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France Basic Facts - History

France Basic Facts - History

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Population 2002 ......................................................59,765,983
GDP per capita 2002 (Purchasing Power Parity, US$)........... 25,700
GDP 2002 (Purchasing Power Parity, US$ billions)................ 1540

Average annual growth 1991-97
Population (%) ....... .4
Labor force (%) ....... .8

Total Area...................................................................211,208 sq. mi.
Poverty (% of population below national poverty line)...... 26
Urban population (% of total population) ............................... 75
Life expectancy at birth (years)..................................................... 78
Infant mortality (per 1,000 live births)........................................ 5
Access to safe water (% of population) ..................................100
Illiteracy (% of population age 15+) .........................................100

30 interesting facts about France

Written by Sophie Pettit

Is it true that France invented the hot air balloon? And is it really illegal to kiss on train platforms? Find out with these 30 fun facts about France.

Whether you’re living in France or just visiting, learning some facts about the country will help you get to know it better not to mention impress your friends at your next trivia night. So prepare to put your French knowledge to the test as we share 30 facts about France that might just surprise you.

1. France is the largest country in the EU and sometimes called ‘the hexagon’

France is the largest country in the European Union, covering a total area of 551,695 square kilometers. However, it is only the third-largest country in Europe, behind Ukraine and the European portion of Russia. Around a third (31%) of France is forest and it is the fourth most forested country in the EU, after Sweden, Finland, and Spain. The country is also sometimes referred to as ‘l’hexagone’ due to its six-sided shape.

2. France is the world’s most popular tourist destination

It might be time to brush up on your French language skills, because France is the place to be, according to the latest tourism figures. A whopping 89.3 million people visited the country in 2018, making it the most visited destination in the world. The country’s capital, Paris, is also the third most visited city in the world, behind Bangkok and London. Time to get packing!

3. French was the official language of England for about 300 years

It’s hard to imagine that French was the official language of England between 1066 and 1362. But after William the Conqueror led the Norman conquest and subsequent occupation of England in 1066, he introduced Anglo-Norman French to the nation. This was spoken by royalty, aristocrats, and high-powered officials, some of whom couldn’t speak any English! In 1362, however, parliament passed the Pleading in English Act, making English the official language of government. This was because Norman French was used for pleadings, but was largely unknown to the common people of England, who had no knowledge of what was being said in court.

4. Louis XIX was the king of France for just 20 minutes, the shortest ever reign

Yes, you read the right. The French king only enjoyed 20 minutes of royal fame after his father Charles X abdicated, leaving him to ascend the French throne in July 1830. After this brief period, Louis-Antoine also abdicated in favor of his nephew, the Duke of Bordeaux. This makes him the joint shortest reigning monarch in history. He shares the astonishing record with Crown Prince Luís Filipe, who technically became king of Portugal after his father was assassinated. But he also died from a wound 20 minutes later.

5. ‘Liberté, égalitié, fraternité’ or ‘liberty, equality, fraternity’ is the national motto

The famous motto first appeared around the time of the Revolution (1789–1799) and was written into the constitutions of 1946 and 1958. Nowadays, you’ll still see it on coins, postage stamps, and government logos often alongside ‘Marianne’ who symbolizes the triumph of the Republic. The legal system in France is still largely based on the principles set down in Napoleon Bonaparte’s Code Civil after the revolution, in the 1800s.

6. The French Army was the first to use camouflage in 1915 (World War I)

Now here’s an interesting fact about France. The word ‘camouflage’ actually comes from the French verb meaning ‘to make up for the stage’. This is because the French Army was the first to create a dedicated camouflage unit in 1915. Guns and vehicles were painted by artists called camofleurs. The following year, the British Army followed suit and established its own camouflage section under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Wyatt. It was known as the Special Works Park RE (Royal Engineers).

7. In France, you can marry a dead person!

One rather shocking fact about France is that under French law, you can marry posthumously in exceptional cases. This is on the condition that you can prove that the deceased had the intention of marrying you while they were alive. You must also receive permission from the French president. The most recent approved case was in 2017 when the partner of a gay policeman gunned down on Paris’s Champs-Elysees by a jihadist was granted permission to marry his partner posthumously.

8. The French invented tin cans, the hairdryer, and the hot air balloon

It turns out we have the French to thank for many of the useful inventions we know and love today. For instance, French inventor Nicolas Appert came up with the idea to use sealed glass jars placed in boiling water to preserve food in 1809. Pierre Durand later invented the tin can. Braille was also developed by Louis Braille who was blinded as a child. Meanwhile, physician René Laennec invented the stethoscope at a hospital in Paris in 1816 and Alexandre-Ferdinand Godefroy patented the world’s first hairdryer in 1888. The majestical hot air ballon was also pioneered by the Montgolfier brothers Joseph and Etienne who unveiled the world’s first public display of an untethered balloon in 1783.

9. France was the first country in the world to ban supermarkets from throwing away food

Now, here’s a French fact to feel proud of. In February 2016, France became the first country in the world to ban supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food. Stores must now donate surplus groceries to food banks and charities. Supermarkets larger than 4,305 square feet which are caught binning good quality food approaching its ‘best-before’ date face hefty fines of up to €75,000, or two years of imprisonment. Furthermore, all French supermarkets are also banned from destroying food as a way to prevent ‘dumpster divers’ from foraging in garbage bins. Nice one, France!

