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Facts about France

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France is one of the world most visit destination. It’s not surprising as France has so much to offer from delicious wine to breathtaking French Landmarks, some of the most famous European Landmarks.
But France is even more than Paris, wine and cheese. It is history, its land and some strange laws – read and enjoy Interesting Facts about France

France Facts
FRANCE QUICK FACTS
official nameFrench Republic
size640,679 km2
population 67 million people
official languageFrench
capitolParis
religion51% Christian, 40% Ateist
flagName Tricolour: Blue, white, red
anthemLa Marseillaise
famous sitesPont de Gard, Louvre,

Geographical facts about France 

Size – With more than half a million square kilometers of territory, France is the second largest country in Europe other than Russia.  The only larger one is Ukraine, away to the East.  France is the largest country in European Union.

Rivers in France

As well as Paris’ River Seine, France has some of the best known river names in the world, including the Rhone and Loire made famous by the vineyards which are located in their valleys. Most French rivers flow west into the Atlantic, but others including the Seine run north to the English Channel, the Rhone flows south to the Mediterranean and the Rhine runs north along the German border before eventually meeting the North Sea at Rotterdam.

Mountains in France

Although much of France is flat, it is also famous for its mountains – Mont Blanc at over 4,800m is the highest mountain in non-Russian Europe and stands in the French Alps at France’s border with Italy.  The Pyrenees, another of Europe’s great mountain ranges, runs between France and Spain and peaks at almost 3,500m  But for sheer volume, the Massif Central covers over 15% of France’s area.  This vast chunk of mostly granite and metamorphic rocks raised up as the tectonic plates under the  Alps and the Pyrennees move together, forms a vast tilted plateau.  Much of the Massif Central plateau is as high or higher than the tallest peaks in the British Isles (about 1,300m).   

France borders

France shares land borders with eight countries. The bordering countries of France are Belgium, Germany,  Luxembourg, Switzerland, Italy, Monaco, Andorra and Spain. The longest border is shared with Spain and the shortest with Monaco.

Do you know How many time zones are in France? France has several overseas territories which means that it does have 12 different time zones, more than any other country in the world.

France – The Nation, its Language and Symbols

  • The French flag is known as the Tricolor for its three stripes of blue, white and red. It was created during the French Revolution in 1794, though between 1814 and 1830 the official flag of the French Nation was a plain white flag without any colour or symbols. 
  • France is sometimes known as “The Hexagon” due to its general approximation to a six sided shape.
  • The name “France” comes from the Germanic word “Frank”, meaning “Free.”  It’s not clear why this is – perhaps something to do with the ancient feudal or taxation systems.
  • The Gallic symbol of France since the French Revolution is the rooster. It was formerly depicted on French coins and stamps. 
  • European France is divided administratively into Regions, Until recently there were 22 of these but local government reorganisation in 2015 reduced this number to 13, subdivided into a total of 101 Departments. 
  • Overseas France comprises nearly 20% of French lands. Apart from the French Territory in Antarctica, the remains of France’s overseas empire exist all around the Globe.  Of these only French Guiana on the north coast of South America is on a continent, almost all the rest exist as widely distributed groups of Pacific Islands.
  • At one point in the history of its Empire. France controlled 8% of the land in the world. France ruled such a big empire that today 26 countries celebrate their independence from France.
  • France’s own national day, the 14th of July,  celebrates the French Revolution when common people threw off the crushing dominance of their royal aristocracy represented by Marie Antoinette’s famously heartless quotation in response to being told that the peasants had no bread to eat: “Then let them eat cake”
  • Also arising from the Revolution is France’s famous national slogan of “Freedom Equality and Brotherhood” (Liberté, égalité, fraternité  – liberty equality fraternity) is the national Motto of France
  • The purity of language.  The Académie Française was created in 1635, to keep the French language pure in the face of Italian influence, but nowadays it spends its time defending French against modern American English.  So for example the French are almost the only nation to reject the word “computer” or “digital” preferring “ordinateur” and “numerique”.  However “le weekend” and “le bifteck” (beefsteak) both seem to have slipped in under the wire.

