French Language Faux Pas: I Still Have My 2 Fingers!

The French count differently than Americans when they use their fingers. In the states, we start with our index finger: 1. Then we add our middle finger: 2. Then the ring finger: 3. Then the pinky: 4. Finally, the thumb: 5.

In France, you start with your thumb, almost like a thumbs up: 1. Next, your index finger: 2. Third is your middle finger: 3. Next, add your ring finger: 4. Finally, your pinky (yes, it does feel slightly awkward): 5.


Because I am an American teaching English in France, I decided to add some authenticity to my classes by teaching them how to count on their fingers the American way. Coincidentally, I also showed a presentation during my first week that included a picture of me in Japan with some Japanese friends. (Remember how it is standard for Japanese people to do “peace” with their fingers whenever they take pictures?) Well, it turns out that the peace sign and the way Americans count to 2 on their fingers have another, slightly vulgar meaning in the eyes of the British.

When you hold up the number 2 with American style counting, aka a peace sign, aka an ASL V and turn your your palm to face you, so that the upper part of your hand (opposite the palm) is facing outwards towards someone, this is the equivalent of flipping the bird in the United Kingdom.


Because most of the English teachers here in France completed their overseas studies in the United Kingdom, most of them recognize my innocent Japanese peace sign or American counting as something vulgar, and one of my colleagues did not hesitate to say something to me! To be quite honest, this also happened to me in 2010 when I attended Pierre’s English class when I held up the #2 on my fingers- his teacher also said something to me, but I had completely forgotten about I until my colleague pointed it out in my presentation! To be sure, I verified it with my fellow British assistants–they of course confirmed.

To explain, this is the picture I had in my power point. My peace sign is acceptable, but Akane’s is very vulgar, and she is basically flipping off the camera!

In fact, the reason this V sign is so offensive is because of the French! This rude hand gesture dates back to the 100 Years War, when French soldiers would cut off the middle and index fingers of any English person in order to prevent them from shooting. The English, in response, would taunt the French by showing and wagging their fingers, chanting, “I still have my two fingers! I still have my two fingers!”

So, lesson learned, maybe it’s better to just stick to the French way of counting with your fingers, and avoid showing picture of peace signs at all costs.



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