The “Uh” Face

by Zach Roberge, River Editor

One of the phenomenons that interests me immensely in France is looking/listening to the French people and trying to identify those traits in humans that might be universal. I often wonder, when I write or when I learn a new theory that dictates a way people act, if what I’m leaning only relates to Americans or if it translates to other cultures. Now, I’m actually in a different culture with people who have grown accustom to history and traditions I have no relation to, and it’s fascinating.

For instance, I was sitting in the backseat of an Uber driver, on my way to grab a bus. It was a nice black car with air conditioning on a hot day and there was a pleasant song playing on the radio. I was content, though in a rush, but the driver was nervous. He seemed to be unfamiliar with the route and, though the GPS on his dashboard spoke directions, he slowed to a rolling stop next to a construction worker to ask the way to go.

The worker was a young man with dark hair. I don’t speak French, but I watched as the driver opened his window and began motioning to the young man with his hand, pointing up a ramp in the distance or over at a bend in the road in another direction, all the while speaking rapid, unfiltered French. The construction worker, wearing the telltale orange vest and hard helmet, gave a look I’ve expressed on many occasions. His eyes grew wide, his eyebrows raised ever slightly, and his mouth slowly drooped agape. He looked at the driver and I could tell that though electrical pulses were firing in his brain, telling his body to breath, telling his heart to beat, nothing was breaking through the thick barrier of his surprised, unprepared frontal lobe.

He simply stood on the road and watched through the driver’s frantic gestures and kept watching even as we drove away. I felt for the young man. I can’t express how many times I’ve been lost in my own thoughts, often while I’m working, only to have a person stop and interrupt my mind. It’s a confounded state and when it happens, I can only force out short, shuttering words, hoping they’re right. I’ve decided to call it the, “Uh” face, and apparently, it could be universal.