France is a country that lives and breathes culture, history, and the arts. From the top of Eiffel Tower to the boardwalks of the French Riviera, France is a delightfully romantic destination that transports you to a world of incredible architecture, food and wine. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that France has inspired many famous quotes.
Whether you are planning to visit the Hexagone (continental France), or are just looking for instagram-able quotes about France for social media, there is something for everyone, along with a little tidbit to learn more about this beautiful, if not perplexing country.
However, as a Parisienne myself for the past 10 years, I have noticed there is an acute difference between the way locals speak about France, compared to foreigners who may have visited for any particular length of time. There is a romantism in the words of both, but for those who have lived in France for long periods of time, there is a touch of both matter-of-factness and bemusement.
The French can be rude and aggravating, and have particularities that are well their own. As a long-time resident (and naturalized Frenchie) I can tell you, you either get used to it, or you leave.
Because of this complicated relationship, I’ve tried to provide some context as to these quotes, to provide a bit of background and understanding. So with that, here are my favorite quotes about France. Allons-y!
1. “How can anyone govern a country that has 246 varieties of cheese?”
Original Quote in French: “Comment voulez-vous gouverner un pays où il existe 246 variétés de fromage ?” — Charles de Gaulle
The French are reputed to be complicated! General Charles de Gaulle who led the French Resistance during WWII to victory, found himself President of a rather raucous country after the war.
And he is right, there are so many different types of cheeses in France, it is extremely difficult to pick!
2. In France, we only have three specialties: literature, the dérrière (the behind), and food.
Original Quote in French: “En France, on n’a que trois spécialités : la littérature, la fesse et la bouffe.” — Michel Audiard, French screenwriter.
3. France would be the only nation whose flag will have a pole of 300 meters!
Original Quote in French: “La France serait la seule nation dont le drapeau aura une hampe de 300 mètres!” — Gustave Eiffel
Gustave Eiffel, the builder of the Eiffel Tower, was also involved in the construction of the Statue of Liberty given by France to the United States. Apparently not a big fan of sticking a giant flag on top of his monument, in order to make it even taller.
4. France is a country that loves to change government as long as it is always the same.
French people pick a President and a parliament every 5 years, in robustious elections, worthy of any lively democracy. And the more things change, the more they stay the same! You can read more about the French republic here.
5. Time for dinner! Everything ends this way in France – everything. Weddings, christenings, duels, burials, swindling, diplomatic affairs – everything is a pretext for a good dinner.
Original quote in French: “Passons à table! C’est la fin naturelle en France. Noces, baptêmes, duels, enterrements, escroqueries, affaires d’Etat, tout est prétexte à cette fin-là.” – Jean Anouilh, French playwright.
6. In France, we have 300 sauces and 3 religions. In England, they have 3 sauces but 300 religions.
Original quote in French: “En France, nous avons trois cents sauces et trois religions. En Angleterre, ils ont trois sauces mais trois cents religions.” — Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, diplomat.
When people think of French food, a few things that instantly come to mind are: cheese, wine, bread, and French sauces. And it is the sauces that make a good meal a great one. (Or so we believe anyway.)
7. France is an extremely fertile country: civil servants are planted there and taxes are raised.
Original quote in French: “La France est un pays extrêmement fertile: on y plante des fonctionnaires et il y pousse des impôts.” — French President Georges Clemenceau
8. France, mother of the arts, arms and laws.
Original quote in French: “France, mère des arts, des armes et des lois.” – Joachim du Bellay, poet
9. The emblem of France was the rooster. Today is the coq au vin.
Original quote in French: “L’emblème de la France, c’était le coq. C’est aujourd’hui le coq au vin.” – Gilbert Cesbron, writer
A funny quote noting the emblem of France is the coq, which is a symbol that adorns all French national team uniforms as well as in many other places. But is it more famous than the French chicken stew, the coq au vin? Which do you prefer?
10. France is a country where it is more important to have an opinion on Homer than to have read Homer.
Original quote in French: “La France est un pays où il est plus important d’avoir une opinion sur Homère que d’avoir lu Homère.” — Stendhal (real name Henri Beyle), writer.
11. French people speak quickly but act slowly.
Original quote in French: “Les Français parlent vite et agissent lentement.” — Voltaire, writer
If you have spent any amount of time in France, you know that French people love to say no. It is a given, anything on any defined topic. And so here is a list of rejoinders if you need, with expressions I’m sure even Voltaire used regularly.
12. French people get on my nerves. A lot! But I don’t know any other language so I’ve got to speak to them.
Original quote in French: “Les Français m’agacent prodigieusement, mais comme je ne connais aucune langue étrangère, je suis bien obligé de parler avec eux.” — Michel Audiard, screenwriter.
