Frenchie and the American Face(s)

15 Jun

Ever since I wrote about the French faces and facial expressions, I suddenly turned into this French circus animal despite all my best efforts to remove myself from the ring and ignore all performance requests. Aww come on, do a Horsey Blow again. And do it, like, like you mean it. Can you combine it with, like, a Face Fart? Yes, parties and friends’ gatherings where I should have been a willing, witty – and full of charm! – guest became my own nightmarish scenario where I was suddenly an unwilling game participant tortured to demonstrate innate pouts of frustration to other staring guests during an evening that would unfold to be catastrophic due to my unfathomable stage fright. Oops! Someone’s being French faces-shy! The inability to perform French faces under pressure. This is just my luck! But what I’ve learned all these years living in this country is that no matter what happens and how bad it looks, just smile. Smile and you’ll be rewarded – the reward here being that after 2 more glasses of wine everyone will have completely forgotten about the lack of French mouth fart performance.

So in preparing for this part deux of the facial expressions, I asked around about American facial traits. It became very clear that no one was able to give me examples for something that would make an interesting post. Americans don’t have any facial expressions like Europeans do – not due to heavy Botox use – but because they’re too busy smiling and thinking about how wide(r) their smiles can get. With that said, let’s get started:

– The Frozen Smile: Europeans speak and express themselves with their mouths and noises coming out of them. Americans haven’t learned yet how to do so due to the fact that their mouths are frozen smiling. It is achieved by opening your mouth wide and spreading your lips apart just like at a casting call for a Colgate commercial. The wider the better. And when you think you can’t get any wider, there’s always an extra half an inch to gain by stretching and prying. The automatic Frozen Smile is very useful: happy, confused, terrified, uncomfortable, speechless… smile, smile and smile again. And when you have no clue what someone is talking about and you either don’t care to find out nor don’t want to ask for more details… (vacantly) smile! It speaks volumes.

– The Aww-kward Aww: Tilt your head to the side with compassion, show pleading eyebrows and express a prolonged Aww. Congrats! You have just expressed an appreciative sound of sweetness sprinkled with an exclamation of pity mixed with warm feelings. A climactic draww-n out Aww will win you points for most-annoying-sound-that-doesn’t-mean-anything-in-particular. Whether talking about babies, puppies, a layoff or a broken leg – use your best Aww. Practice, rewind, replay, repeat.

– The Ecstatic High-Five: happy, happier and happiest – and it shows! The EHF is achieved by arching up the eyebrows way up high, opening the mouth really wide in surprise, happiness, excitement – decide depending on the situation – and raising the hand – does not matter which one. The sound attached to the EHF tends to be a pleasurable exclamation and a sense of elation also known as YAY! The EHF’s victorious goal is when the raised hand meets with another raised hand in a clap as palms hit one another. Note: it can be and often is combined with an open Frozen Smile, same as described above but wider and airier.

If, and only if, the EHF is not attached to a YAY! but to a Hi!… careful! – because it becomes:

– The Salutation Syndrome: same trick, same patterns – the motion stays the same. It looks identical as an EHF but can be very deceitful if unaware of the difference. If the person talking blurts out a Hi! then this is not a high-five even though the hand is raised. Do not, I repeat DO NOT high-five. The slight cunning variation in sound can cause tremendous clumsy and embarrassing situations, which would result in an Aww if you were to clap the raised hand offered to you – but if this is what you are after, go for it, it always makes a good story.

This syndrome is observed in all small to medium-sized cities. A bit more rarely in big metropolitan areas but not so uncommon nonetheless. 80% of the locals are affected by this syndrome and the best appropriate reaction is to mirror what you observe – meaning a combination of all facial expressions learned in this lesson: beginning with an Ecstatic High-Five combined with an open Frozen Smile but ending in a Salutation Syndrome by saying Hi! Note: if the answer to your Hi! is How are you? and you have never seen that person before, for now just mirror the locals and repeat How are you? At this point, remember to walk faster and leave the scene of the crime – you can run too if you want! We haven’t tackled yet the best way to approach the Empty Greeting Zone and the Small Talk Universe.

I was really hoping for French faces cut-out masks for Halloween because those faces are a bit more expressive than Americans’. I can’t seem to see an Aww-kward Aww mask. However, if someone out there is into recording American facial expressions and speech patterns and make ring tones, I want one!

Do you have more examples of American facial expressions? Share them in the Comments section below.


5 Responses to “Frenchie and the American Face(s)”

  1. A*** June 16, 2011 at 3:31 AM #

    Tellement vrai ! La première fois que je suis allée aux USA, dans une ville moyenne, je croyais que tous les Américains que je croisais étaient gentils, courtois et surtout, de très bonne humeur !

    Je pense qu’il est temps maintenant de faire une étude approfondie sur le “hug” qui perturbe tant les Français et qui reste une énigme pour moi !

    Continuez ainsi. C’est un plaisir de vous lire…


  2. amelia from z tasty life June 17, 2011 at 5:24 AM #

    Hilarious (and true)! As a European living in the US for over 10 years, I have probably (inadvertently) even aquired some of these espressions!
    I think you would really be interested in Paul Ekman’s work, he is a neuro scientists that studies the facial espressions of people (and the hidden meaning of non-verbal communication)


  3. Mario June 20, 2011 at 4:11 PM #

    What about the eye roll?
    Or opening your eyes real wide and raising your eyebrows while shouting, “Shut up!!!” I admit these probably come from having watched too many episodes of “The Hills” on MTV.
    Sadly with the advent of Botox the new American expression is simply… a frozen one.


    • D'Santo June 20, 2011 at 5:52 PM #

      Mario, you are absolutely right. The “eye roll” – which I deemed French at first – can also apply to American facial expressions.
      And I completely forgot about the shut-up-eyes-wide-open-arched-brows facial tick. Very common. Thank you for adding this to the list. I appreciate it.



  1. Frenchie and the 7 Link Project « Frenchie and the Yankee - August 23, 2011

    […] self-deprecating post about the French facial expressions as well as its counterpart on the American faces are two other posts that weren’t as popular as I thought they would be. In retrospect, I […]


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