10. The first public screening of a movie was by the French Lumière in 1895

The Lumière brothers, Auguste Marie Louis Nicolas and Louis Jean, were famous for their Cinématographe motion picture system and the short films they produced between 1895 and 1905. The famed duo held the world’s first pub­lic movie screening on December 28, 1895, at the Grand Café in Paris. Their directorial debut was La sortie des ouvriers de l’usine Lumière (Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory). The 5-second-long black-and-white film simply showed workers leaving the Lumière factory and left the audience completely flabbergasted. In 1895, Louis Lumière supposedly said that cinema is ‘an invention without a future’. Oh, how little did he know…

11. The oldest person who ever lived was a French woman named Jeanne Louise Calment

The greatest fully authenticated age to which any human has ever lived is 122 years and 164 days. Jeanne Louise Calment was born in France on 21 February 1875 and died on 4 August 1997. She lived through the opening of the Eiffel Tower in 1889, two World Wars, and the invention of television, the modern motor car, and airplanes. Interestingly, life expectancy for women in France stood at 85.3 years in 2018 and 79.4 years for men. France also ranks 14th in the world for life expectancy with men and women living on average until 83 years old. Mmm, must be something in the water!

12. France legalized same-sex marriage in 2013

When President Françoise Holland signed the bill into law on 18 May 2013, France became the ninth country in Europe and 14th in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. Although polls at the time showed that around 50% of French people supported it, not everyone was happy about it. In fact, thousands of people defending the so-called ‘family values’ took to the streets in protest.

13. France has more Nobel Prize winners in Literature than any other country

With 15 French individuals winning the prestigious award since 1901, it’s fair to say that France has produced some of the world’s most influential writers and thinkers. French poet and essayist Sully Prudhomme became the first-ever winner of the award that year. Among France’s most celebrated poets, novelists, and writers are René Descartes, Voltaire, Charles Baudelaire, Blaise Pascal, Gustave Flaubert, and Victor Hugo.

14. Europe’s highest mountain is Mont Blanc in the French Alps

Standing at a height of 4,807m, Mont Blanc is officially the highest mountain in Europe. It takes an arduous 10 to 12 hours to climb to the summit. But if you’re not up for that, you can take a leisurely 20-minute trip up on Europe’s highest cable car on the nearby Aiguille du Midi to get a brilliant view from the top. Discover other amazing places to visit in France.

15. The world’s first artificial heart transplant and face transplant both took place in France

The heart transplant occurred in December 2013 at the Georges Pompidou Hospital in Paris. The bioprosthetic device, which mimics a real heart’s contractions, is powered by an external lithium-ion battery and is about three times the weight of a real organ. French surgeons were also the first to perform a face transplant in 2005.

16. The Louvre is the most visited museum in the world

With a whopping 9.6 million visitors in 2019, the famous Louvre is the most visited museum in the world. Located in the heart of Paris, the magnificent museum is home to around 38,000 works of art and artifacts dating back to prehistoric times. These include the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, and IM Pei’s famous glass Louvre Pyramid which sits in the courtyard. Unsurprising, the Louvre is one of the busiest places to visit in Paris.

17. French gastronomy was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status in 2010

France is famous for its’ exquisite food, which was added to the list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity by UNESCO in 2010. Experts described the importance of French gastronomy as a social custom aimed at celebrating the most important moments in the lives of individuals and groups, as well as emphasizing togetherness for its function of bringing friends and family closer together and strengthening social ties.

18. France produced the most expensive bottle of wine in the world

Of course, France isn’t only famous for its cuisine, the country also produces some of the best wines in the world – not to mention expensive. A 73-year-old bottle of French Burgundy became the most expensive bottle of wine ever sold at auction, fetching an eye-popping $558,000. The bottle of 1945 Romanee-Conti was sold to a private Asian collector at Sotheby’s for more than 17 times its original estimate of $32,000. Ouch!

19. You might get a ‘fish’ stuck on your back on April Fool’s Day

Now, here’s a whacky fact about France. If you happen to be in the country on 1 April, don’t be surprised if children try to stick paper fish to your back and call you a ‘Poisson d’Avril’ (April Fish). This tradition is supposed to have started in the 16th century when King Charles XIV of France changed the calendar and those who continued to celebrate the end of the New Year at the end of March were ridiculed as fools. So watch your back!

20. The French eat around 30,000 tons of snails a year

Here’s a slimy fact about France. According to Reuters, the French eat about 30,000 metric tons of escargot yearly. However, around two-thirds of all the snails eaten in France come from eastern Europe and the Balkans. So if you’ve eaten snails in France, chances are they have traveled a long way to get to your plate. The classic French delicacy (served with garlic, parsley, and butter) remains a popular staple of French cuisine.

21. Live snails must have a ticket to ride high-speed trains

No, we’re not making this up – we promise! According to French law, it is against the law to carry live snails on a high-speed train in France without them having their own tickets. In fact, any domesticated animal under 5kg must be a paying passenger. In 2008, a Frenchman was actually fined when a ticket inspector caught him carrying the critters on board a TGV. Luckily, though, France’s state-owned rail company SNCF ended up waving the fine.

22. The croissant was actually invented in Austria in the 13th century

That’s right, believe it or not, the beloved French pastry that we all know and love is actually an adaptation of a kipferl a Viennese specialty which dates back to the 13th century. As the story goes, Austrian artillery officer, August Zang, founded a Viennese bakery in Paris in 1839. He began serving the kipferl and it quickly became popular with the locals. So much so, in fact, that French imitators began creating their own French version which they called the croissant due to its crescent shape. And the rest, as they say, is history. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all.

23. Turning a baguette upside down is seen as unlucky in France

Oh, the French are a suspicious bunch! According to folklore, placing a baguette or a loaf of bread on the table upside down puts the people around you at risk of misfortune, or worse – death. This quirky superstition supposedly stems from medieval times when executioners were allowed to grab things in shops without paying for them. Hence, bakers would leave an overturned loaf of bread out for them. And if you came to touch the bread or placed a loaf upside-down yourself, you then had to mark it with the cross before eating it to ward off bad luck. Yikes!

