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Ayako Egawa wrote to me from Japan about the proverb, “The Grass is always greener on the other side.” The proverb means that people always think that others have it better in life, even if it’s not the case. Interestingly, Ayako said that this proverb also exists in Japan. Here’s what she wrote:

Hi Lisa,

I found that someone wrote a proverb on the wall [on Facebook], “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence”.

I’m surprised that we Japanese have the same proverb with almost the same words or expression, "隣の芝は青い".
It means people always think they would be happier in a different set of circumstances. (Usually it implies that the other circumstances really are not any better.)

I think that many proverbs are common across the world, but even if they have the same meaning, they are sometimes used with different expressions or words in each country.
But this proverb is exactly the same in English and Japanese!

So, if you are interested in it and have time, would you ask your friends on Facebook if this proverb is common in other countries, too?

It would be interesting to know how people say this proverb!

Thanks in advance.

Ayako

What is interesting is that this specific proverb originally comes from an American song called, “The Grass is always Greener in the other Fellow’s Yard” by Raymond B. Egan and Richard A. Whiting (published in 1924). Here’s the chorus:

The grass is always greener
In the other fellow’s yard.
The little row
We have to hoe,
Oh boy that’s hard.
But if we all could wear
Green glasses now,
It wouldn’t be so hard
To see how green the grass is
In our own back yard.

The idea behind the “The grass is always greener” goes back to the poet Ovid (43 BC – 17 or 18 AD). In his “Art of Love” he wrote, “The harvest is always richer in another man’s field”. There are other proverbs with the same sentiment: “The apples on the other side of the wall are the sweetest”, “Our neighbor’s hen seems a goose”, and “Your pot broken seems better than my whole one”. These all have the idea of others having it better off, even if it’s not true.

We’d love to learn about other proverbs from around the world similar to “The Grass is Always Greener”, and also if the same proverb exists elsewhere. Please share your versions, with translations if possible, in the comments below.

Thanks in advance!

Mama Lisa

References:

Proverbs: A Handbook (2004) by Wolfgang Mieder
A book of quotations, proverbs and household words (1907) by Sir William Gurney Benham
Dictionary of Proverbs (2006) by George Latimer Apperson, M. Manser
Verbivore’s Feast: Second Course: More Word & Phrase Origins (2006) by Chrysti M. Smith

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This artilce was posted on Wednesday, July 28th, 2010 at 3:45 pm and is filed under Countries & Cultures, English, English Proverbs, Japan, Japanese, Languages, Mama Lisa, Music, Proverbs, Questions, Sayings, The Grass is Always Greener, USA. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

15 Responses to “The Proverb “The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side””

  1. Lisa Says:

    Suzan Novisiana wrote:

    Bahasa Indonesia: Rumput tetangga (selalu) tampak lebih hijau.

    rumput = grass
    tetangga = neighbour
    selalu tampak = (always) looks like
    lebih = more
    hijau = green

  2. oswald chan Says:

    In Hong Kong we have this:

    The rice and vegetable (mean meals) from neighbour smell better. (隔離飯菜香 Ka Li Fan Choi Heung)

    oswald

  3. Monique Says:

    We have the same in French “L’herbe est (toujours) plus verte chez le voisin” -the grass is (always) greener at the neighbor’s – or “L’herbe est (toujours) plus verte dans le pré du voisin” -the grass is (always) greener in the neighbor’s meadow.
    It’s also the same in Spanish “La hierba siempre es/parece más verde del otro lado de la valla” -the grass is/seems always greener on the other side of the fence.
    It’s also the same in Italian “L’erba del vicino (ordei vicini) è sempre più verde” – the neighbor’s (or neighbors’) grass is always greener.

  4. Dorothy Milnes-Simm Says:

    Lisa, I came across this new/very old Old Dame Trot, thought you might want it. Seligor

    Dame Trot and her Cat

    Dame Trot and her cat,
    Sat down for to chat;
    The Dame sat on this side,
    And Puss sat on that.

