Want to learn more about French culture and traditions? Then check out this list of the most interesting facts about French culture!
What comes to mind when you think of French culture? Some will think of its history, delectable cuisine, artistic achievements, the French language, and so much more!
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While these are some that come to the top of most people’s heads, there are so many things that make France what it is!
So if you’ve ever been intrigued by French traditions and customs, I am here to give you a better insight into the French way of life by sharing 34 of the most interesting facts about French culture that you probably didn’t know.
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Interesting Facts About French Culture
Through its art, cuisine, literature, and way of life, France continues to captivate the world with its unique cultural heritage.
Be it the world-renowned cuisine or its contributions to art and literature, France has left an indelible mark on the world, and the French take immense pride in that.
Keep reading to discover some of the interesting French cultural facts.
1. Cinema was invented in France
We start our list of interesting cultural facts about France with the fact cinema was invented here.
Auguste and Louis Lumière better known as the Lumière brothers invented the Cinématographe, a motion picture camera and projector in 1895.
Since then, the French film industry has grown immensely to even hosting one of the most prestigious annual film festivals in the world, the Cannes Film Festival.
While still talking about cinema, you should know that the French government wants to see French cinema and movies grow so much that it injects a lot of money into the industry.
2. French is the official language in 29 countries worldwide
One of the interesting facts about the French language is that it’s an official language in 29 countries including France itself.
It is spoken by over 200 million people worldwide making it the 5th most spoken language in the world.
Many francophone countries, especially French colonies like Ivory Coast, Senegal, etc., recognize French as the only official language while in others like Belgium, Switzerland, etc., it is considered an official co-language.
3. French is the second most widely learned foreign language after English
Being a widely accepted and recognized language makes French a language many desire to learn.
In fact, apart from English, French is the only other language spoken on all five continents.
While Académie Française is responsible for preserving the French language, the local independent non-profit organization Alliance Française promotes the French language by conducting language learning classes in various parts of the world.
4. The French are polite
Contrary to popular belief, the French are polite and observe certain social etiquettes of politeness in their daily interactions, like saying “bonjour” and “au revoir” when entering and leaving a shop, respectively.
They even include “s’il vous plaît” (please) and “merci” (thank you) when making requests or receiving assistance.
5. Striking is a part of the French culture
This is one of the facts about French culture that might (not) shock you. France has a long history of protests, labor activisms, and strikes that have contributed to shaping its political discourse and public opinion.
Strikes, often involving public demonstrations, marches, and protests are used to express dissatisfaction and protect public rights.
6. France is considered a gastronomic capital
France is renowned for its gastronomy, and French cuisine is celebrated globally for its refined flavors and culinary finesse.
In fact, French gastronomy was recognized as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2010. From escargots (snails) and foie gras to croissants and crème brûlée, France is a food lover’s paradise.
While still talking about food, you should also know that traditional French bread (le pain) holds significant cultural importance in France.
It has been a staple food across the country for centuries and there is no sign of slowing down!
So, evidently, the French eat a lot of it, and when I say a lot, I mean for each course at almost every meal, except maybe dessert (unless you count bread pudding).
8. France has a Bread Observatory and holds a Grand Prix for baguettes
After reading the point above, you might have figured that the French REALLY LOVE their bread, especially the baguette.
France produces approximately 10 billion baguettes yearly, and the Bread Observatory (Observatoire du Pain — yes, that actually exists!) noted that more than 300 are eaten every second.
But it doesn’t stop there! The French know how to take their love to the next level. Every year, a Grand Prix is held to select the Best Baguette in Paris.
And besides holding the title of the best baguette, the winner of the Grand Prix is honored with being the official supplier of bread to Mairie de Paris (the town hall of Paris) and Le Palais de l’Élysée (the official residence of the president of the republic) for a year.
9. French people are big on wine
Another one of the interesting French culture facts is that French people love wine!
France is the second largest consumer of wine by volume per capita worldwide just after Portugal. This shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the amount of wine produced by the country.
Fun fact: Champagne, the sparkling wine associated with celebrations originates from the namesake region in northeastern France.
10. The French also love their cheeses
France is also renowned for its extensive variety of cheeses boasting over 400 distinct types.
Each region has its specialty, such as Camembert from Normandy and Roquefort from southern France.
Cheese holds such significance in French culture that a celebrated French lawyer, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin once said, “Un repas sans fromage est une belle à qui il manque un œil” (A meal without cheese is like a beautiful woman with one eye).
Are you even surprised by this French culture fact at this point? The French take pleasure in savoring and enjoying their meals.
Traditional French meals often consist of multiple courses, allowing for a gradual progression of flavors at a relaxed pace.
A typical French meal may include a drink (aperitif), appetizer (entrée), a main course (plat principal), cheese, and dessert, accompanied by bread. Now you know why it takes 2-3 hours to savor a meal.
On the other hand, dinner could even have seven courses, especially if you dine at one of these Paris Michelin-starred restaurants.
