Whether you are planning on visiting France, living in the country, or just boning up for trivia quiz night, there are plenty of interesting little facts and tidbits about France.
The largest country in Western Europe and one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world has plenty of interesting facts and quirks to uncover. So let’s get to some France fun facts, shall we? Allons-y!
Facts about Politics and State
1. French President and Prime Minister
France today is a representative democracy. Every 5 years, a President is directly elected as Head of State.
The President then appoints a Prime Minister as his head of government, to select ministers for important posts such as defense, health, culture, etc., and generally manage affairs.
2. The French Government
In addition, 577 parliament members are directly voted into the Assemblée Nationale (French House of Representatives) for 5-year terms. Only the Prime Minister is usually allowed to address the Parliament members at the Assemblée Nationale, not the President. This is similar to the Queen/King of United Kingdom who are not allowed into the British House of Representatives unless invited.
French locally-elected officials also elect 348 Senators to sit in the Sénat (Senate) for 6-year terms, with half of the seats up for election every 2 years.
|Data Points||France||United States|
|Population||66 million||328 million|
|# of Representatives||577||435|
|# of Senators||348||100|
3. The Symbols of France
The flag of France is called the tricolore, meaning 3 colors. Alternatively, it is known as the bleu, blanc, rouge, meaning blue, white, and red.
The capital of France is Paris, (which we can be honest, is quite disliked by non-Parisians).
The motto of France is Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité (meaning Liberty, Equality & Fraternity).
The French team at the Olympics and all international sporting events is called Les Bleus (the Blues).
The symbols of France is Marianne and the Coq (a rooster).
The French national anthem is called the Marseillaise (and has rather questionable lyrics.)
The capital of France is Paris, but that was not always the case.
4. French Elections
French elections are always held on Sunday. If a winner does not get more than 50% of the vote, then the first 2 candidates with the highest % of votes compete in the 2nd round of voting that is held 2 weeks later.
Voters must be over 18 and citizens of France. Overseas French citizens also have the right to vote.
Voters select for a President and individual members of Assemblée Generale. Separate elections are also held for governments (region, department, council).
Voting is not compulsory, but it is generally quick and easy. A week before, voters receive an envelope containing pamphlets outlining each candidate’s position.
On voting day, small pieces of paper are laid out with each candidate/party name on separate pieces of paper. Voters collect all the papers, go into a covered booth and put the paper with the candidate of their choice in a little envelope, while throwing out the other candidates’s chits of paper in a nearby dustbin. (If you are really curious, you have peek into the dustbin to see which candidate is seemingly not being voted for.)
There is no voting confusion here since there is nothing to checkmark, hanging chads, etc., just a slip of paper with the candidate’s name in an envelope. As such, votes are counted by hand in France. (It is, however, not great for the environment with all that wasted paper!)
A form of protest during the vote is to turn in a vote blanc, meaning “white (blank) vote”.
5. The Official Residence of the French President
The official residence of the French president is the Palais de l’Elysées in Paris, (i.e. the French version of the White House).
It was initially purchased by King Louis XV as a residence for his mistress, the Madame de Pompadour, before eventually becoming state property. You can read more about the Palais de l’Elysées (and its questionable decor) here.
France has 6th largest economy in the world behind U.S., China, Japan, Germany and India, and the 2nd largest in Europe, and the 2nd largest in Europe. France is part of the European Union, and uses the Euro as currency.
Approximately 57% of GDP is coming from France’s Public sector spending. That means more than ½ of the spending in France’s economy is coming from the government (per the Office of the French Prime Minister).
To pay for all this public sector activity, France collects taxes. France has the highest taxes in the world at around 46%, narrowly beating out Denmark and Belgium (link in French).
Goods and Services Tax or Value Added tax (VAT) is approximately 19% in France.
In addition, French politicians have the habit of creating new taxes every time they want to fund a project, rather than taking it from the existing budget. This has led to the creation of hundreds of “micro-taxes” and what is known as the mille feuille fiscal (meaning 1000 layers of taxes).
