I’ve never been aware of the typical French facial expressions until Americans started to ask me what my reactions really meant. “What’s with the air blowing? Are you a horse?” Offended at first that my friends thought I was imitating an animal, I came to realize that the traditional French expression of frustration, combined with the usual pout of annoyance while blowing air, does not work in this country. It means nothing other maybe than the fact that you might be a zoologist studying equine sounds and habits. Here are some of my most favorite French expressions – decoded for you:
- The Horsey Blow: as explained above, expressing a great frustration. It is achieved by a subtle pout letting air come out of the mouth in a blowing sound. The louder the sound, the greater the frustration. Stuck in a situation you can’t get out of or waiting in a long line at the Post Office or better yet, having to do something you really don’t want to do… a horsey blow is in order.
- The Shoulder Shrug: if done well and with practice, it can mean 1,000 words. The shoulders are raised high above the neck line and dropped quickly for an effect that can really take your American audience by surprise. And let’s not forget the mouth and lips going down as in trying to imitate a sad smiley . Depending on the situation, what it means is “I don’t know“, “I don’t care“, or as you go more into the vulgar vocabulary, “I don’t give…” – fill in the blanks. The Shoulder Shrug along with the Horsey Blow is one of the most common thing in France. Practice makes perfect!
- The Face Fart: simple, sleek and discreet, it is a variation of the sad-smiley-mouth combined with a Horsey Blow but this time creating a fart sound with the mouth. The sound alone speaks for itself. No need to add anything. The person talking to you should know immediately that you cannot be bothered by anything at the moment and that you don’t really know or care about what’s going on. “So French!” Please note: the Face Fart can be and often is combined with a Shoulder Shrug. Practice in front of a mirror.
- The Eye Pulling: for this trick, you only need your index finger and one of your eye. Pull gently the skin under your eye with your index and say “mon œil!” – aka “you’re full of it!” For an added French dramatic expression, tilt your head down and give your best disbelieving look. Americans would say “my foot” instead of talking about their eye but in all honesty, no one says that. “Yeah, right” would be more appropriate, “yeah, yeah” can work too.
Maybe one day cut-out Halloween masks of French faces will be sold in your favorite costume stores. In the meantime, practice and send pictures of your best French faces! And if you have more examples, list them in the comment section.