24. France produces around 1.7 million tons of cheese a year in around 1,600 varieties

To say the French love to eat cheese is a huge understatement. The dairy-munching nation produced around 1.7 million tons of cow’s milk cheese in 2018 alone. There are also around 1,600 distinct types of French cheese to try, which are grouped into eight categories. Thankfully, the French don’t keep it all for themselves. In 2018, the country exported more than 679,000 tons of cheese, while almost 895,000 tons were sold on the French retail market in 2017. Merci beaucoup!

25. French law forbids couples from kissing on train platforms

Speaking of seemingly crazy laws and decrees, this one is totally bizarre. In France, it is actually illegal to kiss while a train is on the platform. This old law was introduced in 1910 at the request of rail chiefs who wanted to prevent the amorous French from delaying the departure of trains. All kissing on the platform must now be done before the train arrives. There goes that dramatic Hollywood movie kiss!

26. Paris Gare du Nord is Europe’s busiest railway station

While on the subject of trains… Gare du Nord in Paris is the busiest railway station in Europe and in the world (outside of Japan). More than 214 million passengers pass through it each year. The original station was built in 1846 but became too small for operations and was therefore demolished and rebuilt in 1889. Further extensions were carried out between the 1930s and 1960s. The station is also due to undergo more expansion work in order to prepare for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. This is to increase its capacity for an additional 200,000 daily passengers. Better avoid rush hour!

27. The French rail network is the second largest in Europe ninth biggest in the world

At a total length of 29,000km, the French railway network is the second biggest in Europe and the ninth biggest in the world. France was one of the world’s first countries to utilize high-speed technology. The state-owned Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français (SNCF) introduced the TGV high-speed rail in 1981. France’s high-speed long-distance passenger services are known as Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV) and the standard long-distance passenger services are called Intercités. The country’s current high-speed network exceeds a length of 1,550km. The Tours-Bordeaux high-speed rail project adds another 302km onto the network.

28. The world’s greatest cycle race, the Tour de France, is more than 100 years old

On July 1, 1903, 60 cyclists embarked on the first-ever Tour de France from the Parisian suburb of Montgeron. More than 100 years later, the event has grown to become the world’s greatest cycle race, with around 198 cyclists racing some 3,200kms (2,000 miles) primarily around France in a series of stages over 23 days. The 2013 Tour de France was the 100th edition of the Tour de France and around 15 million spectators lined up to watch the 21-stage course for the centennial celebration.

29. The tradition of wearing a white dress originated in France in 1499

Most brides dream of walking down the aisle in a beautiful white wedding gown. But until the nineteen-hundreds, they rarely bought a special wedding dress and opted for their best outfit instead. The popular tradition actually originated in France with the marriage of Anne of Brittany and Louis XII of France in 1499. She wore a white dress to the wedding, marking the start of the popular Western custom. However, it wasn’t until 1840, when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert, that the white dress really took off in popularity and the tradition was cemented.

30. At least 35% of all music played on private radio stations must be French

If you’re not a fan of French music then you might want to stick with your own playlist rather than tuning in to the local radio station. After all, more than a third of the songs you will hear will be French. The French government initially introduced a 40% quote in 1994 to protect France from what the government considered the ‘Anglo-Saxon cultural invasion’. However, after a 24-hour rebellious boycott by French radio stations, French MPs voted in favor of reducing the quota to 35% in 2016. Radio stations specializing in foreign music also have a 15% quota.



France is about 80% the size of Texas. In the Alps near the Italian and Swiss borders is western Europe's highest point?Mont Blanc (15,781 ft 4,810 m). The forest-covered Vosges Mountains are in the northeast, and the Pyrnes are along the Spanish border. Except for extreme northern France, the country may be described as four river basins and a plateau. Three of the streams flow west?the Seine into the English Channel, the Loire into the Atlantic, and the Garonne into the Bay of Biscay. The Rhne flows south into the Mediterranean. For about 100 mi (161 km), the Rhine is France's eastern border. In the Mediterranean, about 115 mi (185 km) east-southeast of Nice, is the island of Corsica (3,367 sq mi 8,721 sq km).


Archeological excavations indicate that France has been continuously settled since Paleolithic times. The Celts, who were later called Gauls by the Romans, migrated from the Rhine valley into what is now France. In about 600 B.C. , Greeks and Phoenicians established settlements along the Mediterranean, most notably at Marseille. Julius Caesar conquered part of Gaul in 57?52 B.C. , and it remained Roman until Franks invaded in the 5th century A.D.

The Treaty of Verdun (843) divided the territories corresponding roughly to France, Germany, and Italy among the three grandsons of Charlemagne. Charles the Bald inherited Francia Occidentalis, which became an increasingly feudalized kingdom. By 987, the crown passed to Hugh Capet, a princeling who controlled only the Ile-de-France, the region surrounding Paris. For 350 years, an unbroken Capetian line added to its domain and consolidated royal authority until the accession in 1328 of Philip VI, first of the Valois line. France was then the most powerful nation in Europe, with a population of 15 million.

France Gains Territory in the Hundred Year's War

The missing pieces in Philip Valois's domain were the French provinces still held by the Plantagenet kings of England, who also claimed the French crown. Beginning in 1338, the Hundred Years' War eventually settled the contest. After France's victory in the final battle, Castillon (1453), the Valois were the ruling family, and the English had no French possessions left except Calais. Once Burgundy and Brittany were added, the Valois dynasty's holdings resembled modern France. Protestantism spread throughout France in the 16th century and led to civil wars. Henry IV, of the Bourbon dynasty, issued the Edict of Nantes (1598), granting religious tolerance to the Huguenots (French Protestants). Absolute monarchy reached its apogee in the reign of Louis XIV (1643?1715), the Sun King, whose brilliant court was the center of the Western world.

