France is known for its great food, wine, beautiful fashion, arts, and simple, yet comfortable lifestyle. However, here are some surprising facts you may not know about France, the country of Molière.
1. France Is The Most Visited Country in the World
With 83 million tourists in 2012, France is by far the most popular travel destination in the world. The United States comes a close second with 16M less visitors than France. In all fairness, it does help that Europe is such a small continent: 85% of all tourists are Europeans.
2. France Is Also The Most Depressed Country In the World
While the French pride themselves on having the best lifestyle in the world, the World Health Organization argues that they are the most likely to suffer from a “major depressive episode” in their lifetimes. Because medication is affordable in France, studies found that 32% of adults take antidepressants on a regular basis. Depression in France is nothing to be proud of.
Image Source: Haiku Deck
3. There Are 36,681 Municipalities in France
And among those, 94.5% have less than 5,000 inhabitants: that’s 34,672 ridiculously small towns! Not bad for a country smaller than Texas. By comparison, the US has 39,044 general purpose local governments. That would be all right if France were not a centralized country- aside from Paris, the capital, there isn’t much to do elsewhere. Unless you are in the mood for some sun sea and champagne in the South.
4. Towns in France Have Silly Names
Given how often the French talk about sex, it is no surprise the result are names like ‘Anus’ or ‘Condom’. We also have ‘Corps-Nuds’ (‘Naked Bodies’), ‘Poil’ (either ‘Hair’ or ‘Naked’), ‘Bourré’ (‘Drunk’) and ‘Sainte Verge’ (‘Holy Cock’).
5. How Many Time Zones Are There in France? 12! That is More Than Any Other Country in the World
In case you wonder how that is possible given France’s size, remember we once were one of the leading Colonial Empires. While we retain only a fraction of territories, France still has dependencies and overseas territories all over the world, from French Guiana to New Caledonia to Clipperton.
6. Investing In French Real Estate Is A Good Idea
The French are quite morose and don’t ‘trust’ their economy. Use it to your advantage! Now that the Euro is at an all-time low and the French aren’t pleased with their President, there is value to be made in France. Additionally, the French lifestyle is the best in the world. The Brits know this well: they have been investing in French real estate for decades, so much so that parts of the South West (duck foie gras and Bordeaux wine region, in case you wonder what’s so special about it) have become English-speaking. Also being able to pick up a French castle for the same price as a Manhattan studio apartment sounds appealing to us!
Article Continues Below:
7. The Many Names Of France
We call our country l’Hexagone (it vaguely looks like that), the ‘France des Clochers’ (or ‘Church bells country’ because we have lots of them) or ‘le pays des Droits de l’Homme’ (‘the Human Rights country’, for the Enlightenment movement, the Revolution and the Declaration of Human Rights). Sometimes, we also do call France ‘shit country’.
8. The Gaulois Are the Mythical Founders Of France
Mythical, because it isn’t actually true. The myth took shape after the Revolution – at the time, the Republicans wanted to get rid of the history of the influential French nobility, and making the Gauls, a poor, primal tribe, the forefathers of the French was more convenient than saying the Franks (ancestors of the kings) were.
9.You Know What Time It Is By Listening to the Church Bells
The purpose of Church bells is to tell worshipers that it is time to attend Church. But in France, they have an additional function: they inform the time of the day. Church bells ring a single time for every 15 minutes, two for 30 minutes, and three for 45 minutes. Hours are marked by a special ring tone, followed by the same number of rings of the new hour. For example, if it is 6:00pm, expect a special ring, followed by six big rings.
10. Our Favorite Targets For Jokes Are Belgian People, Blondes And ‘Toto’
“Two Belgians are driving a truck and arrive at a bridge with a warning sign: maximum height 4 meters. They get off and measure their truck. It’s 6 meters high. “What shall we do?” asks the one. “I don’t see any police” says the other one “so let’s drive on””
11. France Is Bigger Than You Imagine
Almost 20% of French territory is outside Europe. 2.5 million French citizens live in these overseas territories.
12. France Is Smaller Today Than It Was A Century Ago
At its peak, between 1919 and 1939, the French colonial empire extended over 12,347,000 km², or 8.6% of the global land area. This is over 22 times the size of modern France.
Related Content: A Look At The Colonial French Empire
13. We Don’t hug, We Kiss… And Each Region Has Its Own Kissing Etiquette
The number of greeting kisses the French give varies by region, from one (for example at the tip of Brittany) to two (like in Nice), to four (like in Paris and in most of the north) and sometimes even up to 5 (in Corsica). When in doubt, give two, and see what happens.
