American in Spain

Si Dios Quiere

July 18, 2007

Learning a foreign language gives you a perspective on that language that the native speakers don't have. Some phrases become so ingrained into the language, that their original, literal meaning fades. For instance, saying, "Catch you later!" when departing from someone might be a little confusing or frightening for a foreigner who didn't understand all the intricacies of the verb "to catch", even though the phrase is simply meant to say "goodbye". Even the word "goodbye", in English, French, and Spanish, no longer carries the original "go with God" meaning. And so I turn to the Spanish phrase, "si Dios quiere". It literally means "if God wants", but a more meaningful translation would be "if it be God's will". I've only ever heard it tacked on to the end of "Hasta mañana", which means "Until tomorrow" or "See you tomorrow". I've heard it primarily used by Marga's mother and grandfather. So, imagine my thoughts upon hearing it the first few times.

Me: Hasta mañana. Grandpa: Hasta mañana, si Dios quiere.

Or, in English:

Me: See you tomorrow. Grandpa: See you tomorrow, if it be God's will.

How horribly morbid to remind me as I'm heading off for bed that an omnipotent, capricious, sky deity might strike me dead between now and tomorrow morning! That's like saying, "See you tomorrow...if one of us doesn't die first." While I think it's healthy to occasionally be reminded that life is short and getting shorter every second and we should carpe diem and all that, it initially struck me as a terribly distasteful thing to say in parting.

I have since come to understand that "si Dios quiere" is one of those phrases whose original meaning has become so watered down with regular use that it's simply a matter of unthinking habit. A similar example in English is saying "Bless you!" when someone sneezes. The speaker isn't literally implying that you've been possessed with demons and need God's help, even though that's what it literally means. People have just heard others say it so much, like the sound of it, and repeat it out of habit. Personally, I make a conscious effort to avoid saying "si Dios quiere" and "bless you", trying to do my part to rid the world of unnecessary superstition, but I can't say that I always succeed.

I leave you on a humorous note, humorous, at least, to a native English speaker. The Spanish equivalent of saying "Bless you!" is to say "Jesus!" So next time someone sneezes, turn to them and shout "Jesus!"

See you tomorrow...if we survive the night........