Birth of French Republic

After a series of costly foreign wars that weakened the government, the French Revolution plunged France into a bloodbath beginning in 1789 with the establishment of the First Republic and ending with a new authoritarianism under Napolon Bonaparte, who had successfully defended the infant republic from foreign attack and then made himself first consul in 1799 and emperor in 1804. The Congress of Vienna (1815) sought to restore the pre-Napoleonic order in the person of Louis XVIII, but industrialization and the middle class, both fostered under Napolon, built pressure for change, and a revolution in 1848 drove Louis Philippe, last of the Bourbons, into exile. Prince Louis Napolon, a nephew of Napolon I, declared the Second Empire in 1852 and took the throne as Napolon III. His opposition to the rising power of Prussia ignited the Franco-Prussian War (1870?1871), which ended in his defeat, his abdication, and the creation of the Third Republic.

Germany Occupies France During World War II

A new France emerged from World War I as the continent's dominant power. But four years of hostile occupation had reduced northeast France to ruins. Beginning in 1919, French foreign policy aimed at keeping Germany weak through a system of alliances, but it failed to halt the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi war machine. On May 10, 1940, Nazi troops attacked, and, as they approached Paris, Italy joined with Germany. The Germans marched into an undefended Paris and Marshal Henri Philippe Ptain signed an armistice on June 22. France was split into an occupied north and an unoccupied south, Vichy France, which became a totalitarian German puppet state with Ptain as its chief. Allied armies liberated France in Aug. 1944, and a provisional government in Paris headed by Gen. Charles de Gaulle was established. The Fourth Republic was born on Dec. 24, 1946. The empire became the French Union the national assembly was strengthened and the presidency weakened and France joined NATO. A war against Communist insurgents in French Indochina, now Vietnam, was abandoned after the defeat of French forces at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. A new rebellion in Algeria threatened a military coup, and on June 1, 1958, the assembly invited de Gaulle to return as premier with extraordinary powers. He drafted a new constitution for a Fifth Republic, adopted on September 28, which strengthened the presidency and reduced legislative power. He was elected president on Dec. 21, 1958.

France next turned its attention to decolonialization in Africa the French protectorates of Morocco and Tunisia had received independence in 1956. French West Africa was partitioned and the new nations were granted independence in 1960. Algeria, after a long civil war, finally became independent in 1962. Relations with most of the former colonies remained amicable. De Gaulle took France out of the NATO military command in 1967 and expelled all foreign-controlled troops from the country. De Gaulle's government was weakened by massive protests in May 1968 when student rallies became violent and millions of factory workers engaged in wildcat strikes across France. After normalcy was reestablished in 1969, de Gaulle's successor, Georges Pompidou, modified Gaullist policies to include a classical laissez-faire attitude toward domestic economic affairs. The conservative, pro-business climate contributed to the election of Valry Giscard d'Estaing as president in 1974.

Economic Troubles Under Mitterand

Socialist Franois Mitterrand attained a stunning victory in the May 10, 1981, presidential election. The victors immediately move to carry out campaign pledges to nationalize major industries, halt nuclear testing, suspend nuclear powerplant construction, and impose new taxes on the rich. The Socialists' policies during Mitterrand's first two years created a 12% inflation rate, a huge trade deficit, and devaluations of the franc. In March 1986, a center-right coalition led by Jacques Chirac won a slim majority in legislative elections. Chirac became prime minister, initiating a period of ?cohabitation? between him and the Socialist president, Mitterrand. Mitterrand's decisive reelection in 1988 led to Chirac being replaced as prime minister by Michel Rocard, a Socialist. Relations cooled with Rocard, however, and in May 1991 Edith Cresson?also a Socialist?became France's first female prime minister. But Cresson's unpopularity forced Mitterrand to replace her with a more well-liked Socialist, Pierre Brgovoy, who eventually was embroiled in a scandal and committed suicide. During his tenure, Mitterrand succeeded in helping to draft the Maastricht Treaty and, after winning a slim victory in a referendum, confirmed close economic and security ties between France and the European Union (EU).

Jacques Chirac Gains French Presidency

On his third try, Chirac won the presidency in May 1995, campaigning vigorously on a platform to reduce unemployment. Elections for the national assembly in 1997 gave the Socialist coalition a majority. Shortly after becoming president, Chirac resumed France's nuclear testing in the South Pacific, despite widespread international protests as well as rioting in the affected countries. Socialist leader Lionel Jospin became prime minister in 1997. In the spring of 1999, the country took part in the NATO air strikes in Kosovo, despite some internal opposition.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the right-wing anti-immigrant National Front Party, shocked France in April 2002 with his second-place finish in the first round of France's presidential election. He took 17% of the vote, eliminating Lionel Jospin, the Socialist prime minister, who tallied 16%. Jospin, stunned by the result, announced that he was retiring from politics and threw his support behind incumbent president Jacques Chirac, who won with an overwhelming 82.2% of the vote in the runoff election. Chirac's center-right coalition won an absolute majority in parliament. In July 2002, Chirac survived an assassination attempt by a right-wing extremist.

During the fall 2002 and winter 2003 diplomatic wrangling at the United Nations over Iraq, France repeatedly defied the U.S. and Britain by calling for more weapons inspections and diplomacy before resorting to war. Relations between the U.S. and France have remained severely strained over Iraq.

France sent peacekeeping forces to assist two African countries in 2002 and 2003, Cte d'Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

After becoming Prime Minister in 2002, Jean-Pierre Raffarin's plan to overhaul the national pension system sparked numerous strikes across France in May and June 2003, involving tens of thousands of sanitation workers, teachers, transportation workers, and air traffic controllers. In August, a deadly heat wave killed an estimated 10,000 mostly elderly people. The deaths occurred during two weeks of 104F (40C) temperatures.

