What you Need to Know – Understanding French Gestures
Did you know that communication is 55% body language?
38% is assigned to the tone of voice, with verbal cues bringing in a whopping 7%.
As you can see, much more goes into communication than meets the ear.
If you’re trying to learn French, you simply cannot forget the French gestures.
Language learners too often overlook how useful body language can be in assessing the context of a conversation. If you’re in the dark on common gestures, you might be missing out on half the conversation (55%, to be exact).
7 Most Common French Gestures and Their Meanings
Check out these common French gestures that are both useful and downright hilarious, so you can be in the know next time you practice your French.
1. Mon Oeil – I Don’t Trust You
This gesture is done by pulling down on your eye with your index finger and giving a pointed, serious expression. When you do this, you’re saying, “You’re so full of it!”
(Fun fact: Mon oeil means my eye – hence the eye-pointing!)
An alternative to this is filling a cheek with air and expelling it with your finger. Just like mon oeil, it tells someone you think they’re lying or exaggerating.
2. C’est Rasoir – It’s Boring, or I’m Bored
Expressing that you are bored is done by running the backside of your knuckles up and down your jawline multiple times. This subtle motion can grab your friend’s attention and get you out of a situation you’d rather get away from. C’est rasoir literally meaning it’s razor.
While we can often tell through body language when someone is disengaged, this gesture is used to directly and deliberately communicate this message to a companion.
3. Et Toc / Dans Les Dents – Take That / Told You So
This gesture is performed by putting your thumb under your chin and then arcing it outward. It can mean take that, told you so, or that’s payback.
It’s a taunting type of motion and can be used confrontationally or jokingly toward friends or family.
Dans les dents is a variation of et toc and is expressed similarly.
4. Avoir Un Coup Dans Le Nez – To Be Drunk
Making a fist against your nose (almost as if you have a clown nose) and twisting it is used to point out that someone is completely drunk. You might jokingly use this silly gesture to describe a friend or passerby while out on a weekend.
5. J’ai Peur – I’m Afraid
Take one hand and touch your thumb repeatedly to the rest of your extended fingers, almost in Italian style.
Americans might think, “Show me the money!”, which is very culturally American. In France, however, it means I’m afraid.
I once spoke to a French girl about traveling to Brazil, and I said:
T’es pressée d’y aller? → Are you excited about going?
Upon which she responded:
Oui, mais… → Yes, but… with this gesture.
I said, “Oh, expensive!” and she responded, “No, afraid!”
Needless to say, it’s easy to misread conversations without gestural savoir-faire.
6. Ras Le Bol – To Be Fed Up With
This expression is made by holding a slack expression on your face and holding your hand above your head. You’ll move your hand back and forth horizontally to the side of your head.
It’s a bit like the English saying, ‘I’ve had it up to here.” (By the way – there are many ways to say this in French).
7. On Se Casse – Let’s Get Out of Here
Smack the side of your hand against the palm of the other. Do it with a bit of force and a telling look in the eyes of “I’m over this”.
This is a subtle way to escape a party or social situation you don’t want to be in.
In French slang, you can say on se casse or on se bouge to say “let’s bounce/let’s move”.
What Funny Gestures Do You Make?
You may not be expected to perform French gestures, but knowing how to interpret them will take you way further in the conversation.