois
Où je comprends que c’est toi
Ce garçon que je n’attendais pas

Translation in English

Tonight I can’t sleep
Just like the very first time
When you came close to me
And I was afraid of you.

Tonight I can’t sleep
Just like the very first time
When you slept in my arms
And I murmured your name.

When I was a child, my Prince Charming
Was so different from you.
When I was a child, my Prince Charming
Was completely different – why?

Tonight I can’t sleep
It’s the very first time
That I know you’re far away from me
And the emptiness is neverending.

Tonight I can’t sleep
It’s the very first time
That I understand
That you are that boy – the one I wasn’t waiting for.

*Okay, the play on words. It could be several things. NB attendre can be either waiting for and expecting, and both are probably equally fitting here although the meaning is different.

1) Now I understand that you were not the one I’d been waiting for.
2) Now I understand that you were the one – the one I hadn’t been waiting for.

So it could either be concluding that the scales have fallen from her eyes and she’s realised that she’s been kidding herself all along that he was the one (she should have known, because he was nothing like her childhood dream). This is the most common interpretation as far as I can gather.

Or, it’s the opposite, because now that it’s over, it’s the first time she truly understands that he was in fact the one, just that he was never what she’d thought he would/should be (and perhaps she now blames herself for forcing him to live up to imaginary expectations…?) The doubt is sown because of the way it says “C’est toi –
Ce garçon que je n’attendais pas” as if she has recognised him at last. It is not the negative – it is literally “It’s you – the boy I wasn’t waiting for.” So she’s recognising him as the Prince Charming from the refrain.

Once I’d concluded that, I would have to go for “waiting for” instead of expecting, for the sake of the Prince Charming/childhood reference. That’s with my translator’s hat on. However, “expecting” would still work for the sake of communicating a coherent meaning – albeit a very different meaning.

They could have made it more “expecty” though by saying “…auquel je ne m’attendais pas” although I would want to check with a French person for the bizarreness level of saying that in this context.

Anyway, probably overthinking (perhaps it’s just for the sake of the rhyme) but if I were translating this professionally I would go for option 2. I think that option 1 is mostly how the song is understood by the general public in France, however – could be wrong. Opinions welcome.

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2 comments

    • My French isn’t quite good enough to give opinion on the translation, but my music’s not bad. You aren’t dreaming. The first 6 – 7 chords in the progression in Hotel California would appear to be exactly as Ce Soir…. But transposed up a whole tone (Bm F# A E G D Em v. Am E G D F C E7). After that they depart. Interesting to note that Ce Soir was released c. 1975/6 and work on Hotel California started in 76 before release in 77. An un acknowledged influence? By the way – enjoyed listening to Ce Soir. I’d not heard it before.

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