Il fait sa petite crise de la quarantaine.
eel fay sah pteet KREEZ duh lah kaa-rah-TEN. Click below for the sound file!
He’s having a little midlife crisis.
The French language is full of crises. There’s la crise de foie (lah kreez duh FWAH, a liver attack: what happens to you after a very rich meal), la crise de larmes (lah kreez duh LAARM, a fit of crying, literally of tears), la crise de nerfs (lah kreez duh NAIR, a fit of hysterics), and the ever-popular crise cardiaque (lah kreez kaar-deeYACK, a heart attack, preferably to be avoided).
And la crise de la quarantaine. Literally, this sentence says He’s doing his little crisis of the forty-ish (years). So, first of all, the language, though perhaps not the culture, defines midlife as your forties. I’m guessing the fifties are the new forties, but ask the sociologists for confirmation of that.
Secondly, la quarantaine. The suffix -aine is what you add to a round number 20 or above (30, 40, 50, and so on), to make it “about” that number. So this is about 40. But look again at this word: do you recognize the English word quarantine in it? When someone has a communicable disease, we put them in quarantine. Once upon a time, quarantine lasted 40 days. Nowadays the number varies, depending on the gravity of the illness. (Being well past my quarantaine, I remember being quarantined repeatedly as a child, with my brother and sister–measles, mumps, chicken pox, German measles….)
Saying that this person is suffering from sa petite crise (his little crisis) belittles it, makes fun of it. It’s not serious. It’s a phase he’s going through, and the rest of us superior beings are immune to this sort of foolishness. Until we hit la quarantaine, that is.