France is a country with a number of unique traits and traditions. France has a long and varied history. This list of interesting facts about France highlights a number of these.
Interesting facts about France:
People & Lifestyle
- French people cheek kiss to greet each others between family and friends, even between men. The number of kisses varies according to the region, from 1 (e.g. in the tip of Brittany) to 4 (e.g. Paris and most of the North), and occasionally up to 5 in Corsica.
- French people have the highest female and third highest male life expectancy in the European Union.
- 20% of the French people live in the Parisian region.
- Although French language is a direct descent of Latin, French people have some of the most diversified genetic make-up in Europe, with genes inherited from the Celts, the Basques, the Romans, the Franks and the Normands, which explains the wide physical diversity in French facial traits, as well as hair and eye colours.
- According to Graham Robb in his book The Discovery of France, there were hundreds of small, autonomous republics within France until the 18th or 19th century. Some were autonomous hamlets that didn’t pay tax at all and were almost completely isolated from the rest of France.
- Until the early 20th century at least two thirds of the French population was rural and most people lived in communities numbering less than 100 people. Few people knew anything a dozen miles beyond their place of birth, and few identified themselves with France as a country.
- The French are the world’s biggest consumers of psychotropic drugs. About one fourth of the population admits having taken anti-depressants or tranquillisers over the past year.
- France is the third largest European country in terms of land area, after Russia and the Ukraine.
- Nearly 20% of the territory of France lies outside Europe. These regions are known as “DOM-TOM”, where over 2.5 million French citizens live.
- The Canal du Midi is Europe’s oldest functional canal. It was built from 1666 and 1681. It is 240 km (150 miles) long, has 63 locks, 126 bridges, 55 aqueducts, 7 canal-bridges, 6 barrages and 1 tunnel.
- Rivers played a major role in French history, acting as the main transportation routes before the advent of the railway. 24 rivers in France exceed 300 km in length (against only 2 in the UK and 4 in Italy). 66 of the 95 metropolitan départements are named after rivers.
- The tides in the region of Brittany and Normandy are the strongest in Europe, with a difference in level of up to 15 meters between high and low tide.
- Saint-Véran (Hautes-Alpes department) is the highest municipality in Europe. The village itself is located at 2,042 metres of altitude, and the highest point on its territory reaches up to 3,175 metres.
- Seaside resorts in France were given catchy or poetic names, typically after precious stones. On the Channel and North Sea coast you can find the Opal Coast, Alabaster Coast, Mother-of-pearl Coast, Emerald Coast, Pink Granit Coast; on the Atlantic coast, some beaches are known as the Jade Coast, Silver Coast or Love Coast ; while on the Mediterrnean side, tourists are greeted with colourful names like the Amethyst Coast, Ruby Coast, Mauresque Coast or Azure Coast. The French Riviera (Côte d’Azur) was the first to aquire such a nickname, in 1887.
- The largest canyon in Europe is the Verdon Gorge, near Castellane and Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. It is the world’s second largest gorge, at about 25 kilometers in length and up to 700 meters deep.
- French used to be the language of the nobility and diplomacy all across Europe and in the Ottoman Empire, it was the world’s first real international language until English replaced it in the mid-20th century.
- Metropolitan France counts several native regional languages : Alsatian and Lorraine German, Occitan, Oïl, Basque, Breton, Catalan, Corsican and Franco-Provençal.
- In spite of foreign stereotypes, many French people can speak at least one foreign language, and English is the most widely spoken at 34%.
- A survey in 1794 revealed that a mere 11% of the population of France were pure French speakers. As late as in 1880, only 20% of the population could actually speak French fluently. Nowadays, 86% of French people are native French speakers if this is defined by the language their parents spoke with them before the age of 5. Oc languages account for 3.65%, Oïl languages for 3.10%, German and German dialects for 3.15%, and Arabic for 2.55%.
- French was the official language of England for over 300 years (from 1066 until the early 15th century). It is still the official language of 30 countries worldwide.
- The French language is spoken by 270 million people worldwide (almost as much as the population of the USA), of which 120 million are native or fluent. There are less than 60 million of White Caucasian native speakers of standard French worldwide.
- The variety of French spoken in Quebec, Canada, is a distant dialect from the French spoken in Europe, and sometimes hard to understand for French people.
- The name “France” comes from “Frank”, a Germanic tribe that invaded the Western Roman Empire in the 6th century and founded the first independent kingdom covering most of today’s France.
- The French state is one of the oldest in Europe; it was founded in 843, splitting from the Carolingian Empire based in Aachen on the Belgo-German border.
- The region of Paris was settled since around 4200 BCE. The city itself was founded by the Parisii, a Celtic tribe, around 250 BCE. The Roman renamed it Luteca from 52 BCE, and it only became known as “Paris” after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century.
- Foie gras may be part and parcel of French cuisine, but its origins go back to 4,500 years ago in Ancient Egypt, from where it spread to Greece (500 B.C.E.), then to the Romans, ancestors of the modern French.
- Gothic art has its origins in the middle of the 12th century in the North of France. The world’s first Gothic building is said to be the Abbey of St. Denis, just north of Paris, which is the burial place of many Frankish kings since Clovis, as well as most Kings of France. Gothic architecture then spread to Picardy, notably with the cathedrals of Noyon, Laon and Senlis, followed by the Île-de-France.
- Nicotine was named after Jean Nicot (1530-1600), a French diplomat and scholar who introduced the tobacco plant to France in 1559 (from Portugal).
- “La Marseillaise”, France’s national anthem, was composed in Strasbourg in 1792, not in Marseilles as its name might induce to think.
- The world’s first international scientific conference was held in Paris on 2 February 1799.
- The first modern fire-resistant safe deposit box was invented by Alexandre Fichet (1799-1862) around 1840.
- The world’s first true department store was Le Bon Marché in Paris, founded by Aristide Boucicaut in 1838.
- At its peak, between 1919 and 1939, the second French colonial empire extended over 12,347,000 km² of land, or 8.6% of the world’s land area. This is over 22 times the size of modern Metropolitan France.
- France has hosted the Summer Olympic Games five times, the Winter Olympic Games three times, an
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