Pardon My French.

When I was young one of the most popularly quoted lines among my peers was “Hell is other people” from Sarte’s No Exit. In college it was posted on the door of every dorm room, or at least every third dorm room, or maybe it was just a few on every floor and it just seemed like it was everywhere.


The problem is it was almost always misquoted, or rather misunderstood. Sure, Sarte wrote in French, and the play was originally called Huis Clos, so, yeah, anyone who said “Hell is other people” was, strictly speaking, quoting a translation of the original, but the important thing is that Sarte was one of the major figures of the Existentialist movement, and even though one of his characters says, “Hell is other people,” or something like it, the author of Being And Nothingness believed that it is our perceptions that shape the world. If Sarte knew how many kids were going around saying “Hell is other people” it would probably make him say, “Merde.”


A character from the TV show Justified put it much more succinctly: “If you run into an asshole in the morning, you ran into an asshole. If you run into assholes all day, you’re the asshole.”

8 Comments

  1. Chuck Baudelaire

    With apologies to Sartre, I always assumed Hell was me.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      No apologies are needed since I believe that was Sartre’s point. Not that he thought you personally were Hell, though, unless he knew you. And if he did then please do tell.

      Reply
  2. mydangblog

    That’s so funny–one of our meeting rooms at work has a sign on the back door that says No Exit. Sometimes I just stare at it and think, “Yup.” I always like to turn the phrase a little into “Hell is stupid people.”

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      There’s a sign on a door in my building that says “This door must remain closed at all times.” And every time I see that I think, isn’t that a wall? Yeah, I think I might make life Hell for other people with questions like that.

      Reply
  3. Ann Koplow

    Heaven is other people like you, Chris.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Heaven for me is comments like this one.

      Reply
  4. ALLISON EVERETT

    I got to read No Exit in both English and French. I liked it ok, but I thought the absurdist plays of Ionesco were marvelous. Still do. The French is, “L’enfer, c’est les autres.” Literally: Hell, that’s other.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Between Sartre and Ionesco I’d take Ionesco every time. Yes, his plays really are brilliant, and it’s been too long since I read “Rhinoceros”. Thank you for that reminder.

      Reply

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