How to Spruce Up Your Christmas Letter
It’s that time of year. Christmas letter time. We don’t send a Christmas letter, largely because of the paucity of content such a letter would have. But we love getting letters from friends and acquaintances to find out what’s new with them.
Most of the letters we get pretty much stick to basic facts but every year there are one or two that really go over the top and make you think that you lead a very boring and pedestrian life. I was speculating on how those letters might look this year and what the writers might do to try to impress.
Of course they could manufacture some interesting material about being abducted by aliens or meeting celebrities, but the secret to a good Christmas letter is not making stuff up but rather making run of the mill stuff sound interesting. And what better way to give the mundane a whiff of the esoteric by sprinkling in a few foreign phrases!
So in case any of your friends decide to go all foreign in their Christmas letters, here is a short glossary of frequently used terms along with possible uses.
Force majeure—French for superior force. You may have seen this phrase in your insurance policies. It means something beyond your control and not the result of negligence (i.e., a war or an act of God). Your friend may inform you: “I so wanted to go to the Riviera for vacation this year, but Chloe’s insistence on going to Disneyland proved to be a force majeure.”
Amour-propre—It’s complicated, but this French phrase essentially means self-love. “The fact that no one has unfriended her on Facebook has definitely bolstered Chloe’s amour-propre.”
Sui generis—In Latin this means “of its own kind,” and is used to mean unique. “Skip was promoted to executive vice president this year and I helped decorate his new office. I mean it just had to be sui generis.”
Faute de mieux—In French this means “lack of better,” and you use it instead of “for lack of anything better.” How about “Skip got his bonus and faute de mieux we bought his and her Porsches.”
Comme il faut—French for “as is required by standards.” You shouldn’t be surprised when they tell you “We flew Chloe and her best friend to Europe this summer and comme il faut, they went first class.”
Bete noire—French for “black beast.” It means something dreadful, repulsive or disgusting. “The neighbors insist on parking their Hyundai in the driveway. It’s become my bête noire.”
Sine qua non—Literally “without which not,” this has come to mean an essential element. “Chloe has advised us that breast augmentation surgery is a sine qua non for her to be ready for high school.”
Mutatis mutandis—Latin for “things being changed that have to be changed,” it is used to mean “with the necessary changes.” “Our new yacht didn’t have a sauna or a game room, but mutatis mutandis, we should be able to enjoy ourselves on it.”
Peine forte et dure—French for strong, hard punishment, torture. “In Gstaad, the chalet was overbooked and we didn’t get the Penthouse suite. The Tower suite was pure peine forte et dure!”
Nostalgie de la boue–A wonderful French term which literally means “longing for the mud.” It has come to mean a desire for the lowly or disgusting. “In a fit of nostalgie de la Boue, we took a drive through the old neighborhood.”
So now you will be prepared when your sui generis friends decide to subject you to the peine forte et dure of the force majeure of their amour-propre. Be understanding. As far as they are concerned, the letter is comme il faut and a holiday sine qua non. But if you’re like me, faute de mieux you could become a bete noire by sending them a similar letter, mutatis mutandis in which you focus on your nostalgie de la boue. Have fun. Or should I say, amusez-vous!