In 2004, the French government passed a law banning the wearing of Muslim headscarves and other religious symbols in schools. The government maintained that the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols threatened the country's secular identity others contended that the law curtailed religious freedom.

In March 2004 regional elections, the Socialist Party made enormous gains over Chirac's Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) Party. Unpopular economic reforms are credited for the UMP's defeat.

On May 29, 2005, French voters rejected the European Union constitution by a 55%?45% margin. Reasons given for rejecting the constitution included concerns about forfeiting too much French sovereignty to a centralized European government and alarm at the EU's rapid addition of 10 new members in 2004, most from Eastern Europe. In response, President Chirac, who strongly supported the constitution, replaced Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin with Dominique de Villepin, a former foreign minister.

Protests and Riots Result from Social Inequality and High Unemployment

Rioting erupted on Oct. 27, 2005, in the impoverished outskirts of Paris and continued for two weeks, spreading to 300 towns and cities throughout France. It was the worst violence the country has faced in four decades. The rioting was sparked by the accidental deaths of two teenagers, one of French-Arab and the other of French-African descent, and grew into a violent protest against the bleak lives of poor French-Arabs and French-Africans, many of whom live in depressed, crime-ridden areas with high unemployment and who feel alienated from the rest of French society.

In March and April 2006, a series of protests took place over a proposed labor law that would allow employers to fire workers under age 26 within two years without giving a reason. The law was intended to control high unemployment among France's young workers. The protests continued after President Chirac signed a somewhat amended bill into law. But on April 10, Chirac relented and rescinded the law, an embarrassing about-face for the government.

Presidential elections held in April 2007 pitted Socialist Sgolne Royal against conservative Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, the nominee for the Union for a Popular Movement. Late in the race, centrist candidate Francois Bayrou emerged as a contender. Sarkozy, with 30.7%, and Royal, taking 25.2%, prevailed in the first round of voting. Sarkozy went on to win the runoff election, taking 53.1% of the vote to Royal's 46.9%.

Nicolas Sarkozy Spearheads Effort to Improve U.S.?France Relations

Sarkozy immediately extended an olive branch to the United States, saying "I want to tell them [Americans] that France will always be by their side when they need her, but that friendship is also accepting the fact that friends can think differently." The dialogue signalled a marked shift from the tense French-American relationship under Chirac.

On his first day in office, Sarkozy named former social affairs minister Franois Fillon as prime minister, replacing Dominique de Villepin. He also appointed Socialist Bernard Kouchner, a co-founder of the Nobel-prize-winning Mdecins Sans Frontires, as foreign minister. Workers in the public sector staged a 24-hour strike in October to protest Sarkozy's plan to change their generous retirement packages that allow workers to retire at age 50 with a full pension. Strikers relented after nine days and agreed to negotiate.

In July, Sarkozy launched the Union for the Mediterranean?an international body of 43 member nations. The union seeks to end conflict in the Middle East by addressing regional unrest and immigration.

On July 21, 2008, Sarkozy won a narrow victory (539 to 357 votes?one vote more than the required three-fifths majority) for constitutional changes that strengthen parliamentary power, limit the presidency to two five-year terms, and end the president's right of collective pardon. The changes, approved in July, also allow the president to address Parliament for the first time since 1875. The Socialist opposition asserted that the changes actually boost the power of the presidency, making France a "monocracy."

The French Parliament approved a bill in July 2008 that ends the 35-hour work week and tightens criteria for strikes and unemployment payments. The new bill is intended to decrease unemployment and allow businesses and employees to negotiate directly about working hours.

In November 2008, the Socialist party voted for a new leader, revealing a deeply divided member body. Martine Aubry, the mayor of Lille, defeated former party leader Segolene Royal by only 42 votes. Over 40 percent of Socialist party members declined to vote and internal disputes ensued.

Five sticks of dynamite were planted in a Parisian Printemps on December 15, 2008, by a previously unknown group called the Afghan Revolutionary Front, which demanded the withdrawal of French troops from Afghanistan and warned of another strike if Sarkozy did not remove the troops.

France Makes Headlines with Ban on Headscarves and DSK Scandal

In April 2011, France banned the wearing of full veils in public, becoming the first European nation to impose the restriction. The ban caused protests in Paris and several other cities. The new restriction has many Muslims worried about their rights as French citizens. Covering the face is considered by some Muslims as a religious obligation. Supporters of the ban view it as necessary to preserve French culture and to combat what they claim are separatist actions in Muslims.

On May 14, 2011, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and a leading political figure in France, was arrested for sexually assaulting a maid at a Manhattan hotel. Strauss-Kahn was removed from an Air France Plane at Kennedy International Airport and taken into custody. On May 18, he resigned as managing director of the IMF. Strauss-Kahn was expected to announce his candidacy for the French presidency soon. He had been considered a favorite to oust President Nicolas Sarkozy. A grand jury indicted him on multiple charges, including committing a criminal sex act, attempted rape, and sexual abuse. Reaction in France was a mixture of anger, disbelief, and embarrassment, with polls showing that most people thought he was set up.

On July 1, 2011, Strauss-Kahn was released from house arrest. Prosecutors, who initially believed they had a strong case, acknowledged that the accuser has credibility issues. The hotel maid accused Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault in May. Since then she has admitted to prosecutors that she lied about what happened after the incident. In her initial statement she said that after the assault, she waited in a hallway for Strauss-Kahn to leave the room, but later admitted that she had cleaned a nearby room and his room before reporting the incident. The woman also reportedly lied about her income to qualify for housing as well as the number of children she has to increase her tax refund.