As an example, France has 192 different taxes that collect less than 150€ million each (link in French), compared to Germany which has 3 such micro taxes. (It certainly keeps the accountants busy!)
Facts about Geography
Another mille-feuille is the French regional structure and its its many levels of government. It is not for nothing that the jokes abound.
1. There are 12 regions in Mainland France
Mainland France is known collectively as the Hexagone because the map of it looks like a hexagon. It is made up of 12 regions:
- Centre-Val de Loire
- Grand Est
- Pays de la Loire
- Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur
2. Many Overseas Regions & Territorial collectivities
In addition to mainland France , there are:
- 1 territorial collectivity: Corsica.
- 5 overseas regions (régions d’outre-mer):
- French Guiana
- 4 overseas collectivities (collectivités d’outre-mer):
- Saint-Pierre and Miquelon
- Saint Barthélemy
- Saint Martin,
- Wallis and Futuna.
- 1 overseas “country” (pays d’outre-mer): French Polynesia.
- 1 sui generis collectivity (collectivité sui generis): New Caledonia
- 1 overseas territory (territoire d’outre-mer, or TOM): French Southern and Antarctic Lands divided into 5 districts:
- Kerguelen Islands
- Crozet Islands
- Île Amsterdam & Île Saint-Paul
- Adélie Land
- Scattered islands
- 1 uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mexico: Clipperton.
3. There are 96 Departments in Mainland France
The regions in mainland France are subdivided into 96 departments. For instance, the region of Ile-de-France includes:
- Petite Couronne (small crown)
- Grande Couronne (large crown)
Each of these departments and conglomerations has its own level of government.
4. Over 35,000 Communes
The departments are further divided into over 35,000 communes (meaning towns). For instance, the Yvelines just west of Paris, consists of over 258 little towns.
Some towns have as little as 20 people in them, but still have their own communal government and mayor. As a comparison, France has 40% of all the communes in Europe. Neighboring Germany which is similar in size and population, has only around 11,000 communes, while Italy and Spain have around 8000 communes.
There has been some debate about reducing the number of communes, but the mille feuille continues!
6. Main Rivers
There ar 5 main rivers in France:
- the Seine (which flows through Paris)
- the Rhône (South of France near Marseille)
- the Loire (through the Loire Valley)
- the Garonne (near the Pyrenees mountains and Spain)
- the Rhine (in Alsace and Germany)
7. Another 332 Arrondissements
In addition, some of the larger cities like Paris and Lyon are further divided into 332 arrondissements, each of which also has its own layer of government. For instance, Paris is divided into 20 arrondissements, and each arrondissement has its own town hall and mayor.
8. Highest Mountain in Europe
France is home to the 2nd highest mountain in Europe, after Mount Elbrus in Russia. It rises to over 4808m above sea level.
However, ownership of the mountain summit is still in dispute between France and Italy as the mountain stands between the region of Savoie in France, and Italy. (Fun fact: In 1860, the Duchy of Savoie near Annecy, was annexed by France. In return, the last Duke of Savoy, Victor Emmanuel II, was made King of Italy.)
☞ READ MORE: Quiz: Do you know your French Geography?
Fun Food Facts
There are over 1600 types of cheese in France. As General Charles de Gaulle once said, “How can you govern a country that has so many varieties of cheese?” (In case you are wondering, these are our top favorite classic French cheeses.)
Yes, snails are a delicacy in France, and yes they are delicious. It is estimated that French people eat 16000 tons of escargot every year, even if they all grew up singing the famous French nursery rhyme. (Cuisse de grenouille (frog legs), on the other hand, are much less common, with only making rare appearances on restaurant menus.)
You can read more about eating escargot here.
It is estimated that French people eat 6 billion baguettes every year. There are over 32000 boulangeries (bakeries) in France and they are considered “essential services”.
Until 2015, bakeries required governement approval to go on vacation, in order to ensure that all neighborhood bakeries were not closed at the same time.
