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Speak French without Opening Your Mouth (French Mannerisms)

Updated on December 9, 2014
Riding the French Metro and wearing stereotypical red berets
Riding the French Metro and wearing stereotypical red berets

Immerse yourself in French actions, not just language

Just like in English, knowing the French language is only a portion of knowing the French culture. Also, compared to the other components, the language can be a bit difficult. So below, you'll find some other interesting ways that you can speak, or at least convey, French without saying a word. I first focus on typical French gestures.

A Brief Outline

I'll be progressing through this order:

  • Gestures: Adopt the French way of expressing doubt, aggravation, boredom, etc.
  • Food: Learn briefly about such topics as breakfast and French cuisine.

French gesture: Directions for On s'appelle
French gesture: Directions for On s'appelle | Source
French gesture: Directions for le Bof
French gesture: Directions for le Bof | Source
French gesture: Directions for Ras le bol
French gesture: Directions for Ras le bol | Source
French gesture: Directions for La Moue
French gesture: Directions for La Moue | Source
French gesture: Directions for Les Boules
French gesture: Directions for Les Boules | Source
French gesture: Directions for the Camembert
French gesture: Directions for the Camembert | Source

Which gesture are you most likely to use?

See results

Common French Gestures

In the American culture, body language is important. If we're watching a television show on mute, we can still get the gist of what's being said by reading the body language of the speakers. To an outsider, gestures may seem amusing or even confusing. However, here are a few popular mannerisms that French people typically use.

  1. On s'appelle (pronounced ohn-sa-PEL): Let's imagine that you must leave a meeting early and--without interrupting the meeting-- wish to tell a colleague to call you later. Here's the perfect gesture. This one's not difficult at all to remember. Some of us do the same thing.
  2. Bof (pronounced BUFF): Use this as a way to show indifference, that you don't care one way or the other. You're basically shrugging off your cares.
  3. Ras le bol (pronounced RAH-luh-buhl): When you've had it up to the proverbial "here," this is the perfect motion to signify it. What may also supplement your aggravation or annoyance is the look of annoyance on your face while you do the ras le bol.
  4. La moue (pronounced la-MOO): Do you disagree? Do la moue. Do you not like the person approaching you? Do la moue. Do you not like what you're seeing? Do la moue. Basically, do la moue whenever any negative feeling comes to you.
  5. Camembert (pronounced cah-mahn-BAIR): Someone talking too much? Stick a piece of camembert cheese in their mouth--symbolically, of course. Know that this is not very polite at all.
  6. Les boules (pronounced leh-BOOL): Is your whole world coming to an end? Does everything seem to be falling apart one after the other? Use this gesture to capture your utter frustration.

The following video from Géraldine of provides additional French gestures that you can incorporate into your body language.

Can't you just taste them?

Two flaky pains au chocolat
Two flaky pains au chocolat
Un pain au chocolat
Un pain au chocolat

Have you ever tried a pain au chocolat (or a chocolate croissant)?

See results

You'll never know what you can do until you try

Eating like a Frenchman/woman

American culture seems to promote the regular consumption a lot of fatty, heavy foods. They're cheaper and quicker. Healthier foods seem to be more expensive. The French way, however, typically travels in the opposite direction. Lighter portion sizes and lighter, fresher food pervade French cuisine.

So put your American breakfast of pancakes with syrup, sausage, eggs, grits, biscuits, ham, toast, cereal, AND bacon to the side. The French breakfast will be lighter on both your belly and your wallet. Simply eat a piece of toast with butter and jam. Or try a pastry or piece of fruit.

My personal favorite is le pain au chocolat. It's essentially a croissant wrapped around two sticks of chocolate. Mmm...

Finally, keep lunch light. But dinner? Now, dinner is where the class comes in. If you can afford it, learn to cook French delicacies. Believe me, I'm not asking you to become a modern-day Julia Child. But even if you can cook only one dish, you'll be mighty proud of yourself each time you prepare and eat it.

However...if you can't cook to save for life, your best bet would be to locate a French café or restaurant near you to visit occasionally.

Filet mignon with potatoes
Filet mignon with potatoes


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