Sarkozy Loses Reelection Bid

In the first round of presidential elections in April 2012, incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy placed second behind Socialist candidate Franois Hollande. Marine Le Pen, the candidate of the far right National Front placed third. Much of the campaign focused on Europe's response to the debt crisis, with Hollande saying that the austerity measures pushed by Sarkozy and German chancellor Angela Merkel actually exacerbated the crisis by stifling growth. He also said he would generate revenue by increasing taxes on the wealthy. Throughout the runoff campaign, Sarkozy attempted to cozy up to Le Pen supporters by taking a hardline stance against immigration. He failed to win Le Pen's support, however, and prior to the runoff, she announced she was casting a blank vote. In the second round, Hollande defeated Sarkozy, 52% to 48%.

Hollande's Socialist Party won an absolute majority in both the Senate and National Assembly in June parliamentary elections. With the Socialists in control of the legislature, 21 out of 22 regions of France, and most of the government departments, the party has more power than any other government in the history of the Fifth Republic and puts Hollande in a position to follow through with his campaign pledge to increase spending.

France Deploys Troops to Mali

By January 2013, Islamist militants in Mali had extended their strongholds into areas controlled by the government, prompting concern that legions of Islamic terrorists would gather and train in Mali and threaten large swaths of Africa. At the request of the Malian government, France sent about 2,150 troops to Mali to help push back the militants. Some engaged in ground combat with the militants. By the end of January, the militants had retreated bacak to the north.

On April 23, 2013, the lower house in France's National Assembly voted 331 to 225 in favor of same-sex marriage. The legislation was expected to be approved quickly by the Constitutional Council and signed into law by President Franois Hollande. The vote made France the 14th nation in the world to pass legislation for same-sex marriage.

President Hollande backed the law despite months of protests against it. Opposition to what was referred to as the "marriage for all" law came from Roman Catholics in the country's rural areas, conservative politicians, as well as Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders. Violence against the gay community increased in the weeks leading up to the vote. Once the vote passed, Justice Minister Christiane Taubira called the new legislation "very beautiful reform."

NSA Leaks Strain Relationship with the U.S. and Hollande's Party Suffers Huge Losses

In October 2013, documents leaked to the media by Edward Snowden about the National Security Agency's surveillance program revealed that in one 30-day period between Dec. 2012 and Jan. 2013, the NSA collected information on some 70 million digital communications in France. President Hollande expressed outrage and France's government summoned the U.S. ambassador to France, Charles Rivkin, to a meeting at the foreign ministry.

President Hollande's Socialist Party suffered huge losses in France's March 2014 elections. Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault resigned after the election. He was replaced by Minister of the Interior Manuel Valls. The only place where Hollande's party didn't receive devastating losses was in Paris where Socialist Party member Anne Hidalgo was elected the city's first female mayor.

Sale of Warship to Russia Delayed Begins Airstrikes in Iraq

Given Russia's role in the protracted crisis in Ukraine, France announced in Sept. 2014 that it would delay the delivery of Mistral warships to Russia. The countries reached a $1.6 billion deal in 2011 to have France build the amphibious assault ships. Several hundred members of the Russian Navy had already arrived in France to learn how to operate the ships.

In late September 2014, Hollande announced that France would aid Iraqis and Kurds in northern Iraq in their fight against ISIS, the radical Islamic group that has taken over large swaths of Iraq and Syria. Airstrikes quickly followed in northern Iraq.

Seventeen Are Killed in Terrorist Attacks in France Train Attack Thwarted by Americans and a Briton

On January 7, 2015, two masked gunmen stormed the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical weekly magazine, and killed 12 people, including the paper's top editor, Stephane Charbonnier, several cartoonists, and two police officers. A third suspect, Hamyd Mourad, who was driving the getaway car, turned himself in to authorities. The two gunmen were believed to be brothers Said Kouachi and ChC)rif Kouachi, who are of Algerian descent. News reports said the brothers have connections to Al Qaeda in Yemen and that Said trained with militants there. Reports also said the two had been monitored by police and intelligence officials. It was the worst terrorist attack in France since World War II.

The provocative magazine, established in 1968, is known for publishing charged cartoons that satirize not only the Prophet Muhammad, but also the pope, most religions, and several world leaders. The magazine's office was firebombed in 2011 after it ran an issue "guest edited" by the Prophet Muhammad. After the attack, thousands of people throughout France began holding signs reading, "Je suis Charlie," which translates to "I am Charlie."

Two days after the massacre, the Kouachi brothers took a hostage at a printing facility about 30 miles northeast of Paris. French police launched an assault on the building, freeing the hostage and killing the suspects. In another incident in Paris on Jan. 9, Amedy Coulibaly allegedly took several hostages at a kosher supermarket, which was rigged with explosives. Police killed Coulibaly, but four hostages also died. Coulibaly is blamed for the shooting death of a female police officer on Jan. 8. Coulibaly reportedly has ties to the Kouachi brothers. In a video released after his death, Coulibaly said he had pledged allegiance to ISIS. French officials said they believe the three men were part of a larger militant cell. In all, 17 people died in the spate of attacks.

On Jan. 11, about 1.5 million people and more than 40 heads of state, including French president Hollande, German chancellor Angela Merkel, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, marched in Paris to show solidarity with the French, to call for an end to violent extremism, to support or freedom of expression, and to mourn the victims of the terrorist attacks. The crowd was made up of people of many races and creeds. The U.S. was sharply criticized for not sending a high-ranking official to the rally.

France deployed 10,000 troops to Jewish schools, synagogues and other "sensitive" locations on Jan. 12. Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement and a video released on Jan. 14. It said that the leader of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahri, ordered the attack in retaliation for the magazine's caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

In August 2015, three Americans: Alek Skarlatos, a specialist in the National Guard, Airman First Class Spencer Stone, and college student Anthony Sadler, and Briton Chris Norman overpowered a man armed with an AK-47, a pistol, and a box cutter as he walked down the aisle on a train outside of Paris. They were awarded the Legion of Honor, France's highest honor by President Hollande for their bravery and thwarting a potentially devastating attack.