The Brief History of France

A short History of France: In 700 – 500 BC Celtic Gauls arrived in what we now call France. In 58 – 50 BC the Gauls were defeated by the Romans under Julius Caesar.  France remained part of the Roman Empire until 476 AD. (except of course the small area where Asterix lived) From the time of its independence from the Roman Empire, France was a kingdom for more than 13 centuries (interrupted by the British incursions during the Hundred Years War most notably by and Henry V at Agincourt) until the storming of the Bastille prison in the French Revolution in 1789. The French republic became an Imperial power Led by Napoleon, at the start of the nineteenth century.  In the twentieth century France was most renowned globally and especially in the USA for its excellent food, wines and sense of style.

Seat of the Catholic Church – In the town of Avignon (best known for the childrens’ song “Sur le Pont d’Avignon”) stands a palace once occupied by the (French) popes for most of the eighteenth century.  It all ended in tears with a rift between the Roman and French Churches but the palace remains.

Modern French Politics

  • In France, the President is elected by people in public elections every five years and he appoints the prime minister
  • French President Emmanuel Macron became the youngest president of France in 2017 at the age of 39 years old. He is the youngest head of state since Napoleon Bonaparte
  • One of the best known faces of the twentieth century was President Charles DeGaulle, a military General who led the Free French against the Nazis in WWII.  De Gaulle rewrote the nation’s constitution, and later as President formed the beginning of the European Common Market with Germany in 1957.  DeGaulle initially resisted a proposal by the UK to join the new Common Market (later known as the EC and then the EU), but eventually in 1973, Britain was allowed to join – only to leave again forty seven years later. 
  • Proud of its republican tradition of equality, France has always been one of the highest nations worldwide measured by government spending on social programmes as a percentage of GDP. In this it usually outstrips its rivals UK, USA and Germany.

French Food and Drink

The French are so famous for the quality of their food production and preparation that the simple French word for “kitchen” (cuisine) has been adopted worldwide to mean any nation’s typical foods and their preparation. Meanwhile the original  – French cuisine  – is such an important culture that UNESCO have recorded the “French Gastronomic Meal” on its world list of Intangible Cultural Heritage

French Cheese

There are about 1,000 varieties of French cheese, classed in about 400 types grouped into eight families – ‘les huit familles de fromage’.

French Wine

French wines are traditionally named by the region where they are grown rather than the variety of grape used for example Chablis is a region in north Burgundy which makes a distinctive white wine from the Chardonnay grape, using a slightly different method from that used with the same grape in other areas.  Other areas are not so strictly linked with single varieties.  The Vineyards of Bordeaux blend several different grape varieties to make their world famous Clarets.
French drink more than ten billion glasses of wine each day and consume approximately 500 million snails every year. 

Champagne

The most famous and strictly controlled regional wine name is champagne.  A sparkling wine bearing this word on its label may only be produced in the delimited region of the same name.  Other imitators can only label their products as “sparkling wine” or use their own names for it (for example Cava or Prosecco.)  Just to confuse us though, some other French producers will copy the methods of production traditionally used in the Champagne region and they are allowed to label their wines as “Methode Champenoise”

French toast is not French at all

French toast isn’t (just) French. It was popular all around Europe for as long as eggs and bread have been available and is documented in the 5th Century AD.  One story behind the name is that it was marketed in New York in the eighteenth century by one Joseph French but he forgot to add the apostrophe which would indicate that the recipe was his and the “French” name stuck

French diet

Despite France’s reputation as a culinary mecca and the high proportion of fat and oil in the typical diet, French males have the lowest percentage of obesity in Europe.  It has been suggested that this is because the acid in red wine helps break down dietary fat.  We think it’s because French people eat more gourme food and less processed rubbish.

