Since the late 19th century, France has played an important role in the world's culture, art, business, lifestyle, and of course fashion and cuisine. In this article, we'll cover some of the most strange, yet fascinating facts about France and the French people. Let's dive right in!
Kisses, Kisses Everywhere
In France, you kiss everyone you meet TWICE - faire la bise. The first kiss is on the left cheek and the 2nd on the right. The French kiss each other on the cheek as a form of greeting.
These days the double kiss is mostly done woman-to-woman or woman-to-man, but older generations also practice it man-to-man, with no sexual meaning at all. In some regions in France, they even kiss each other as many as five times.
There are some set guidelines on how to faire la bise properly. Before arriving in France, remember to read these guidelines firsthand. Otherwise, you might come off as disrespectful and rude.
Don't ever kiss someone as if leaving but then still hang around at the party, unless you intend to upset your host.
The French live to eat
France is well known for its passion for everything food! It’s no secret that French cuisine is one of the best in the world and they are proud of that. In France, food is the cornerstone of the French lifestyle and culture. The UNESCO experts even described it as ‘a social custom aimed at celebrating the most important moments in the lives of individuals and groups’.
The French regard cooking as a form of art. French cooking is very subtle and sophisticated in terms of technique. Amazing techniques like flambeing, braising or sautéing are among the most well-known cooking techniques across the globe. These add an incredible burst of texture and flavor to meats, vegetables, and other ingredients.
And you might have heard of the fancy term French Haute Cuisine at least once or twice. This country is home to the most renowned culinary schools in the world such as Le Cordon Bleu, Les Coulisses du Chef,...
“In France cooking is a serious art form and a national sport”
The “Baguette etiquette”
In France, everyone eats bread. They eat bread at every meal - breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea (le goûter), apéritifs, dinner and it's no surprise because their bread really is that good. And the most famous bread in France is the baguette. Coming to France, you'll notice baguettes are everywhere. With 26,000 boulangeries dotted across France, there’s practically one on every corner.
And guess what?
The French even have rules for eating baguettes! Like, leaving some bread behind to clean your plate after eating. Oh, I forgot to mention the laws about the length and weight of the baguette! If it’s not 55cm-65cm long and 250-300 grams heavy, well… it’s not a baguette... A proper “French baguette” only has four ingredients: flour, yeast, salt, and water. And by the way, these long thin breadsticks have to be sold in the same place you bake them. Well, the rules are endless!
So next time, if you invite a French friend over and they think the expensive, “artisan” baguette you brought at the supermarket is horrifying, well, just know that they do not intend to shame you, they just happen to be born picky!
Ever wondered why the baguette is shaped the way it is?
There are plenty of stories about where that shape comes from, and no one knows exactly why the baguette is that long and thin. Some say the reason why the baguette ended up being long and slender is that people wanted it to be thin enough to be easily torn.
Another interesting story is that back in 1920, to keep people from overworking, the French government passed a law forbidding bakers to start their shifts before 4 am, or from working past 10 pm at night. Now let's think about it. Bread takes time to bake, and dough takes time to rise… so if you want to bake it faster, the best solution is to make it long and thin, right?
Whatever the real story is, today's baguette has its fixed length and weight. Most importantly, everyone loves it.
Life is nothing without CHEESE
For the French, cheese is more than just a tasty dairy byproduct. The French adore their cheese and eat a piece with almost every meal (maybe except breakfast). Around 50% of all French people eat cheese on a daily basis. They have been eating it for so long that they cannot imagine life without it.
Like the bise and the baguette, there are rules for eating cheese in France. Unlike Italian, French natives do not eat cheese as an appetizer. Traditionally, you'll find that cheese is consumed after the main course and before the dessert. There’s a French proverb that says ‘There’s a different cheese for every day of the year’, which means you can go a year without eating the same type of cheese twice (if you can afford that many blocks of cheese)!
The French love cheese so much that they even have an international bi-annual cheese competition named The World’s Best Cheesemonger.
So, don’t forget to learn a bit about this much beloved food before your trip and you'll be loved wherever in France you go.
How You Say “You” Matters
English is so simple sometimes. In English, you use the same word “you” to talk to everyone. Whether you are being formal or informal, whether you are replacing singular or plural nouns, whatever their grammatical value may be… it’s always “you”!
Unfortunately, it’s not so in French. Depending on the situation that you're in, you'll have to either use “tu - the informal you" or “vous - the formal you", or “toi - the singular informal”. And the best way to know when these subtleties of the French yous are used is to learn how they are used in a real-life context.
Watching movies, TV shows or authentic videos about the French lifestyle is a wonderful alternative to immerse in its culture and language if you don't yet have the chance to pay a visit to France.
May Day is a big big day
For those of you not in the know, May Day or La Fête du Travail is a public holiday in many countries across Europe, especially France. It's an occasion to celebrate workers’ rights. If you’re in France when May Day falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, you're in luck, my friend! In this case, many French employers let their workers faire le pont (take a four-day weekend). There will be definitely many fun activities in public for you to join.
Ahh, one more thing… over the centuries, Lily of the Valley or muguets as they are called in French has become one of May’s most celebrated flowers. Visiting France on this day, you should expect to see loads of pop-up sidewalk stalls selling this kind of flower.
The April Fish Day
Today, France, Italy, and the French-speaking province of Quebec Canada are the only countries that call April Fools’ Day “April Fish” or “poisson d’avril” (April Fish). If you happen to be in France on 1 April, don't be surprised if children try to stick paper fish to your back as a prank 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.
France is the Most Romantic Destination
Paris is considered the City of Love for a reason. There is a famous bridge called Pont des Arts in Paris where couples come to lock a “love padlock” with their names on it to the bridge’s fence, for they believe this will make their love last forever. Indeed many couples go to Paris and return engaged because Paris is regarded as the ideal place to propose their partner.
If you don’t like the crowded Paris, France is of course full of other dreamy destinations that are ideal for a honeymoon, from the charming Champagne region to the glamorous French Riviera.
And not to mention, French is the language of love - la langue de l'amour. Of course, it has something to do with Paris or the language itself - Oh such a melody! - or maybe the people, the culture, the red wine, the beautiful Provence, the passion of love. We'll never know for sure, but who cares? France has been and always be a favorite place for lovers.
France is forever a beautiful, romantic, passionate country. The melodious French language embodies the beauty of the country and its people. If you adore France, Paris, or the baguette, start learning French today and explore every corner of this country tomorrow with us.