I was having a conversation with my friend who has been toying with the idea of living in Tokyo, and I said:
It's all very well going all starry-eyed about life in Tokyo, but you'll land back on your feet once the novelty wears off. Tokyo was the first city in Japan where my girlfriend lived, and she's had her fair share of hectic days there before moving to Kyoto. She says Tokyo is "a place to visit" – and yes, those are air quotes.
When you hear someone say Tokyo is "a place to visit", you could be forgiven for thinking they are speaking positively of Tokyo as a great city/place worth visiting at least once in your life.
In this specific context, however, my girlfriend was actually implying sarcastically and pejoratively that Tokyo is "a place to visit, (not to live in...)" – an unusual turn of phrase which departs from the usual interpretation of the phrase "a place to visit".
In English, the expression "air quotes" comes in handy to jokingly point out that a quoted word/phrase was originally said with irony or sarcasm and its meaning is not to be taken at face value. The air-quoted phrase is accompanied by a two-finger gesture mimicking the shape of imaginary quotation marks.
I'm not sure the concept of "air quotes" itself even exists in French to begin with, but how do French speakers express this idea?