Three Coordinated Attacks by ISIS Kill Dozens in Paris

On Nov. 13, 2015, ISIS launched three coordinated attacks in Paris, killing 129 people and wounding hundreds. Eighty-nine people died in an assault at a concert hall, the Bataclan, where an American rock band, the ironically-titled Eagles of Death Metal, performed at the time. Dozens of others were killed in attacks on restaurants and a soccer stadium where France was playing a match against Germany. Seven of the eight terrorists died during the attacks. French authorities were still looking for the last remaining attacker. The attacks were the worst violence France has seen since World War II.

French president Franois Hollande called the attack "an act of war," and retaliated with airstrikes on Raqqa, Syria, ISIS's self-declared capital. The United States joined France in the airstrikes, sending warplanes the following week.

Belgian police arrested Salah Abdeslam in Brussels, Belgium, in March 2016. Abdeslam is believed to be the ISIS logistics chief for the November 2015 Paris attacks, and the only major player in the Paris attacks that is still alive. Days later, two bombs exploded at the Zaventem international airport and a metro station in Brussels, killing more than 30 people. Authorities believe the terrorist attack was in related to the arrest of Abdeslam.

Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, President Hollande, and Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, stand among students during a minute of silence, Nov. 16, 2015
Source: Guillaume Horcajuelo, Pool via AP

Foodie fun facts about France

10. Turning a baguette upside down is unlucky

There are a number of different origin stories linked to this French superstition, but the most likely dates back to medieval times. When an execution was scheduled in town, legend has it the executioner himself would not have time to pop to the bakery before work. The baker would therefore reserve his loaf by turning the bread upside down. Thus, turning a baguette on its head came to be associated with death and misfortune – and the superstition lives on. If you'd like to learn more kitchen secrets, take a "behind-the-scenes" bakery tour in Paris.

11. The croissant was actually invented in Austria

France might be the spiritual home of the croissant, but the pastry actually began its days in Austria. The kipferl – ancestor of the croissant, born in the coffee shops of Vienna in the 13th century – was the original crescent-shaped morning sweet. Made of a denser and less flaky dough, the kipferl later crossed the border to France and became the famous croissant.

12. Some claim French toast isn't French at all

Yep, some stories suggest that French toast doesn’t actually come from France – instead, it was invented a world away by a man called Joseph French. A humble inn keeper in New York, Joseph French forgot the apostrophe when penning his creation, and “French’s toast” became simply “French toast”. And the seeds of uncertainty were sown…

13. Each new day sees two new cooking books

Another interesting fact about France: two new cookbooks are published here every day. France is known for its mouthwatering cuisine, held as a standard the world over. Some of the most famous dishes to originate in France – and that are still cooked to perfection today – range from coq au vin to chocolate soufflé and French onion soup. Why not try recreating them in your kitchen, or plan a trip to France with our local experts and check off all the foodie highlights on your bucketlist.

14. It is illegal to throw out food in France

It's time to dazzle your recycling-loving friends with this fun fact about France! It seems fitting that a country that loves food as much as France should be the first to pass a law making throwing away good food illegal. As of 2016, any unsold but edible food must be donated rather than thrown away, or you could come up against the long arm of the law.

15. The average French citizen eats 500 snails each year

Snails – or escargots – are a popular French delicacy, traditionally served as an hors-d’oeuvre with garlic butter. If you’ve mastered snails, move on to frog’s legs!

© AS Food Studio/Shutterstock

16. There are over 400 kinds of cheese made in France

Move over, snails. The French are the highest consumers of cheese on the planet, with almost half the population eating the stuff on a daily basis. And that means hundreds of different types of cheese produced on home soil, with some seriously good produce. Tuck in and discover it yourself, like on this wine and cheese tasting tour from Bordeaux.

17. The French consume 11.2 billion glasses of wine per year

Wine is the tipple of choice in France, accounting for almost sixty percent of the country’s total alcohol consumption. The population’s penchant for a glass (or two) of wine might have something to do with the fact that France is one of the world’s biggest wine producers, creating some of the best varieties on Earth. Champagne, Burgundy and Chablis, for instance, are all home-grown. If you want to visit one of the most famous champagne houses, take a look at this tour from Reims, visiting the Taittinger Champagne House with a small group.

10. Male impotence was considered a crime in the 17th century

Back in the 1600&rsquos in France, it was considered a crime if a man wasn&rsquot able to get an erection, and this was enough to let a woman file for divorce. If a married woman accused her husband of male impotence, he had to prove the contrary in front of an expert panel.

If he failed, which was understandably quite common, the man could also demand to get a second chance by having intercourse with his wife in front of a judge. Quite an obscene fact about France. The law was banished in 1677.

You Can Marry A Dead Person In France

Maybe this sounds more like a morbid fact rather than an interesting fact about France, but you can marry a dead person in France. Yes, one of the France facts is that under French law, you can marry your partner after they are dead if you can prove that you intended to marry while they were alive. Of course, you need permission from the French president for this.

One of the posthumous marriages was that of Xavier Jugelé and his gay partner Etienne Cardiles in Paris. Xavier was killed during the attack at Champs-Elysees in April 2017, and President Francois Hollande granted them permission to marry.

Over the years, France has been through many political crises. Its current government is a combination of presidential and parliamentary systems. The president is elected by the people and is head of state. A prime minister, chosen by the president, works with the elected parliament to pass laws.

Built in 1682, the Palace of Versailles was the former French royal residence and centre of government.