Tourism in France

  • France is the most-visited country in the world. France welcomed 84 million foreign tourists in 2013. The current situation notwithstanding, the French are working to increase the annual figure to 100 million incoming visitors by the end of 2030 
  • France’s main attractions are Paris and Disneyland, but also the French Riviera, Alsace, and the Cote D’Or attract sunseekers, gourmets and wine buffs not to mention the Alpine ski resorts in the winter season.
  • France has 28 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These include prehistoric sites, beautifully preserved Roman buildings and bridges, medieval castles, gothic cathedrals and natural landscapes.  

Facts about Paris and its Landmarks

  • The capital city of France is Paris.  With a population of more than two million, about twenty percent of France’s residents live in Paris. Nationwide, about 85% of the French live in cities.
  • Paris was a Roman city known as “Lutetia”. 
  • The Eiffel Tower the most French Landmark is the most-visited paid monument in the world and one of the most recognizable European landmarks
  • It was erected in 1889 as a temporary engineering sculpture for the Centennial Exposition in 1889. It was only supposed to last for 20 years, then be taken down. Its popularity has prevented it from being removed.
  • It is painted every seven years, taking five tons of paint to complete the job each time. 
  • The Louvre Museum in Paris is consistently the most visited museum in the world and the biggest museum in the world. Over 9 million visitors go through their doors annually.
  • Each of the 480,000 “public” trees of Paris is officially recorded. This doesn’t include another 100,000 trees on public streets, and another 70,000 in parks, gardens and cemeteries.  That’s more than half a million trees in the capital, making it one of the most tree-infested cities in Europe (not including London of course which, with an estimated 8,000,000, has about fifteen trees for each one in Paris)
  • One of the oldest universities in Paris, the Sorbonne, was founded in 1257. It has become so well-known around the world that it has expanded from its original location on the Left Bank to occupy13 campuses. 
  • The oldest bridge in Paris is named the “Pont Neuf” This translates as “new bridge” – which is exactly what it was when it was named over 400 years ago.
Greek flag

Do you want to learn more about Greece – Read Interesting facts about Greece

Famous French People

  • Jean Nico was a French doctor and diplomat in the mid seventeenth century.  He was the first to bring tobacco to France with gifts to the queen expounding its medicinal properties.  A century later Linnaeus named the tobacco genus Nicotiana after him and hence Nico gave his name to the drug nicotine.
  • Napoleon wasn’t so short. His height was 62 pre-metric French inches which were longer than modern British and American inches.  Allowing for the different measuring system, he stood at about 1.7m  – only a fraction under the typical male height of his time.  Napoleon was depicted as being short by British political cartoonist James Gillray and the image stuck.  Napoleon once said that Gillray’s cartoons “did more than all the armies of Europe to bring me down.”
  • Louis Pasteur was a French scientist who invented the process of pasteurization, to prevent microbial growth and preserve food items like milk. 
  • St Joan of Arc, the young French woman who claimed to be directed by a divine voice, and who led French troops through English-occupied territory was canonized by the Pope in 1920 
  • King of France Louis XIX had the shortest reign in history: 20 minutes in 1830. His father had abdicated the throne, and Louis followed him in abdicating in favour of his nephew, Henry V who reigned for all of seven days – by this time though the French monarchy was in a bit of a mess anyway since as we all remember, France had executed King Louis XVI three decades earlier and become a republic.

