Xenophobe's® Guides: French gestures and greetings
Are your hands being rude? Hand gestures add as much meaning to a conversation as speech, which is why you'd be impolite if yours were jammed in your pockets.
Xenophobe's® Guides: A book series that highlights the unique character and behaviour of different nations with insight and humour.
The French invented body language. In conversation, French hands are never still. They give shape, form and size to ideas. They display the state of the mind, heart and soul of the parties involved.
They kiss the tips of their fingers to show they approve strongly of something or someone. They pull the hand across the forehead when they are fed up. They purse their lips and exhale when they are exasperated. They have gestures for disapproval, incredulity, superiority, apology, amazement, surprise, bewilderment and frustration. Which is why it is considered grossly impolite to talk with one's hands in one's pockets.
Foreigners often fail to appreciate the formal code of greeting in France. The French shake hands with everyone (family, children, strangers), at home, on the way to work, at work, on leaving work, on the way home from work, and so on.
However, it is important to remember with whom one has shaken hands on any one day. The French regard it as extremely bad manners to shake hands twice in one day, as though one had not taken adequate notice the first time.
It is still the custom to say bonjour and au revoir to one and all when entering or leaving a shop or bar. This is not out of politeness. It is because the French view acknowledging the existence of others as a way of avoiding being rude. Manners 'maketh' civilisation to them. Without rigid formalities, the primitive in them would assuredly assert itself.
This is why the structure is so carefully graded. There are those shopkeepers to whom one should say, "Bonjour, monsieur," and those to whom one should say, "Bonjour, monsieur. Çava?" And those to whom one should say "Bonjour, monsieur. Çava?... " and ask after his wife, and a whole lot more.
For more, read The Xenophobe's Guide to the French.
Reproduced from Xenophobe's Guide to the French by kind permission of Xenophobe's® Guides.
Photo credit: denise carbonell
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