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No. 127: French Body Language

Lately I have been spending more time with a couple of French women. We try to speak French, but invariably we end up in English as they are far more fluent in my native tongue than I am in theirs. But it is still wonderful, and I feel like I am finally getting a small insiders view to what makes the French woman tick.

I have been secretly studying them, and trying to learn how to be a little more French, at least in my gestures, sounds and facial expressions. I find it very interesting because sometimes their gestures have completely different meanings from the same gesture in America, and sometimes they are gestures I’d never seen before moving to France.

Here are a few of my favorites that I am practicing en ce moment. I’m pretty sure most of these should only be used among friends.

*Ce n’est pas ma faute / Je n’en sais rien.

The French Shrug

These phrases usually accompanies the good old Gallic shrug—raised shoulders, raised eyebrows, lower lip thrust out, hands held up like you are being robbed. Meaning: It’s not my fault / I don’t know (how that happened).



C’est Nul!

thumbs downThis saying accompanies the American thumbs down gesture to indicate something is worthless, foolish or just plain bad.


Nul! This one might confuse Americans because for us it’s the A-OK gesture—as in making a circle with your index finger and thumb while your other three fingers stay up. In French body language this actually means zero, zip, nothing, and, I’m guessing, irrelevant.



J’ai du nez.*

Nose_TapThis is a saying I don’t hear very often, but I see this gesture a lot when French women are talking together. They tap their nose with their index finger and look mischievously in your eyes. This, I believe, means they are cunning and quick and have seen the truth faster than anyone else in the conversation. I adore this gesture. It always makes me smile.


Il a un verre dans le nez.

alcoholThis saying and gesture is for when someone you’re hanging out with has had a bit too much to drink. For comedic relief (or behind the drinkers back), you make a fist and hold it up in front of your nose, tilt your head and twist your hand. Try it out at your next party.



Chut! / Silence!

Silence!When you want some one to shut up or fermez-la, you can hold up your index finger in the air (not in front of your lips), and give a severe look to the people disturbing you. French teachers use this gesture frequently.

Du fric!

too expensive!If you are out shopping with your French girlfriends or even talking about shopping or buying something, you will hear this expression. It accompanies the holding out of your hand and rubbing your thumb across you fingertips. This specifies that something is too expensive for you, or you need the money to buy it.

Et enfin…



Victoire!I never actually hear women say, “Victoire!”, but I see this symbol all the time. This, of course, in America is the “peace sign” or is used to signifies the number 2, when ordering something, but in France it means victory or success in accomplishing something.

* Please see the comment section for a reader’s different interpretation of some of these gestures. I am very grateful for all your feedback and corrections. French, it isn’t easy for me!


en ce moment: at the moment

Et enfin…And finally…

fermez-la: shut it, or shut up

Victoire! Victory!

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. You understood some gestures correctly and some not exactly . The “bof” one is right, but the sound “bof” doesn’t suit here . Bof is always used about something that doesn”t excite you, that doesn’t please you very much, a sense of tepidity, no interest . ” Did you like the show ? – Bof . Do you feel like going out ? – Bof “.
    The “rien” one is not exactly correct . This sign means zero, rotten, it means ” C’est nul” .
    “J’ai du nez” and the nose /finger sign don’t imply you’re smarter or quicker, it means you can feel things that are not shown . In French, to smell and to feel are the same verb : sentir .
    Let’s add a few spellings : “Fermez-la” is right . It’s an order, imperative form.
    Keep on your path and “bon courage !”

    January 30, 2014
    • Thank you for the corrections. It’s always hard interpreting a different language. I will make the changes tout de suite.

      January 30, 2014
  2. I know, I know . Thanks for trying to express reality and not personal beliefs .
    By the way I should have said before : All the phrases starting by ” à la …” followed by a nationality or regionality or citizenship mean in their complete form ” A la manière …française” for instance ( in the French way) . The unsaid word is “manière” and it’s a feminine word . Therefore every “à la … ” is feminine : à l’anglaise; à la normande, à la marseillaise .
    ( Nationality adjectives, as well as regions and cities adjectives are Not capitalized in French) .

    January 30, 2014
  3. Great! And thank you to other readers for further explanations!

    January 31, 2014
    • Hi friend…I didn’t quite get it right, but I’m trying sis-tah. I would be interested to hear how other French people think of the finger on the side of the nose. One of my French friends described it to me the way I wrote it (although we were speaking Franglish)…did any of your French colleagues ever make this gesture? bon week-end to you and yours.

      January 31, 2014
      • great post! I remember trying to figure out a lot of unspoken language when I was first in Frenchie land. Funny you call the French shrug the Gallic shrug, I tell my friends it’s the Jewish shrug. For me this gesture is either, ‘I have no idea/interest’ or, if combined with any number of French sounds, such as ‘ppbbbttt’ it can mean ‘I have ZERO interest and won’t even lretend that I do, nor will I take any responsibility for whatever ypu are asking me about, i.e. c’est pas moi’. In French West Indies I found this utter avoidance of ownership to be particularly popular with people in administrative positions of power. Here in Bordeaux I notice it more among waitstaff. I learn more unspoken language every day, it is never ending, like language! I have been speaking now since 2008, and just the other day I realized that “ça m’agace” wasn’t written: ” ça me gasse” hahaha. you soind like you are having fun and exploring the deeper meaning of things it os great keep going! force et courage!

        February 2, 2014
      • Ha. Thanks! So there IS hope for me at some point to emerge from toddler land and communicate and participate like an adult in the future?

        February 3, 2014
      • Oh gawd yes. It comes as long as you make an effort! For me at least I find it never ending as I said, but really when you get discouraged, go look back at some notes or some things that you couldn’t read at all from the beginning, and you’ll see your progress! You’ve got to look at where you were sometimes to see how far you’ve come because looking ahead in terms of learning language – there is always something more to learn! I found reading in French helped a LOT. Even before I could really understand it all. Especially books translated from English to French – you can get some fluff books-easy reads — and it is a good way to see how certain things from English can be expressed in French. Give it a go!

        February 4, 2014
      • Yes. You do have to put in the daily effort. I’m currently doing an online class–not as good as a real life class, but affordable and the best I can do this month. You are right about looking back to see how much you have actually improved…and I have. Thanks for the encouragement.

        February 4, 2014

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