In rural areas, there are such things as baguette vending machines to ensure that no one has to travel too far to get their daily bread.
☞ READ MORE: Quiz: Do you know your French Cuisine?
5. Croissants and Fries are not French
The legendary Croissant is actually Austrian and is said to have made its way to France with the arrival of Austrian princess Marie-Antoinette. She married French King Louis XVI at the age of 14, brought her delicious croissants with her, and the rest was history.
In addition, french fries, or frites as they are called in French, are actually Belgian. And French toast? It dates back to the Roman Empire. You can read about more interesting French food facts here.
Facts about History
1. Marseille is the oldest city in France
Marseille is the oldest city in France, and today the 2nd largest. It was founded in 600 BC as the Greek colony of Massalia. Its strategic location on the Mediterranean sea made it an important trading port.
2. French cities under Roman Empire
The original inhabitants of France were a Gallic tribe called the Gauls. After the Greeks, they were invaded by the Roman Empire from the 1st century BC to the 5th century AD. (The comic books Asterix and Obelix centers around the intrepid Gauls fighting the dastardly Romans.)
The Roman capital in Western Europe at the time was Lugdunum, which today is the city of Lyon. In addition, cities like Nimes and Arles where where it was at, for the Romans. (If you are in the South of France, don’t forget to visit the famous Pont du Gard aqueduct built by the Romans to carry around 8 million imperial gallons of water per day.)
And Paris? Paris at the time was just a tiny outpost in the north. Only the portion that today is called Ile de la Cité in Paris was inhabited (the darkest green in the map above). Known as Lutèce, it gradually grew into the Paris we know today.
2. Oldest French King
After the fall of the Roman Empire came a Germanic tribe named the Franks. They defeated the Gauls across much of the country (although a strong gaellic presence remains in Bretagne.) The country France is named after the Franks.
Clovis I was the first king of the Franks to unite all of the Frankish tribes under one ruler in 481 AD, and ensuring that the monarchy was passed down to his heirs.
3. King Charlamagne and descendants
A few centuries after Clovis, came a new King of the Franks named Charlemagne. They say that every European is related to King Charlamagne. (He had 23 children so it is possible). By 768 AD, Charlamagne had conquered almost the entirety of the area known today as France and Germany.
But upon his death, his sons started squabbling, arguing over the region of Alsace and many other disputed lands in the middle. This was not the first of the Franco-Germanic wars, and it would not be the last.
☞ READ MORE: How the Alsace Region influenced Europe’s history
4. William the Conqueror
For French people, William the Conqueror who conquered England in 1066, is French! Duc William of Normandy came across the English Channel from the west coast of France. He went to England leaving his wife and children behind in Normandy, as he fought and solidified his hold on England.
William didn’t speak much English, so the language of the (English) court was French, a tradition that his descendants continued for centuries. As such, approximately 45% of words in English are rooted in French.
5. Other languages than French
The English may have been learning to speak French, but at the time not all the people in France did. At the time, people spoke the language of their region.
|Regional Languages in France||Spoken in|
|Arpitan||Near Switzerland and Italy, including Rhône Alps|
|Basque||Near Spain (known as Basque Country)|
|Catalan||Near Spain (Known as Catalan)|
|Corse||Island of Corsica|
|Flamand||North of France, including Dunkerque|
|Francique Lorrain||Near Luxembourg, including Moselle|
|Occitan & Provençal||South of France, including Marseille|
However, in 1539, King François I banned the use of most of these regional languages, and insisted on a new language he called “françoys” be used for all official purposes.
There has still been some resistance however. Alsatian, Corse and Breton are still taught in French schools in those regions, and the metro in the city of Toulouse is officially bilingual in French and Occitan.
6. Multiple French Revolutions
Everyone knows about the French Revolution which ended King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette’s rule in 1789, with their heads getting chopped off. Since then, however, there have been another 2 empires (Napoleon Bonaparte and family), yet another revolution in 1848, 2 constitutional monarchies, and 5 republics.
