The French Smile

 They say the French don’t smile. I disagree. They smile all the time time ; they’re just a misunderstood people. 

Americans smile all the time and we smile at everybody. We smile at the people in the elevator ; we smile at passersby on the sidewalk ; we smile at our annoying colleagues. We are even told to smile when we answer the phone. We smile. We are equal opportunity smilers. Everybody gets a smile. It is rude not to smile. Our culture obliges us to smile.

The smile is free and ubiquitous, like air or sunshine, passed out like a free sample or peppermints at the end of a meal. It’s what we do. It’s expected. It’s polite.   Everyone gets one, it’s very democratic, our American Smile.

The trick is, the French perceive the smile differently than Americans.   The French do not expect, nor feel obliged to pass around smiles like candy.   But they do smile, and when they do, it means something, something special, something specific.

You see, in France, the smile is a gift ; one is bestowed a smile. The smile can be a surprise, a signal, a reward, an invitation. It can be many things, but it is always an offering, a well earned treasure to receive. The French smile sends a clear message.   The French smile sends warmth, gratitude, an invitation, or a secret. 

In other words, to avoid the Lost in Translation moment, save your smiles for special moments, and special people. After a week in Paris, you will know when to bestow – and when not to bestow .

But back to the French, what they do toss around like free candy is the de rigeur « Bonjour ! ». Walk into any shop or café and the lady behind the counter will wish you « Bonjour ».   She will not smile when she says it as that would be repetitious – and repetitive. The translation is simple. One French « Bonjour ! » equals one American Smile. That « Bonjour  », dear reader, is the French smile. 

But don’t trust me, come and find out for yourself !



  • Yes, Lisa! We do love to smile and sometimes the French think we’re crazy. I don’t mind, I’ve rather accustomed myself to it!

    James - LLA_Paris
  • So true and very well written Jim!😊I smiled at the lady sitting in front of me on the bus today (for no reason other than it was sunny and we were re routed in front of Notre Dame b/c of a demonstration -à Paris spring ritual.) She look éd at le like I was crazy🤔


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