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French Word of the Day: Geste

The Local France
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French Word of the Day: Geste
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

When times get tough in France, out come les gestes . . .

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Why do I need to know Geste ?

Because this is a common word in France, particularly during crisis times.

What does it mean?

Geste – pronounced halfway between 'shest' and 'jest' with a soft 'g' - is defined as an action or ‘movement of the body.’ In English, it is often translated as ‘gesture,’ but its popular usage in French typically does not quite carry this same meaning. Often, it is used when the French government recommends that individuals take certain actions or adopt specific behaviours.

You may have become familiar with this word during the pandemic, in the form of ‘les gestes barrières.’ This phrase referred to all those habits and social distancing measures that people were advised to do in order to protect themselves and others, such as wearing a mask, sneezing into your elbow, washing hands regularly, etc.

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It has also been used during France’s energy crisis, as consumers are encouraged to adopt ‘gestes' or sometimes 'écogestes' - actions that reduce their energy usage. These might include turning the lights off when they are not in use, bringing the heating down a degree or two or taking a shower instead of a bath.

Typically, this word is used for something that is not obligatory, but instead recommended or encouraged.

In English 'gesture' often means more symbolic action - although it can have this meaning in France too, it more usually means a concrete action or behaviour change.

Use it like this

Chaque geste compte - every action counts, this is the slogan the French government will be using this winter to encourage people to cut their energy usage.

Je lui ai envoyé des fleurs, je veux juste faire un geste pour montrer mon soutien - I sent her some flowers, I just want to make a gesture to show my support

Je pratique toujours les gestes barrières de la pandémie et je n'ai pas eu un seul rhume cet hiver - I still do the hygiene gestures from the pandemic and I haven't had a single cold this winter

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iainnoble49 2022/09/15 14:33
And, of course, there's always Beau Geste.

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