13. Ah the French! They are like camembert, they don’t travel very well.
Original quote in French: “Ah, les Français, ça voyage mal, c’est comme le camembert !” — Claude Zidi, movie director.
14. The French are impossible people who keep saying that impossible is not French.
Original quote in French: “Les Français sont ces gens impossibles qui répètent qu’impossible n’est pas français.” – Robert Sabatier, poet.
Stubbornness will only get you so far. Or so we were lead to believe.
15. Every Frenchman wants to enjoy one or more privileges; that’s the way he shows his passion for equality.
Original Quote in French: “Tout Français désire bénéficier d’un ou de plusieurs privilèges. C’est sa façon d’affirmer sa passion pour l’égalité.” — Charles de Gaulle
A playful joke as the motto of France is “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” which means “liberty, equality, fraternity”. De Gaulle was President of France during the 1960s, when several nationwide protests were taking place, for workers’ rights, benefits, and more.
16. France, the most beautiful kingdom after that of Heaven.
Original quote in French: “La France, le plus beau royaume après celui du Ciel.” — Hugo Grotius, priest
The French royal kingdom was less than beautiful for Queen Marie-Antoinette and her family, but a stroll through the Palace of Versailles will certainly leave you gasping in wonder at the beauty of it all.
17. In France you cannot not have lunch. If you stopped the French from having lunch, you will have a second revolution, I can tell you this.
– Christian Louboutin, French fashion designer
The designer continues: “Not going to work – it is part of the French privilege.”
18. In France, History is paralyzing.
Original quote in French: “En France, l’Histoire paralyse.” – Jean Paul Gaultier, French fashion designer.
With Germany on one side and England on the other, French history has been tumultuous, to say the least. From conquests, intermarriages, and more wars, nobody can say the topic is boring!
19. France’s biggest strength is French people themselves
Original quote in French: “La plus grande force de la France, ce sont les Français eux-mêmes.” – Francois Fillon, Prime Minister
Love or love to hate them, the French are certainly unique. Or at least they aspire to be 😉
1. I wanted to get far away from those who believed in cruelty, so then I went to France, a land of true freedom, democracy, equality and fraternity.
— Josephine Baker, American-born French singer and resistance fighter
As a black woman, Josephine Baker found more opportunities in France than her native America. She moved to France at 19, rose to fame as an accomplished singer and dancer, and was an active member of the French Resistance during WWII.
After the war, she was awarded a string of medals, including the Croix de guerre by the French military, and was named a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur by General Charles de Gaulle.
2. As the French say, that certain “I don’t know what”.
— Dr. Evil, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
The words that Dr. Evil is looking for is of course that certain “je ne sais quoi“. That inexplicable thing, that is impossible to explain (although to give it a shot, I discuss the je ne sais quoi here.)
3. You should definitely visit the Louvre, a world-famous art museum where you can view, at close range, the backs of thousands of other tourists trying to see the Mona Lisa.”
— Dave Barry, American comedian
As the most visited museum in the world, I confirm, it is not easy to get a picture along with La Joconde, as the Mona Lisa is called in French. Be prepared to throw a few elbows when visiting the Louvre!
4. Between France and England, the best thing is the English Channel.
— Douglas Jerrold, English writer
Ah, that centuries old love-hate relationship between the French and the English. Believe me, we are all grateful for the English Channel. You can read more quotes about France vs England here.
5. Boy, those French. They have a different word for everything.
— Steve Martin, American actor
I love Steve Martin, but he seems to be unaware that over 45% of English words are actually based on French.
It all has to do with that Guillaume le Conquerant (aka William the conqueror) fellow heading over England from the shores of Normandy. And now you know.
6. France has neither winter nor summer nor morals—apart from these drawbacks it is a fine country.”
— Mark Twain, American writer
It is true, winters in France tend to be rather wet than snowy, but it still isn’t that bad, is it?
7. The thing that staggers you when you first come to France is the fact that all the French speak French—even the children.”
— Olivia de Havilland, British-American actress
Are French children really as well behaved as some reports will have you believe? In a word, no. But as de Havilland will attest, having spent several years in Paris and becoming a French citizen herself, they do speak French quite well.
8. I had come to the conclusion that I must really be French, only no one had ever informed me of this fact.
— Julia Child, American chef and author
The author continues: “I loved the people, the food, the lay of the land, the civilized atmosphere, and the generous pace of life.” The American doyenne of French cooking basics and advanced techniques certainly appreciated the French art de vivre.
9. What an immense impression Paris made upon me. It is the most extraordinary place in the world!
–Charles Dickens, English writer
Dickens may be more famous for his novels based in England such as Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, and Great Expectations. But it was after his first trip to Paris that he wrote this famous quote about Paris in a letter to a friend.