You should however note that this is not a daily thing but rather something done on special occasions or when a family meets for a Sunday gathering.
French culture places a strong emphasis on mealtimes as an opportunity to enjoy a leisurely meal, relax, and socialize.
The closure during lunch hours allows employees to have an extended lunch break and recharge before returning to work for the afternoon.
However, there could be exceptions depending on the place you’re in, like in larger cities and tourist areas, you may find more establishments that remain open during lunchtime to cater to different schedules and customer demands.
13. Not All Restaurants In France Stay Open All Day
While still on the same topic of closing places, it’s not uncommon to find restaurants closing after 2:00 pm sometimes 2:30 pm, and later reopening at 7:00 pm for dinner.
14. It is illegal to throw away food in France
You read about how much the French love food so it seems fitting that they would adopt measures to combat food wastage.
In 2016, the Garot law was passed, forbidding grocers and supermarkets from throwing away unsold and edible surplus food.
They were encouraged to instead donate it to organizations that help in distributing food to the needy.
15. The Michelin Guide was created in France
The Michelin tire company founded by brothers André and Édouard Michelin, published the first Michelin Guide in 1900.
Initially, the guide was created to encourage motorists to use their automobiles by including practical information such as maps, tire repair instructions, listings of gas stations, mechanics, etc.
Eventually, they introduced restaurant reviews and ratings to promote travel.
By employing anonymous and trained inspectors who visit and evaluate restaurants based on specific criteria and strict standards, it slowly became a trusted authority on dining experiences.
Consequently, today, France has the highest number of Michelin-starred restaurants in the world with a total of over 600 — after all, it’s the gastronomical capital of the world.
16. The French have a nice work-life balance
French culture emphasizes leisure, relaxation, and enjoying life outside of work.
In order to implement this, France has taken legal measures like a maximum 35-hour workweek introduced in 2000 aiming to limit excessive working hours and encourage leisure time, and employee benefits such as a minimum of five weeks of paid vacation per year, parental leave, and shorter workdays for certain professions.
The practice of closing some places between 12 pm and 2 pm mentioned before (although not an actual law) also aligns with the French value of work-life balance.
Now who wouldn’t want to work here after reading this interesting French culture fact?
17. Fashion is part of the French culture
France is a global fashion powerhouse, with Paris being one of the fashion capitals of the world and a prominent hub for fashionistas, especially since it holds yearly fashion events, like the Paris Fashion Week, where the creations of esteemed designers such as Chanel, Dior, and Louis Vuitton and other French fashion designers are showcased.
Here’s a related fun fact you may not have known! The term haute couture was born in France in the mid-19th century and is now a legally registered designation of origin.
18. Modern Olympics was invented in France
French educator and historian Pierre de Coubertin was passionate about promoting physical education in schools and believed in the positive impact of athletics on individual development.
So in 1894, Coubertin organized an international congress on physical education and proposed the revival of the Olympic Games inspired by the ancient Olympic Games of Greece.
Subsequently, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was established, and the first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896 in Athens, Greece.
19. France was a monarchy before
France has a long history of monarchy with several dynasties ruling it interspersed with revolutions that overthrew them.
After three significant periods of monarchy and multiple freedom movements, France finally became La République Française we know today.
One of the several outcomes of monarchy was that the Palace of Versailles became the residence of French kings and queens when Louis XIV moved the seat of governance there.
20. The shortest reign of a king in France lasted less than 20 minutes
During the July Revolution of 1830, King Charles X abdicated the throne amidst growing opposition to his rule.
Thus, his elder son, Louis-Antoine of France became the de-facto ruler as King Louis XIX for a mere 20 minutes before he also abdicated the throne, making it the shortest reign of a king in France.
21. Religion is not a big deal in France
France has a strong tradition of secularism, known as “laïcité,” which separates religious institutions from the state and government affairs.
This approach ensures state neutrality in matters of religion while protecting individual religious freedoms and preventing religious involvement in government matters.
22. It’s bad luck to put bread on the table upside down
This fact about French culture might surprise you but there’s a story behind it.
During the medieval times when executions were common, executioners who didn’t have the time to go to the bakery had bakers in France save some bread for them.
To show that a loaf was reserved for executioners, it would be turned upside down. Over time, this act became associated with death and bad luck, and the superstition even continued long after executions were banned.
23. The metric system originated in France during the French Revolution
Before the French Revolution, like many other countries, France used a variety of measurement systems with different standards and units creating inconsistencies and hindering trade.
In 1790, a group of scientists was commissioned to develop a new universal, rational, and easy-to-use decimal-based measurement system, leading to the creation of the metric system.
In 1799, the French government declared the metric system the official measurement system, and eventually, it was adopted globally.
24. Philosophy is part of the French culture
Philosophy is an integral part of French culture, dating back centuries. Renowned French philosophers such as Voltaire, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir emerged from French society making profound impacts on philosophical thought.
They also played a crucial role in advocating for reason, liberty, and individual rights. Of these, René Descartes is often considered the father of modern philosophy for laying the foundation of rationalism.
