The Gallic Shrug

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Untours explore European Culture

It may be true what they say:  “In Europe, one speaks with one’s hands and feet!”  and it is certainly true in the gestures that accompany the beautiful French language.  Of all the gestures, one has its own name:  the Gallic shrug.  It gets our vote for one of the most versatile and subtle ways that the French tell you, without words, what’s going on.

Most people in a position to know will list the components of the Gallic shrug as:

  1. Tip your head to one side or another.
  2. Do something poochy with your lips, stick one or both out (some call it a pout…but that’s not quite it).
  3. Raise your eyebrows.
  4. Bring your hands up, in either a “throw your hands” in the air gesture….or wiggling your fingers.


  • You can shrug your shoulders…but that’s optional.  (Yes, the shrug in Gallic shrug is optional!)
  • Emit a nonchalant “Bof”.

One of our blogging informants adds: If it sounds too complicated, just do a Maurice Chevalier impression. 

What does it mean?  We-e-ell……that’s another matter.  One of the delights of body language is that the gesture can carry so much meaning  – meaning that can’t necessarily be expressed in words.  Several inadequate attempts to summarize the Gallic shrug could be:

  • “There’s nothing to be done about it?”
  • “Who knows!”
  • “It’s not my problem, buddy!”
  • “Not me!”
  • “I don’t necessarily agree.”
  • “Look, you are not seriously expecting me to try to sort this out for you, are you?”

Next time you’re at a loss for words….throw a Gallic shrug into the conversational mix.  You might like it!

While travelling, have you ever  resorted  to talking with your hands and feet?  How did it work out?

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