French Inventions

  • Couture Style – Especially in the English-speaking world France represents the advancing cutting edge of modern clothing design.  The word “avant-garde” is of course French and is represented by the biannual Paris Fashion week shows.  The concept for “jean” clothing was born in France. Under the reinvention of Parisian style, Levi Strauss’ denim wear originally created as tough working clothes for California gold miners was reinvented as a French chic and adapted as designer-jeans by every fashion house in Europe.
  • The French are responsible for creating the metric system of weights and measures in 1793  Now called the System International, it is used pretty much everywhere except the United States.
  • France was the first country to introduce the motor vehicle licence plate under the Paris Police Ordinance in 1893
  • Keeping food fresh is easier thanks to the French. Nicolas Appert, a confectioner by trade, came up with the concept of preserving food by sealing glass containers after they were heated in a bath of boiling water. Pierre Durand followed this initiative and came up with a practical way to preserve food in tinned steel cans.
  • In recent years there is one particular famous French invention, namely the cell phone camera.  It was created in a hospital room  by Philippe Kahn, back in 1997 with bits bought from Radio Shack so he could publish photos on the internet of the birth of his daughter.  Despite this story being famous (and either sweet or gross depending on what you think of photographing childbirth) the story rather ignores the existence two years earlier of the Olympus Deltis VC-1100 camera which could upload images through the mobile phone system to the internet.  Though to be fair to Kahn, you couldn’t use the Deltis to make a phonecall!

Strange Laws in France

  • In France, it is illegal to take a photo of police officers or their vehicles, they can’t even appear in the background
  • For 214 years it was illegal for French women to wear pants until the law was abolished in 2012
  • Potatoes were illegal in France for 24 years. In 1748 the French Parliament forbade the cultivation of the potato on the grounds that it was thought to cause leprosy. This law remained in effect until 1772. 
  • A 1910 law in France forbids couples from kissing on train platforms.  The purpose?  To avoid delayed departures. 
  • Back in the 1600’s in France, it was considered a crime if a man wasn’t able to get an erection, and this was enough to let a woman file for divorce. If a married woman accused her husband of impotence, he had to prove the contrary in front of an expert panel. If he failed, which was understandably quite common, the man could also demand a second chance by having intercourse with his wife in front of a judge. The mind boggles. The law was banished in 1677.
  • In the 1950’s a law was enacted to allow the French to marry a dead person. The marriage has to be approved by the president, on evidence that the proposal was made and accepted before the deceased partner’s demise, and also the approval of the dead partner’s family is required.

French Superstitions 

Are the French superstitious? They would think so, with 38% of French claiming themselves to be superstitious.  However we think perhaps they are less so than the Italians and they are definitely less superstitious than the Montenegrins or Albanians.

  • Friday the 13th – Though some share the common superstition that Friday 13th is unlucky, the overwhelming view is that this  is a good day to gamble and play the lottery.
  • Lucky number – 42% of the French claim to believe that 7 is a lucky number
  • Four leaf clovers and Ladders – Like the British many French people believe that four leaf clovers bring good luck while passing under a ladder invites the opposite.
  • When placing bread on the table, make sure to put it the right way up, when tossing pancakes, hold a gold coin in your hand, and when bringing the furniture to the house ensure you bring the table in first – all of these actions will ensure your future wealth and the absence of famine.

Odd and interesting facts about France

  • French writer Marcel Proust holds the record for the longest novel ever written. “Remembrance of Things Past” is over 3,000 pages in length. It is in 13 volumes and involves thousands of characters. Read more about books about France
  • Condom is the name of a town in the South of France – it used to have a Condom museum, but this closed for lack of popularity.
  • Condom vending machines can be found in almost 90% of the high schools in France.
  • In France, it is illegal to name a pig “Napoleon.”  
  • Point Zero is marked by a bronze star in the pavement near Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.  This is the point from which the length of all French roads is measured.
  • The French Army was the first to use camouflage. During World War I, artists painted vehicles and equipment to blend into their respective backgrounds.
  • With more than 30,000, France has more than half the roundabouts in the world. 
  • During the Second World War, the Mosque of Paris protected French Jews from the Nazis by supplying them with Muslim Identification cards.
  • The oldest person in the world was (according to the Guinness Book of World Records), a French woman who died in 1997 at the age of 122 and 164 days
  • France made history in 2016 by banning supermarkets from throwing out unsold food items. These stores are now required to donate the food to charities and food banks.

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Ania James

photographer, traveller, mother of twin girls, wife, worldschooler, rulebreaker

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