10. When I got to France I realized I didn’t know very much about food at all.”
— Julia Child, American chef and author
11. France has the only two things toward which we drift as we grow older – intelligence and good manners.
— F. Scott Fitzgerald, American writer
Intelligence is always debatable, but there is no debating the French love of etiquette. With everything from cheese to wine etiquette, and beyond, there are dining rules for everything. Would you really expect less?
12. Every man has two countries – his own and France.
— Thomas Jefferson, U.S. Ambassador to France, and 3rd President of the United States.
Jefferson has been widely attributed this famous quote about France, but what he actually wrote was:
So ask the traveled inhabitant of any nation, in what country on earth would you rather live?—certainly in my own. Where are all my friends, my relations, and the earliest & sweetest affections and recollections of my life.—Which would be your second choice?—France.Thomas Jefferson’s Autobiography
The specific quote, “Every man has two countries – his own and France,” however, has been traced back a Henri de Bornier’s play, which the character of King Charlemagne utters the exact line in French:
“Tout homme a deux pays, le sien et puis la France.La Fille de Roland (1875), Henri de Bornier
13. I like Frenchmen very much, because even when they insult you they do it so nicely.
– Josephine Baker, American-born singer, French resistance fighter
14. Quarrels in France strengthen a love affair, in America they end it.
— Ned Rorem, American writer
15. France is the most civilized country in the world and doesn’t care who knows it
— John Gunther, American journalist
16. Never doubt the courage of the French. They were the ones who discovered that snails are edible.
— Doug Larson, American journalist
If you have never tried escargot, all I can say is that you are missing out. They are delicious!
17. French people are so proud of their wine, they named many French cities after the names of Grand Cru vintage wine.
— Oscar Wilde, Irish poet
18. The South of France is a sunny place for shady people.
— Somerset Maugham, English writer
Maugham may have been English, but he was actually born in Paris, where his parents were on assignment. And as we know, there is no love lost between Parisians and the south of France’rs (aka the Marseillais), and perhaps that influenced his opinion on the South of France? One thing for sure, it certainly is sunny.
19. I would rather have a German division in front of me than a French one behind me.
— U.S. General George S. Patton in WWII
General Patton may not be at his most charitable here, after all the French did have 3 large wars with Germany in a span of 70 years (Franco-Prussian, WWI, and WWII). As I said French-German history is tumultuous.
20. France would be a great place if there were no French in it.
There is a syndrome for tourists in France, called the Paris syndrome: a sense of disappointment exhibited by some individuals when visiting or going on vacation to Paris and France, who feel that it is not as beautiful as they had expected it to be. The noisiness, the cars, the people, surely that is what makes the place, right?
21. We love to slow down, and France requires us to do so. In France, we find what we are missing.
–Marcia DeSanctis, writer
The writer continues: “We gasp at the beauty of the bridges over the Seine and always feel at home when we stop in the middle of one to gaze down at the cottony wake of the Bateaux Mouches. We love the mountain air that refreshes us in the Alps, and the nighttime clouds that eat the stars over the Breton coast.”
22. France is like a maddening, moody lover who inspires emotional highs and lows.
–Sarah Turnbull, author of Almost French
The writer continues: “One minute it fills you with a rush of passion, the next you’re full of fury, itching to smack the mouth of some sneering shopkeeper or smug civil servant. Yes, it’s a love-hate relationship.” And who can disagree?
23. I like France, where everybody thinks he’s Napoleon.
–F. Scott Fitzgerald, American writer
Ah the self-declared and height-challenged Emperor of France, who was much feared across Europe. Whatever you can say about Napoleon Bonaparte and the French in general, they don’t lack in chutzpah.
24. In France, Paul explained, good cooking was regarded as a combination of national sport and high art, and wine was always served with lunch and dinner.
–Julia Child, author of Mastering the Art of French Cooking
It is true, even office canteens in France will have individual servings of wine, and if you are at a business lunch, wine is practically required. I recommend a light red like a beaujolais with lunch, or a rosé from Cotes de Provence.
25. English fondness for France is normally a sort of neutron love: take away the people and leave the buildings standing.
–Anthony Lane, British journalist and film critic
I suppose Mr. Lane has his opinions, but walk around one of the most beautiful villages in France, or in a bustling French farmers’ market and you will fall in love with France like never before.
26. The French air cleans up the brain and does good – a world of good.
— Vincent Van Gogh, Dutch artist
Vincent van Gogh lived and painted in Provence and the South of France, having spent many years up to his death in the town of Arles. A notable absinthe and pastis drinker, we can only presume he was referring to them with this interesting quote.
27. What’s the big deal with France? How come everyone wants to go there? Let me tell you about France. Their music sucks. Their movies suck. Their berets suck. Their croissants are pretty good, but the place overall still sucks.
–David Levithan, writer