14. We Are A Gay-Friendly Country
France was the first modern country to legalize same-sex sexual activity in 1791. This contrasts sharply with the United States, where homosexual acts have only been legalized nationwide in 2003. In 2013, France officially legalized gay marriage, although there was a significant protest against the vote, with over 100,000 people coming out in support of “traditional marriage”
15. But Women Were Long Infantilized
Women rights in France has taken long to come through: according to Napoleon’s Code Civil from 1804, the legal heritage which still prevails in France (although rules are amended), women were never autonomous. They were under the legal patronage of their father and their husbands. Women were granted the right to vote in 1919: that’s 54 years later than in the UK and 51 years later than in the US! Until 1964, French women could not open a bank account or obtain a passport without their husband’s permission. Also – women were not allowed to wear trousers in France ‘unless they were holding the reigns of a horse or a bicycle bar’ until… two years ago! This odd 200 year-old fashion law, officially repealed in 2013, had fallen into disuse over time.
16. Historically, France Is A Farming Nation
Until the early twentieth century, at least two-thirds of the French population was rural and lived in communities with less than 100 people. Most did not know anything beyond the 20 kilometers from their place of birth, and few identified themselves with the French nation. Today, while France remains an agricultural center in Europe, only 7% of the workforce is employed in agriculture or similar sectors, such as fishing or forestry.
17. French Is Not The Only Language Spoken In France
While French is the official language, their linguistic heritage is richer. France has 75 regional languages, which we call ‘patois’ or dialects: Alsatian and Lorraine Frankish (both dialects of High German), Occitan (including Gascon and Provencal), dialects of Oil (such as Picard and Poitevin -saintongeais), but also Basque, Breton, Catalan, Corsican, Franco-Provençal and Tahitian. About 25% French people speak Catalan and over 58% speak a Dialect of Oil. Eight dialects are taught as a third language from middle schools, alongside Spanish, German or Italian. If you tune in to France 3 to watch the local news, you’ll be able to hear it.
18. French Was Once The Language Of The Minority In France
Until the Revolution, only 3 million people out of a population of 28 million spoke French – the remainder spoke regional dialects! After the French Revolution, Robespierre’s Comity of Public Safety decided to get rid of the dialects and universalize the use of French. This served a strategic political end: assert to the new Regime. Many Revolutionaries, including Abbé Grégoire, believed that imposing a common language would bring unity, strength and legitimacy to the Republic. At the time, France was fragmented into provinces with regional distinctiveness – a clash with Republican ambition that strived for a ‘united and indivisible’ Regime.
19. France Once Ruled England
From 1066 to 1154, the Norman Kings conquered and governed England and left a mark on the country of Shakespeare. French was the official language of England for 300 years, from 1066 until the beginning of the fifteenth century. This is reason why there are so many true friends in French and in English.
20. The World’s First Real Department Store Was Built In Paris, France
Created in 1852 by Aristide Boucicaut, Le Bon Marché is considered the world’s first department store. Located at 24 rue de Sèvres in the 6th arrondissement of Paris in the Left Bank. Le Bon Marché, which means ’the good deal’ or ‘the good market’, features high-end furniture, luxury fashion and beauty products. It also has La Grande Epicerie de Paris, an extensive gourmet food store, in an adjacent building. This iconic store was bought by the LVMH group in 1984.
21. It Is Possible To Marry A Dead Person In France
We call it ‘posthumous’ marriage and no, it’s not a fiction. One of these bizarre ceremonies took place last year . This crazy law was passed in 1950 but the practice dates back to the First World War. It originated when the fiancées of slain soldiers would marry their deceased lovers via proxy. To qualify, one must provide evidence that the dead intended to marry them while alive. In addition, the living spouse must get the approval of the President and Justice Minister. A ceremony is then held in which the bride or groom stands beside a photo of their significant other. In case you wonder, the infamous “till death do us part” is removed from the vows and “I do” is replaced by “I did.”
22. ‘Commoners’ Can Buy A Castle On The Cheap Today
France’s Monarchy spanned from 481 to 1789, leaving an artistic and cultural legacy still visible today. There are about 40,000 castles and manors in France: the largest is the Louvre. At 210,000 m², it is also the biggest palace in the world. By comparison, Versailles measures 67,000 m², Buckingham Palace, 77,000 m² and the Apostolic Vatican Palace, 162.000 m².
23. France’s Elvis Presley Is Claude François
In many ways, Claude François is considered the French Elvis Presley. Even after his death 30 years ago, the blonde disco singer is as popular as ever: his songs are among the most popular tunes played in clubs for the past 20 years. A cult developed around him, with regular TV shows about him and the ‘claudettes’, his sexy dancers.
24. France Is A Country Of Smart People
Who thought French people were so brainy? France has won more literature Nobel laureates than any country. French also boast to have the second highest number of Fields Medals after the USA. Famous French inventions include the calculator, the hot air balloon, the plane, the parachute, the submarine, the ambulance service, photography, animation and cinema.
25. There Is Not ‘One’ French Cuisine
French cooking is a ‘cuisine de terroir’: it is local-based. Each of France’s 22 regions (27, if you count regions outside the Metropole) features distinctive dishes and incorporates typical local ingredients, like olives in Provence, salt in Brittany or tomme cheese in Auvergne. Roughly, France can be divided in three regions, based on the type of fat found in the dishes: the North is a butter-based cuisine, the Southeast incorporates olive oil and the South Western part uses duck fat.
Further Reading: Xpatnation France
Follow Us On Facebook