France is among the world’s largest economies. The country produces many items that other countries buy, including its most famous products – wine and cheese. Other exports include automobiles, electronics and clothing. Tourism is also a huge industry in France. More than 80 million people visit the country every year, more than any other country on Earth!

Facts and figures about France

The capital city of France is Paris.

The French flag, information, history and photos.

The National Anthem ( La Marseillaise ) with a translation in English

Test you general knowledge with the French Trivia quiz

Political information

France, is a republic, with a written constitution. (5th Republic)

Geographical information

The country is split into 22 administrative regions ( until 31st December 2015)

The regions listed in alphabetical are :
Alsace, Aquitaine, Auvergne, Basse-Normandie, Bourgogne, Bretagne, Centre, Champagne-Ardenne, Corse, Franche-Comte, Haute-Normandie, Ile-de-France, Languedoc-Roussillon, Limousin, Lorraine, Midi-Pyrenees, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Pays de la Loire, Picardie, Poitou-Charentes, Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur, Rhone-Alpes.

The country is split into 13 administrative regions ( from 1st January 2016)

Each region is divided into "departments" (counties). There is a total of 96 departments (106 when including the DOMs (Département d'outre-mer) & the TOMs (Territoires d'outre-mer) which are overseas departments.

There are 36851 towns and villages in France (including the DOMs).

The total land surface is 550,000 sq km. The highest point being the Mont Blanc which culminates at 4,807 metres above sea-level. The coastline is more than 5,500km long, with access to the Atlantic Ocean, the North Sea and Mediterranean Sea.

Facts about France

There are 964,356 km of road with 7,396 km of "autoroutes" or motorways
31 940 km of railway track, 1 268 reserved for the high-speed TGV train. The railway system in France is nationalised and called the SNCF (Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer)
Main airport, Charles de Gaule Roisy Paris, secondary is Orly, Paris.

Military service is now abolished, however 1 day of civil education for men and women from 18 years of age is required.

The forces are divided into Army, Navy, Air Force, National Gendarmerie


Until 02 January 2002, the currency was the French Franc, it has since changed into the European currency and now the Euro is the legal tender.
1 Euro (&euro) = 100 Euro centimes


The history of France is complicated, with frontiers that continually changed, invasions and wars with the neighbours and migrations of populations to and from various countries. The country changed in shape and size through the centuries and even the capital changed locations.

Historical timeline, briefly describing the principle events and important dates of France.

French History

The history of France is deep and varied, dating back thousands of years to prehistoric man, and moving forward to today, where France is one of the leading nations of Europe. Going way back, the first to inhabit what is now France were the Neanderthals. Evidence of these early Homo sapiens was discovered in the late 19th century.

Later, the Celtics Gauls lived in the region from about 1,500 to 500 B.C. Julius Caesar took over around 55 BC. One of the most interesting facts about France is that Lyon grew to become the second largest city in the Roman Empire. France remained under Roman rule until the 5th century. Between the 5th and 10th centuries the dynasties of Merovingian and Carolingian ruled France.

An interesting portion of French history is when William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, won several key battles and took the throne of England in 1066. The First Crusade was responsible for many of the great cathedrals that spread through the country. Later, the Hundred Years' War ravaged France, from 1337-1453, as the English invaded. Joan of Arc attempted to expel the English, and was later burned in Rouen, in 1431, for heresy.

France Map

The history of France was forever changed during the Revolution in the 18th century. The general population raided Invalides for its cache of weapons, and stormed the Bastille. Unrest followed, until Napoleon Bonaparte came to power, and untied the French, becoming the most distinguished emperor in French history. During the Great War eight million French men were called to arms. Then, after the Second World War France was in ruins, its cities in desperate need of rebuilding. Today, France is a very modern country, and one of the leaders of Europe.

The history of Paris dates back to Roman times, as the Gauls and the Romans feuded for control of the area around Paris until Julius Caesar came to power in 53 B.C., and defeated the Gauls. During the middles ages Paris was prospering as a mercantile center. Construction of Notre Dame begun in the 12th century, the Louvre was constructed as a fortress, and the Latin quarter began to develop as an intellectual center in the 13th century. The history of Paris was largely influenced by the history of France, as the Hundred Years' War left Paris starving, and its rulers eagerly embraced the Italian Renaissance, leading to a flourish of art and architecture that makes Paris unique, and continued until the French Revolution.

Facts about France

  • Normandy gained its name from Viking settlers and the Duke of Normandy took the throne of England in 1066.
  • Bastille Day, celebrated on July 14, 1789, is France's independence day. In 1789 the citizens of France stormed the Bastille, sparking the French Revolution, and the eventual dethroning of the monarchy.
  • France's National Anthem was the tune sung by the men of Marseille as they marched to Paris in support of the revolution.
  • Every July, the Tour de France roars through the country starting in Strasbourg and ending in Paris 2,261 miles later. One of the most unique sporting attractions in the world, legions of tourist line up along the route to support their countrymen, party, and jump about like a it's midnight on New Years Eve.
  • Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in Western Europe.

Facts about France: Paris Monuments & Culture

France Facts

Capital Paris
Government Type semi-presidential republic
Currency euros (EUR)
Population 67,848,156
Total Area 248,572 Square Miles
643,801 Square Kilometers
Location metropolitan France: Western Europe, bordering the Bay of Biscay and English Channel, between Belgium and Spain, southeast of the UK bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Italy and Spain

French Guiana: Northern South America, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Brazil and Suriname

Guadeloupe: Caribbean, islands between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, southeast of Puerto Rico

Martinique: Caribbean, island between the Caribbean Sea and North Atlantic Ocean, north of Trinidad and Tobago

Mayotte: Southern Indian Ocean, island in the Mozambique Channel, about half way between northern Madagascar and northern Mozambique

Watch the video: Frankreich - Geschichten eines Landes 14 (August 2022).