    “Puss” says the Dame,
    “Can you catch a rat,
    Or a mouse in the dark”
    “Purr” said the cat.
    Mama Lisa, this is another old Dame Trot and her cat rhyme

  5. Rajesh Aadithya Says:

    In Tamil (The historical language of India)

    Ekkariku, akkarai patchai!

    Ekkariku -This side of the River (When you compare, this side of the River)

    Akkarai – Other side of the River

    Patchai – Greenish

  6. Rick Says:

    I’m interested in another version of this quoted on the American TV show “Detroit 1-8-7.” It sounded like Italian and the character claimed the translation to be “The other guy’s wife always looks better.” I can’t seem to find any record of anything similar online (everything references the grass is always greener version). Are you familiar?

  7. denise mirás Says:

    again, in Portuguese (the same): a grama do vizinho é sempre mais “verdinha”

    grama=grass, do=’s, vizinho=neighbour, é=is, sempre=always, mais=more, verdinha=green (verde is the word, but verdinha has a sense of….hummm “greeny”, maybe – does it exist in English?!…

    The meaning, I think is closer to you “think that others have it better in life, even if it’s not the case”, a sense of envy… right?

  8. Lisa Says:

    Yes! It’s the idea that you think others are better off than you… and maybe it’s a slight case of envy of others.

    I don’t think greeny is a word in English… maybe it would be greener or as you said, more green.

  9. Kiat Says:

    Dutch: Buurmans gras is altijd groener (The neighbour’s grass is always greener)
    German: Die Kirschen in Nachbars Garten schmecken immer besser (The cherries in the neighbour’s garden always taste better)
    Afrikaans: Die verste gras is die groenste (The grass is greener far away)

  10. Kiat Says:

    Re: verdinha
    The ending –inho (m)/inha(f) is one way for Portuguese to diminutize a word. It may be applied to nouns as well as to adjectives, as is the case here. The latter is, as far as I know, unknown in the English language. Portuguese shares this option with Afrikaans and Dutch. The function of the ending is not limited to merely making things small. Many nouns, for example, acquire a different meaning from the root form. Examples: Afrikaans pampoen (pumpkin) > pampoentjes (mumps); pruim (plum) > pruimpie (chewing tobacco). Dutch: Afrikaan (an African man) > afrikaantje (marigold, tagetes); viool (violin) > viooltje (violet, pansy).
    The diminutive ending may make an adjective into an adverb: Dutch/Afrikaans zacht/sag > zachtjes/saggies (quietly, mildly, softly)
    In all three languages a dimunitive may acquire an subjective meaning and thus impart cosiness, affectiveness, cuteness, endearment, euphemism). This is especially true for Portuguese words, both nouns and adjectives. Thus verdinho stresses the subjective value which the speaker experiences while speaking about the neighbour’s greener grass.
    These ’subjectivised’ diminutives often render a concept that requires a separate word or a wholly different term in English. One striking example from Afrikaans: The term ‘kaffer’ (kaffir) for a black is considered a term of abuse when used by a white South African. However, if changed to kaffertjie, the euphemistic effect is so great that this word may be used as an endearment by whites to their children: ‘My Jannie is ‘n goeie kaffertjie’. The English ‘little kaffir’ however, fully retains its abusive connotation.
    The way (if there is one) to adequately paraphrase ‘verdinho’ in English is for a native speaker to decide ☺

  11. Kiat Says:

    If Ayako is still around, I would appreciate if she would render “隣の芝は青い” into
    hiragana of katakana.
    Thanks,
    Kiat

  12. behzad Says:

    We have a similar proverb in Persian: The neighbour’s fowl is a goose.

  13. The troll under the bridge - Systematic Wonder Says:

    [...] day, Billy noticed that the grass was much greener on the other side of the river. (Heard that before?) The river was narrow, but deep. He’d avoided swimming lessons, because he was afraid [...]

  14. Ege Şenol Says:

    In Turkish we say “Komşunun tavuğu komşuya kaz görünür”. It means “The chicken is seen as goose by the neighbour”

  15. Kayra Gün Says:

    The neighbours always thinks that the neighbour’s chicken look like a goose.

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