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French gestures


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I'm going to visit France soon and it came home to me that I do not know their gestures and behaviour in the conversation.

How near should I stay to them? For example, chinese people told me they feel discomfort if stay more than 50 cm from the interlocutor. And their manner to move closer and closer annoyed me greately.

What is common way of greeting? Handshake? If yes, firm or not? I heard they greet by kissing, is it normal? And between whom? Any people, close friends, girls, boys, boy and girl?

How to say goodbye? Will hand waving be understood as goodbye?

What are obscene typical french gestures? Finger sign or they have their own?

How to beckon? I heard that if you beckon by using only index finger, it is very insulting.

Do they understand OK sign as OK? I heard that in some countries it is very rude sign.

Also do they understand the mad sign - http://img705.imageshack.us/img705/4014/madsign.jpg

I heard that whether in Spain or in France it means opposite - that smb is clever.

Thanks in advance.
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If you could tell us how all the above are done in your own culture, then perhaps we can answer some of your questions.

So: to enlighten us, could you give your own reply to every single one of the questions above?

Thank you, Just Visitor.

Signed: One of Them.

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Ok. I am russian, so

1. Comfort zone greatly depends on reliability. If a person is stranger, most comfort place to sit, for example, will be

stranger - chair - chair - you, though if we have no possibility to sit in this way, we at ease can sit near him and feel almost no discomfort.

But if it is your friend, distance is shorten to minimal. What about touches - depends on person. Some of them can tap you on shoulder, for example. But not more, it can be considered gayish or annoying.

Common way of greeting -

boys - handshake. it's most common gesture. Even informal it can start with slap but ends with handshake. It must be firm, some people use "dead fish" but it is considered bad, disrespectful and arrogant.

girls - no hadshake. they just say hello or kiss in cheek or lips (not considered as lesbian)

boy and girl - depends on their relations, "hello", hug, seldom kiss in cheek (if not dating)

obscene and just not good gestures -

most common nowadays - "fuck gesture"

but it is very rude. you may not say "go away" with this gesture because if you try to use it in this way, you will definitely be beaten. use it only to severely insult. of course, close friends can joke by showing this sign to each other.

then we have bras d'honneur which means aggression and disrespect

fig - childish gesture that means "i will not give it to you" if smb is asking for smth.

sign of the horns - besides rock it means very rude sign of your own superiority if fingers directed at the interlocutor. can be used to play with child and described as a goat.

show tongue - very childish, adults do not use if they are not fooling around.


to children if angry can use only raking movements of index finger. palm up.

informal way - raking movements of whole palm. palm up. If palm will be facing to earth, it will be considered as "go away"

formal way and informal inpatience way - raking movements of the whole arm. slow - formal, fast - informal.

OK is considered as OK

Mad sign is considered that smb about whom you are talking is crazy (do smth crazily)

V sign = you pretend to a hippy. it is often used with an exclamation "YO"

Thumb up often used with lip mimic.
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OK, that gives us some idea.

I can't comment a lot on the rude or impolite gestures, as I tend to think they convey the more or less the same meaning in most cultures, one can certainly get the idea and feel the intention even if one doesn't fully understand the gesture. Bras d'honneur seems almost universal, and I would not attempt it in any company.

Many of your questions will have to be answered with your own observations - if you are not sure about something, the golden rule is = do nothing!!! Wait until the other person takes the initiative...

As for greetings, first, nobody kisses on lips - I think that would be very shocking for anyone [:D] Lip-kissing is reserved for your nearest and dearest. Hand shaking is the safest one, although if you want to be 100% sure of not making a mistake, just stand back and see if the other person offers their hand to shake first. It may be that even on first meeting, girls and women will kiss you on the cheek - but always let them take the initiative. You might see men who kiss each other when they meet, it is usually because they are relatives, although there might be a growing trend to for males to kiss their male friends too. 

Overall in France it is uncommon to give a big, (full body) hug when you meet a friend - it often embarrasses the French (unlike British people with whom it is much more common in my experience). In fact, one of my personal campaigns has been to do away with the obligatory hello kiss (I just do not like it) and I tried to promote hugging instead. It didn't work very well, as an experiment I tried hugging some of the women (acquaintances or even friends, women my own age)  telling them "in England this is what we do...)  Most were embarrassed, even shocked and resisting!!! So I would not advise you to try it with anyone...

I don't always understand the details of about specific gestures you have mentioned, so will leave you to work it out, or for someone else to comment.

You must remember that there are also regional variations, social background variations, generational variations, etc... so if you just observe quietly and take your cues from other people around you, you shouldn't have any trouble. You might also find that there are very few differences with your own culture!

Enjoy your trip.

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I don't know how formal Russians are on first meeting, but one  difference I've found between British and French is the brits tend to launch straight into the reason for meeting, whereas the french expect formal preliminaries such as "Bon jour - ça va?" and shake hands. A bit of chit chat then say what you've come about.

I agree with 5E about the kissing routine, I still find it embarrassing and unnecessary. To be used only with family or close friends.

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I don't quite agree, Pat.  Perhaps your comments about launching "straight into the reason for meeting" applies specifically to the ENGLISH rather than to the BRITISH.

Certainly, in Wales, they'll talk about the weather, maybe even asking after each other's family members BEFORE coming to the matter in hand.  When I first went to live in Wales, I certainly noticed the difference.  In fact, all this what I called "beating about the bush" used to annoy me no end.  Took me quite a while to accept it with good grace and exchange pleasanteries before talking business.

What I did notice when I first came to France was that people stood a lot closer to me and looked me in the eyes a lot more than in England.  Now I have been here 5 years, I no longer notice.  So I don't now know whether my first impressions were correct or not.

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