French Paralanguage

French Paralanguage

French paralanguage are those things that are distinctively French and give meaning to the language, but are not spoken. Before you can consider yourself truly fluent in a language, you should be able to understand and even use the gestures and body language that could be considered typically French.

Shaking Hands

Whenever you meet someone, if you're not kissing on the cheek, you're shaking hands. It's one of the most common gestures upon meeting someone and the French do it both within business circles and in casual situations as well. Make sure when you shake hands, you are light and gentle. Rigorous handshaking that is more characteristic in America would be seen as rather boorish in France.


This is a classic example of how communication can get confusing when you don't understand the paralanguage of a culture. To Americans, making circle with your forefinger and thumb means that everything is okay. In France, this is another way of saying, 'Rien!'

Un, deux, trois. . .

Is this the typical American "thumbs up", or a French man counting to three. For some reason, it is frequent that when the French count, they frequently start by counting "un" on their thumb, "duex" on their forefinger, and "trois" on their middle finger. It's quite noticeable and common, although not impossible to figure out.


Believe it or not, this gesture is a way of letting everyone know that you want silence. Not especially a stern way of commanding quiet, the pointing forefinger is simply used in the same way that Americans might put a forefinger over the mouth to quietly tell someone to be quiet.


Shrugging in France can convey more than a few meanings including:

  • It's not my fault.
  • I don't really have any idea.
  • I don't agree.
  • I doubt it!

The quintessential French shrug is with palms out and a somewhat exaggerated face that says it all.

Faire la moue

Don't like something? Do you see something generally disgusting? Want to express disdain for the situation? The common French way to do this is to pucker your lips quickly with a somewhat bored expression on your face.

Faire la bise

''Faire la bise is one of those French social customs that everyone seems to know. It is very common in social circles to greet someone by kissing on either cheek. What's interesting is that although it's generally associated with the French, kissing on the cheek is a common custom in many cultures.

However, whether you're kissing on the cheek or shaking hands, it's important to know and understand French paralanguage.

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French Paralanguage