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One of my favorite Italian sayings is

Non tutte le ciambelle riescono col buco (literally "Not all donuts come out with holes").

It usually gets a smile from another Italian speaker, because it's a nice way to conclude (even serious) discussions about things that are complex and not working 100% according to plan and for which there may be no solution. It's a wry verbal shrug.

The only rough equivalents I've come up with are "What are you going to do?", "C’est la vie/That's life", "We/they can't all be winners", "You can't win them all", and "The best laid plans..."

(you) can't win them all

A phrase said, often as an attempt at consolation, when one has lost or failed to achieve a desired result, especially after previous success. "Them" is sometimes abbreviated as "'em." Farlex Dictionary of Idioms

what are you going to do?

US informal
Used to say that there is nothing you can do to make a situation better Cambridge

But some of the above are, in fact, used chiefly as consolations; the Italian is armchair philosophy in a nutshell. I haven't heard or seen an expression that captures the essence of the Italian: sometimes we simply need to resign ourselves to that which is beyond our control, perfection may not be possible, and perhaps a bit of imperfection/individuality isn't a bad thing.

(Google Translate outputs "Not all donuts succeed with a hole" :-) Succeed/be able to is the usual translation of the Italian verb riuscire, but it would be hard to use succeed here idiomatically without twisting the sentence into, well, a pretzel.)

Speaking in my native English, when a situation arises that's just right for the Italian saying, I resort to "There's an expression in Italian, "Non tutte ..." followed by an English translation. It's usually enough for the listener to appreciate the original, but am I missing a good English equivalent? I'm looking for something that's not a pure or brusk consolation ("Suck it up!") and, if possible, incorporates "look on the bright(er) side" or even "non-conformity counts too". (Something with humor as well would be a home run.)

English excels at sopping up individual words from other languages like a sponge to give us so many nuances in meaning. Expressions and whole proverbs seem to have a much harder time making the jump from language to language.

By the way, zeppole are small Italian donuts made (intentionally) without holes. Larger ones with assorted fillings like jelly donuts are bomboloni.

[Some edits made, thanks to those who have commented.]

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    Other phrases that come to mind with a related meaning (but that I suspect fall foul of your "not chiefly consolation" criterion, hence a comment rather than an answer) include "That's the way the cookie crumbles" (and variants e.g. "That's the way the mop flops").
    – psmears
    Dec 14, 2021 at 14:02
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    Is the gist of that saying meant to imply that while all donuts are formed with holes some puff up and close while baking/frying (implying random chance is responsible) or that some donuts start out without holes by design implying not everyone conforms to the norm or something else?
    – Jim
    Dec 14, 2021 at 14:17
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    I am puzzled as to why anyone would downvote this question. It is interesting and appropriate, relating to the finding of good usage. I have upvoted.
    – Anton
    Dec 14, 2021 at 14:53
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    I think the translation can be adopted in English because it is funny and it conveys the idea clearly. In English, the best common expression would be "not everything goes as planned". A broader yet simple idiomatic expression would be "life happens".
    – ermanen
    Dec 14, 2021 at 19:20
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    There's an Eleanor Roosevelt quote that's not too far off in the philosophical tone: "If life were predictable it would cease to be life, and be without flavor." But it's not a common proverb. Dec 15, 2021 at 3:16

3 Answers 3

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When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade is a proverbial phrase used to encourage optimism and a positive can-do attitude in the face of adversity or misfortune. Lemons suggest sourness or difficulty in life; making lemonade is turning them into something positive or desirable.

[Wikipedia]

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  • I can see the inspiration behind that: my "Suck it up!" became "Go suck on a lemon!" and then "Hey look, lemons!" etc. :-) Not bad!
    – DjinTonic
    Dec 14, 2021 at 17:48
  • Yes, it's common, but I'm not sure it has the charm of the original. Dec 15, 2021 at 2:50
  • @aparente001 That would be a perfect ELU tag for my question: "charm-requests"
    – DjinTonic
    Dec 15, 2021 at 14:48
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My impression is the there is probably no English proverb that conveys the exact meaning and spirit of the Italian one:

Collins suggests:

things can’t be expected to turn out right every time.

which, IMO, is as close as possible to the Italian usage.

From the site: Amazing Italian Words That There’s No Translation For:

“Non tutte le ciambelle riescono col buco”

This literally translates as ‘not all donuts come out with a hole’. As an Italian, you might use it to mean ‘not everything turns out as planned’. We love this for two reasons. Firstly, it is very philosophical and so are we. Secondly, it is all about donuts and so are we.

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  • That's an excellent translation, but is just that, a translation and not a saying or proverb. I quote the Italian in English conversation because it's a practical truism that sums up situations with humor.
    – DjinTonic
    Dec 14, 2021 at 18:18
  • @DjinTonic - not all proverbs have a perfect twin in other languages. If there were one you would find it in dictionaries. Proverbs often summarize a cultural aspect that’s typical of a specific culture, and the Italian one is different from the Anglo Saxon one.
    – user 66974
    Dec 14, 2021 at 18:24
  • That is true, but I belive the Collins site provides translations. I realize that we won't have a perfect match in English, but I don't know every saying and could be missing something pithy or witty.
    – DjinTonic
    Dec 14, 2021 at 18:31
  • Given the second quote (from Amazing Italian Words...), one saying that comes to mind is "No plan survives contact with the enemy". Alternatively, I might make some sort of reference to Murphy's Law, whose canonical phrasing is "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong." Dec 14, 2021 at 20:59
  • @JeffZeitlin - none of the two sayings is close to the Italian one, sorry. The sense is simpler than the OP is making.
    – user 66974
    Dec 14, 2021 at 21:19
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How about "that's the way the cookie crumbles"? It keeps the food connection and the cookies are still good to eat even though they are in inconvenient crumbs.

In non food related phrases, I would either vote for a reference to Murphy's Law or suggest "best laid plans of mice and men ...".

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