25. The French enjoy Apéro time
One of the things that are heavily rooted in French culture is Apero. If you’re wondering what an Apero is; it is short for “apéritif.
Apéritif is usually had before dinner (though you can have it even before lunch) where people gather to enjoy a drink and have light snacks like olives, charcuterie, and more while waiting for the main meal.
Apéro time typically starts between 6 pm and 8 pm, lasting about an hour or so, although there’s no strict timeline. It can be held at a bar, a café, or even at someone’s home.
26. Football is the most famous sport in France
France might have a number of sports but football is the most dominant with the national and club-level teams having long and successful histories.
The French national football team known as “Les Bleus,” participated in the inaugural FIFA World Cup in 1930 though it has so far won twice; in 1998 and 2018.
They have also won the UEFA European Championship twice cementing themselves as one of the most competitive teams in the world.
On top of the national team, it has club-level teams like Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) which has won the most titles, Olympique de Marseille, Olympique Lyonnais, and more under the competition name, French Ligue 1.
This focus on football has produced some of the best French footballers the world has ever seen including Thierry Henry, Kylian Mbappé, Zinedine Zidane, Patrick Vieira, and many more!
27. French people are big on smoking
One of the interesting facts about French people is that they love to smoke.
France has had a long-standing association with smoking! In fact, in the past, smoking was considered a social norm and widely accepted and prevalent in French society, though today it’s starting to reduce with laws banning smoking inside restaurants and indoor public places unless it’s a designated smoking area.
To put it into perspective, 24% of the population were recorded smokers in 2019 a reduction from 28.3% in 2014, according to smoke free world’s research.
28. France has 2 types Of “YOU” depending on whom you’re addressing
Like many other language norms, French also has an informal and formal way of addressing someone.
The pronoun “tu” is used in informal scenarios when addressing someone with whom you have a close relationship, someone familiar, or when speaking to children.
The pronoun “vous” is used in formal scenarios when addressing someone with respect or with whom you have a more distant relationship.
FYI, “vous” is also used when addressing a group of people, whether formal or informal.
29. Tipping is not a big thing in France
In France, tipping is not a prevalent cultural practice. This is because a service charge (service compris) is usually included in the bill at restaurants and cafés to cover the staff’s service hence, an additional tip is not expected as in other countries like the US.
However, if you want to show appreciation for the utmost service received, you can leave one.
30. The French love to complain
The French allegedly have a penchant for complaining. They have a reputation for being outspoken and expressive of their opinions, including grievances or dissatisfaction, probably because they have high standards when it comes to quality and service.
31. “La bise” is part of the French culture
If you’ve ever been to France, you’ve probably seen locals kissing themselves on the cheeks as a form of greeting. This act is known as “La bise”
It can be between friends, family members, colleagues, or acquaintances as a friendly way to say hello or goodbye to someone.
The most common number of kisses is two with one kiss on each cheek, but it can vary from one to four depending on the region.
You should however note that La Bise is not for everyone, or at least not everyone feels comfortable going for it!
For example, 2 men who are not familiar with each other (sometimes even just acquaintances) do not do a La Bise but a man and a woman who don’t know each other can! The same applies to 2 women who don’t know each other; they can do a La Bise.
If you visit a French region and are not sure how many kisses to go for, 2 is a safer bet but you can also just let the French person in question lead and you just go with the flow.
32. French toast and French fries weren’t actually invented in France
Despite what they’re called, French toast and French fries were not actually invented in France.
The earliest reference to French toast is in ancient Rome but it was later attributed to New York innkeeper Joseph French.
Similarly, French fries are actually a Belgian innovation. Since Belgians also speak French, this is possibly why people assumed it originated in France.
P.S. If you want French toast in France, you’ll have to ask for pain perdu, while fries are called frites.
33. France is a huge literary country
France has a rich literary tradition, and throughout history, it has been home to many influential and renowned writers.
From classic literature works like Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables and Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary to famous French poems like Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal, French literature has made a lasting impact on the global literary scene.
FYI, the world’s longest book is French! It is known as A la Recherche du Temps Perdu by Marcel Proust!
34. France has the highest number of Nobel Prize winners for Literature
Adding to the previous point, France has 15 authors who have won the Nobel Prize for Literature making it the country with the most number of prizes followed by the USA and the UK which both have 10.
35. The first photograph and the first photographic camera were made by Frenchmen
Just like Cinema, the first camera was invented by Frenchman Joseph Nicéphore in 1816.
36. France’s artistic legacy is world-renowned
In fact, France is also home to the world’s largest art museum, the Louvre Museum in Paris which is home to the most famous painting in the world, the Mona Lisa. The Louvre is also the most visited art museum in the world.
Final Thoughts on the French Culture Facts
There are so many interesting facts about French culture, traditions, customs, and values that make the country what it is!
So whether you want to get a deeper insight into the country and its people or you were just curious why some things are the way they are, I hope this article helped you.
Which French cultural facts surprised or shocked you the most? Let me know in the comments below!
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