What is the Gallic shrug?



 

 

What is the Gallic shrug ?

 

Ask a FrenchmanMmm… Let’s see…

First of all – but I could be wrong – I’m under the impression that the Gallic Shrug “exists” only in the English speaking world, or should I say in the eyes of the English speaking world.

I don’t think I have ever heard of the Gallic shrug in the mouth of people from other countries. I’d say it’s most likely because:

  •  Most other countries have their own equivalent to the Gallic shrug.
  •  I guess it surprises (or used to surprise) or even shocks Anglos to encounter this behavior in France (you know how they are with France, always fantasizing and imagining France as heaven on Earth and other silly things like that) while they expect it and are not surprised by it in other countries that are “less civilized” in their unconscious mind.

What does it consist in?
Well, you’ll find sites, books, people that’ll tell you it’s a shrug, with sometimes a pout or whatever else.
Actually, I think that the Gallic shrug is more a state of mind than an actual gesture.
For example, I personally almost never shrug when I do a Gallic shrug.

What does it mean?
Well, it basically means “I didn’t mess it up, you did (or somebody else), not me, so why should it be my problem?”
It’s more or less the French equivalent to “Deal with it” and/or “Shit happens.”

I assume that it’s an issue for some Anglos, and especially some Americans because they’re under the strange assumption that they never have to fix their own problems or clean after themselves, that there always will be someone to do it for them, while the gallic shrug is basically telling them “not my problem, yours”.

A good example is customer service.
While I agree that customer service is good in the US and sometimes sucks in France (but not as much as Anglos think, they just don’t know the unwritten rules), the general understanding that the one who pays has all the rights, and the one that is being paid is basically a slave to the former one just doesn’t apply in France.
Money doesn’t regulate the relation between customers and sellers. It’s just happens to be one of the two items that are being exchanged within the larger frame of that relation.

Hence, people will encounter the “Gallic shrug” if they ask the wrong person to solve their problem. Because, not any staff member of a store will help you when you have a problem, only the person whose job is to solve this problem will do so, if such a person exists.

 

OK, I can’t finish that relatively short post without showing you what the Gallic shrug is supposed to look like. Here are my attempts at the best possible Gallic shrug (understand: the most stereotypical), over not one but two shooting sessions. Which one is the best?

 

 

 

David Billa Written by:

David was born and raised in the French South West. After a few years in the US and a few more in Paris, he finally settled down in Japan. He blogs here about his various experiences and travels, with an emphasis on his home country, France.

18 Comments

  1. November 13, 2013
    Reply

    Bottom row, middle. That’s the best. ^^

    PS: “The general understanding that the one who pays has all the rights, and the one that is being paid is basically a slave to the former one just doesn’t apply in France.” If only it didn’t apply to eikaiwa in Japan, either …

    • David
      November 13, 2013
      Reply

      Ru,
      The pictures show in random order, so not sure which one you mean. 🙂

      Yeah, customer service makes me uncomfortable in Japan too at times.

  2. November 13, 2013
    Reply

    Great post. I think each of your photos is good – it’s the facial expression that’s the clincher!

    • David
      November 13, 2013
      Reply

      LOL thanks.
      I want to underline that I never actually make those facial expressions in “real life”

  3. Jason Jehosephat
    January 14, 2014
    Reply

    The top with the horizontal stripes is uber-French.

  4. Nathan
    February 6, 2014
    Reply

    As a French person myself i think the middle one in the top row is the most accurate because the Gallic shrug is mostly about the expression on the face and the photo on the middle of the top row is how I’ve always done the Gallic shrug and how I’ve always seen people do it… 🙂

    • David
      February 6, 2014
      Reply

      Jason and Nathan,
      I’m afraid I need to remind you that the pictures appear in random order (but when you hover with your mouse, the name/number of the picture appear)

  5. Xavier
    February 15, 2014
    Reply

    Hi !

    I’m french too. You’re right David, the Gallic shrug as you called it and as we use it in France means a lot of things. Most of the time (i mean spontaneously) it means : I don’t know / I can’t say / I have no idea…

    When the pout turns into a “kind of” little smile, it means : Shit happens / C’est la vie…

    and when the palms are exposed, raised up (at the level of the chest, i would say) it means : It’s not my business / I have nothing to do with that…

    Wish I am clear

    • P
      August 23, 2015
      Reply

      noticed it alot while hitchhiking

  6. Sean
    October 7, 2014
    Reply

    I think that the Gallic shrug became synonymous with Robert De Niro in America.

    • David Billa
      October 7, 2014
      Reply

      How so?

      • Kat
        April 17, 2015
        Reply

        actually, yeah, I see it, but it’s exaggerated with him even more than in these pictures. Think of the way he’ll hunch his shoulders up and put his hands out while sarcastically telling someone what they did… It’s the same idea, ‘What do you want me to do about it, eh?’ But more hostile, because if there’s not a spoken ‘moron’ you can feel that’s what he means lol.

  7. sunny
    November 10, 2014
    Reply

    This is exactly what I’ve been searching for. My former French teacher in Québec would often make that “gallic shrug”. Moreover my mother language is not English, it was such a great difficulty for me in learning French.
    Looking back on it now, everything becomes clear.
    Thanks for your valuable posting.

    • David Billa
      November 11, 2014
      Reply

      You’re very welcome.
      However, I’m not sure the Quebeckers do the same Gallic Shrug.

  8. Jon Fu
    February 18, 2015
    Reply

    Thank you very much! P.S. It applies in Greece 🙂 (alongside with a variation that reminds of “we got a badass over here)

  9. Graeme Phillips
    February 24, 2016
    Reply

    The things you forgot to include are puffing away on a Gauloise and a speech bubble saying “bof”.

    • David Billa
      February 25, 2016
      Reply

      That’s just a little bit cliché, don’t you think?

  10. Jenny Rid
    March 15, 2016
    Reply

    My husband is French; I’m American, and we live in the States. One of our 4 yo twin daughters takes after his side of the family more, especially physically. Lately, we’ve been noticing that she does a “Gallic shrug” naturally whereas our other daughter doesn’t. Seems like it might be partly genetic 🙂

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