Nonverbal

 

 

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   Before we begin our discussion of some of the nonverbal signals of France, we should take a look at what nonverbal communication is.  According to Samovar and Porter, "nonverbal communication involves all those nonverbal stimuli in a communication setting that are generated by both the source and his or her use of the environment and that have potential message value for the source or receiver" (Samovar & Porter 167).  What they are saying is that nonverbal cues are everywhere, and to be able to interact with another culture, it is important to understand how these cues are used.  Below, you will find useful information on some of the more practical nonverbal cues of France.

 

Greetings         

The French use politeness as an essential goal of their nonverbal communication.  The French are very observant of rank, and especially in terms greetings, it is not polite to extend your hand to a superior individual.  One of the most important differences in greeting between the French culture and those of say the United States lies in the handshake.  The French handshake is done with a “one-pump” movement, as opposed to the United States who use their shoulder and pump multiple times.  It is believed that politeness will open doors, and the French use the same form of politeness in how they open doors for women, followed with the saying Après vous, je vous en prie--after you, please.  This is essential to the French for it is a sign of good upbringing and education.  Once the French become more comfortable with a person, a kiss on the cheek, especially by women (never by men unless they are relations) is a more acceptable greeting.

 

Posture

Posture is a very important issue in French culture.  Children are reminded that they are to stand up straight, we see that this is evident from their feelings of nationalism and pride.  French see themselves as a the most advanced European country, and the one that is the most unified, with this, they believe that they should present themselves accordingly.  The French use a controlled walk, that is they don’t swing their arms, and when speaking to someone, do not place your hands in you pockets.  Feet and chairs are to remain on the ground, that is don’t lean back, and do not place your feet on a desk or chair.

 

Facial Expressions

The French are very reserved (because they value privacy) in terms of their use of facial expressions, which is often interpreted as being rude.  This is most clearly seen in their facial expressions. The French do not smile frequently because they feel it is necessary only to smile when there is something to smile about.  Therefore, they do not just smile as they are walking down the street as Americans do, which is often interpreted as rude.   

 

Gestures

The use of gestures is very important to the French.  Most often, they will not admit to not understanding someone's speech, for it would be a loss of face.  But, because the French place such a high importance on politeness, it is essential to know when and who one can use they gestures with.  Below is the French hand gesture for "I don't believe you," and if you follow the link below, it will take you to a sight that has twenty one French gestures, and explains where and whom one can use them with.

"I don't believe you" http://www-scf.usc.edu/~malvarez/Nonverbal_Communication.htm

For a list of twenty one French Gestures,

http://french.about.com/homework/french/library/weekly/aa020901a.htm

Proxemics

Space is essential to the French, in which they enjoy an open amount of space.  This is most characterized by their use of public and private space.  When two people have just met, it is considered a public relationship, thus requiring more space.  Once the two have become more acquainted, they are deemed private friends, and thus may sit closer to one another.

Time Orientation

The french are a monochronic time oriented society.  What this means is that they are more prone to treat individuals and relationships as more important than time schedules or appointments.  Do not be surprised if your are forced to wait for someone to show up for an appointment, although Platt suggests that it is usually no longer than fourty five minutes.  But this sort of interaction goes behond just being "on-time."  During meetings, people are more prone to interupt, and engage the speaker in a debate or argument.  This type of relationship is fostered because it creates a greater degree of dialogue and a greater exchange of ideas (Platt 203/216).  

Additional Resources:

http://www-home.cc.duq.edu/~harden/icc/nonverbal.html

http://www.rose-hulman.edu/~clarks/sl183/2-4-3.htm

Learn more about France's:

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Project Team


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E-mail questions or comments to mkfinney@depauw.edu
  January 26, 2001