One of the most popular smoking tricks for decades, the French inhale’s origins are unknown, although it’s safe to assume it got its name from the fact that smoking is popular in France.
Everyone’s probably seen the trick – you inhale smoke and gather it in your mouth, let it slowly out, and while you’re exhaling through the mouth, you inhale it with your nose.
Although simple, this smoke trick looks really cool and is not exclusively reserved for smokers anymore. Nowadays it’s popular among vapers, too.
And those who get really good at performing smoke tricks can now showcase their talent at cloud chasing competitions, complete with judges, teams, sponsors and cash prizes.
The first smoke blowing contests are believed to have been held in the United States around 2012, as vaping became more popular, leading to a vape culture centered around this alternative to smoking.
So who knows, learning this trick may be your gateway to entering the world of professional vaping.
As we already mentioned, the etymology of the term “French inhale” is not known. Similarly to French fries and French kissing, the practice could have originated anywhere else, not just France.
French teenagers seem to be calling it la riviere, which means “river”.
However, since smoking has long been popular in France, that could be the reason for the trick’s name in English.
It’s interesting that French inhaling is also called Irish waterfall. The reason behind this term is equally unknown. Some urban dictionaries suggest that the term stems from an English stereotype of the Irish being inferior to them, and the fact that the smoke goes upwards, the opposite of a proper waterfall.
The French inhale in pop culture
“French inhale, I like the way you French inhale” – these are the opening lines of Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa’s 2011 collaboration, appropriately titled French inhale.
The song’s video features the two rappers engaging in their favorite activity, smoking weed, and all the while displaying their masterful French inhales. Both the video and the lyrics seem to serve as a kind of tutorial to perform this delightful smoke trick.
Another fine example of the trick’s presence in the hip hop community is American rapper ASAP Rocky. Rocky can be seen indulging in the French inhale in his 2011 video for Purple Swag.
But if hip hop isn’t really your thing, you might have heard of the French inhale via a different medium. In the seminal musical Grease (1978), which follows a group of high schoolers in the 1950s, one of the scenes shows the female protagonist, Sandy Olsson (Olivia Newton-John) is learning to do a French inhale from another character conveniently called Frenchie.
A more modern classic, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, shows one of the main characters (Jason Statham) elegantly French inhaling in one scene, setting an example of how it can make you look cool.
And, of course, the French cinema is full of examples of iconic figures (Belmondo, Delon) smoking and French inhaling, making the act look seductive.
For those of you who aren’t exactly cinephiles but rather bookworms, we’ve got you covered.
In JD Salinger’s Nine Stories, there’s a story Just Before the War with the Eskimos which deals with adolescent alienation in a post-World War II, and there’s a cool reference to French inhaling:
“Tilting his head back he slowly released an enormous quantity of smoke from his mouth and drew it up through his nostrils. He continued to smoke in this “French-inhale” style.”
The story was first published in 1948, which shows the trick was popular in the 1940s as well.
How to French inhale – easy 3-step tutorial
Though it’s easier to watch a video (you can go back to that Snoop Dogg song), we’ll describe the exact process of French inhaling here, so you can be sure you’re doing everything by the book.
Step 1: The first step is obviously taking a hefty drag but it’s important that you don’t inhale – just leave the smoke in your mouth.
Step 2: The next step consists of slowly opening your mouth, careful not to open it too wide though. You’re not supposed to exhale or blow the smoke out of your mouth, just let it flow out on its own between your lips.
Meanwhile, your tongue should be positioned in the back of your mouth and used to gently push the smoke outside.
You can also protrude your lower lip and jaw a bit forward in order to position them right below your nose.
Step 3: Finally, as the smoke starts to leave your mouth with the help of your tongue, you should be able to inhale it with your nose.
If you’ve managed to do this, you’ve just French inhaled.
As with other things in life, the more you practice, the better you get.
So make sure you try it a couple of times in front of the mirror before you’re ready to show off your new skills in front of other people.
Now, the French inhale can be expanded on in a slightly more complex trick – the Vape Bane Inhale.
Named after Batman’s enemy Bane, or more specifically his mask, this trick starts out as a French inhale. However, just as you’re pushing out the dense smoke from your mouth, your bottom teeth should be pressed against your upper lip. Try it and see what happens.
The French inhale is often performed in conjunction with blowing smoke rings or O’s. While the origin of this trick is a mystery as well, there is an interesting piece of advertising history behind it.
For decades, a commercial for Camel cigarettes that featured four-foot smoke rings in a spectacular display of special effects and neon lights graced a billboard mounted on Broadway.
This famous Times Square ad was devised by advertising executive Douglas Leigh, and quickly became an icon of New York City’s most famous avenue.
The smoke rings came from the so-called Camel man’s mouth through a chamber that would fill with steam behind the billboard. The immense smoke rings flew above the heads of passersby and traffic along with the neon slogan I’d Walk a Mile for a Camel.
The Camel man changed from time to time until 1966, when the billboard was finally pulled. It did, however, return briefly to its Times Square home in 1972, albeit for a different brand of cigarettes.
Summing it up
Though there are many ways to smoke weed, not many of them survive or get to be practiced by too many people around the world. That’s where French inhaling seems to have pulled through, becoming a way to show off coolness and a popular “prop” used by many artists in their work (movies, songs, books).
The French inhale has obviously been around for quite some time, and as things are looking, it’s here to stay.