Including several Germanic invasions, a couple of world wars, and many other upheavals, French history has been quite harrowing.
☞ READ MORE: Quiz: Which French Royal Family Member are you?
Other interesting facts
1. Travel capital of the world
France has the privilege of being the most visited country in the world. With over 80m people visiting every year, people love to travel to France! Incidentally, it is said that the Louvre museum in Paris is the most visited museum in the world.
You may have heard of our most famous one, the Arc De Triomphe on the Champs Elysées.
It is estimated that around 500 roundabouts are built every year in France. It is considered to be a safer way to drive, causing fewer accidents annually.
☞ READ MORE: Driving in France: 27 Rules and Tips you should know
3. The French Government awards medals to good parents.
If you have more than 4 kids and raise them well, you too can get the Médaille de la Famille française (Medal of the French Family). For the family to get the medal, the parents have to apply to the local Town Hall (Mairie) when the oldest has reached the age of 16. The Mairie will then investigate that the “children are brought up well”, and then decide whether or not to award the medal.
4. Naming streets and monuments after people
French governments like to name streets and monuments after famous people. Everything from Charles de Gaulle Airport to Franklin Roosevelt metro station in Paris is named after people. Presidents of France get top honor, such as Centre Pompidou museum and Bibliothèque François Mitterrand (Library).
But there are certain names that get more use than others.
|Name||Occupation||# of streets and monuments named after|
|Charles de Gaulle||General of the French Resistance in WWII and subsequently and President of France||3903|
|Louis Pasteur||Scientist renowned for his discoveries of the principles of vaccination and pasteurization.||3354|
|Victor Hugo||Author of “Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Les Miserables”||2555|
|Jean Jaures||Socialist Politician who was assassinated||2370|
|Jean Moulin||French Resistance leader who was tortured and murdered during WWII||2215|
So if you are going to Avenue Jean Jaures, make sure you specify to the taxi driver which town it is in!
5. French Holidays
French people have a minimum of 5 weeks vacation per year, with most people averaging around 8 weeks. (And this is on top of the public holidays in France.) They do work more than 35 hours a week, so that vacation is well earned 😉
☞ READ MORE: French Culture: 50+ facts and tidbits from France
6. The French “Right of way” while driving
The French “Right of way” is exceptional in that even a smaller country road on the right may have priority, unless they have a specific sign saying otherwise.
So even if a single lane road is coming up on a two-lane road, the driver of the two-lane road may legally be obliged to slow down and/or stop to cede the right of way to the other driver. You can read more about French driving rules here.
7. French birth certificates are only valid for 3 months
In France, birth certificates are official documents that need to be provided on a variety of occasions. Most government offices will ask for a birth certificate issued within the last 3 months. For example, even if a Frenchman is 35 years old, his birth certificate should be a new one issued within the last 3 months.
Why a new birth/marriage certificate every time? As far as most people are aware, birth certificates don’t change! Except in France, they do. In France, birth certificates are updated for significant details such as marriages, divorces, children, etc. It is called “Mention Marginale”. Literally, it means a note in the margins of his birth certificate.
8. French Fairy tales
Puss in Boots, Little Red Riding Hood, and Cinderella were written by a Frenchman named Charles Perrault. He was a secretary at the Château de Breteuil, just outside of Paris, which today pays tribute to his works.
8. The word “Etiquette” is French
The notion of etiquette came about from the practices of Sun King Louis XIV. He codified the role of all courtiers and members of French court at the Palace of Versailles, regulating every aspect of their life, from outfits to behavior from morning till night.
The French etiquette rules remained after the French revolution, with the art de la table being democratized for the masses. With everything from how to comport yourself at the dinner table, how to drink wine or cut and serve cheese, there are too many guidelines to count!
So was there anything on the list that you found the most surprising? Comment below and let me know.
Did you enjoy that article? Save it for later!