Top Facts about France

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Did you know that the French invented the metric system? That more than half of the world’s roundabouts are in France? What about how France got its name from a Germanic tribe?

Brush up on your French culture by scrolling through our list below.

French History

France got its name from a Germanic tribe who settled in the Western Roman Empire in the 2nd century. The word France is derived from “Frank.” It means “free” in Frankish.

The government is under a republic system (République Française) which was put into place after the French Revolution (1789 to 1799) when the monarchy was overthrown.

That was the same time the motto 'Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité' was coined. It means Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.

The French flag is composed of three colours: blue, white and red. It is commonly referred to as the Tricolore (tricolour). There are slightly different versions of the flag depending on the occasion, such as in public buildings or for television appearances.

French Resistance fighters in World War II also had their own version. They added the Cross of Lorraine (a cross with two bars instead of one) in the middle of the flag.

The French national anthem is called La Marseillaise.

French Demographics

There are approximately 67 million people living in France and counting.

The current President, Emmanuel Macron, was only 39 years old when he took office, becoming the youngest person to do so in French history.

France is the largest country in the European Union by land area (551,000 square kilometres).

French Geography

France is comprised of 18 regions. Several regions, such as Nouvelle-Aquitaine and Provence-Alpes Côte d'Azur, are known for their wine.

Champagne is only produced in the Champagne region of France and is priced and labeled as such. If you’re drinking something bubbly but it doesn’t say champagne on the bottle, it’s not the real thing!

The north-eastern region of Normandy is where many Allied forces landed to help liberate France and her neighbouring countries in both World Wars. You can find war memorials and cemeteries among the clusters of pretty coastal towns.

France is nicknamed l'hexagone because it is roughly in the shape of a hexagon.

France is a combination of farmlands, coastlines and mountain ranges. The French Alps are a great place for winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding, whereas the coasts are full of beautiful beaches, including but not limited to Côte d’Azur, St. Tropez, Dieppe, Saint Malo, and more.

French Laws

The guillotine was last used in 1977 as capital punishment. The death penalty was later abolished in 1981, but the guillotine was still the official execution method up until that time.

You can legally marry a dead person in France, as long as you can prove that you were intending to marry them while they were alive. To do so you would need to send a written request to the President. The deceased’s family needs to approve of the marriage as well.

France was the first country to use vehicle licence plates in 1893. Germany followed shortly afterwards in 1896.

Any domesticated animal under 6 kilograms must pay €7 for a train ticket in France, whereas for animals over 6kg the price is 50% of a usual train ticket. Guide dogs can travel for free and without a ticket.

France, International (DOM TOMs)

Because of France’s history of colonialism, many countries and territories around the world are still under variations of French law or are considered part of France outright. These include Guyana, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, and French Polynesia, among others.

They are considered DOM TOMS, or Départements et Territoires d’Outre-Mer.

French Daily Life

France is mainly powered by nuclear energy, with 58 nuclear reactors for 67 millions inhabitants. This makes France the most nuclear-powered country in the world, with Japan coming right after it, and then the United States.

France was the first country to implement a public transit system, starting in the 1660s. Blaise Pascal, a mathematician credited for creating Pascal’s Triangle and an early calculator, created a system of horse-drawn carriages that would circulate on a fixed route and time through certain neighbourhoods in Paris.

Nowadays, Paris has the densest metro system in the world; within 90km squared sit 245 metro stations on 14 lines.

Due to its territories around the world, France technically sits in 12 time zones. Before World War II, France was actually in the same time zone as London (GMT). But after German occupation, French time was changed to match Berlin time (GMT +1). It was never reversed and remains this way to this day.

Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Paris is the busiest airport in Europe by cargo traffic, and the sixth busiest in the world.

More than half of the world’s roundabouts are in France, clocking in at over 300,000 in total!

Famous French People

Some famous French names include:

  • Napoleon Bonaparte, the army general who declared himself Emperor of France after the French Revolution and drastically reformed French laws
  • Marie and Pierre Curie, who discovered radium (now commonly used in x-rays)
  • Louis Pasteur, who discovered vaccination and pasteurization
  • Victor Hugo, author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame
  • Jules Verne, author of Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in Eighty Days
  • Louis Braille, who created Braille as a communication tool for the visually impaired
  • Claude Monet, the Impressionist painter famous for his Water Lilies series
  • Auguste Rodin, the sculptor most recognized for crafting The Thinker

France has won the Nobel Prize for Literature fifteen times, which is more than any other country in the world.

French Landmarks

One of the most commonly-known facts about France is that the Eiffel Tower is one of the most-visited (paid) monuments in the world. It was built in 1889 in Paris and designed by French civil engineer Gustave Eiffel.

The Eiffel Tower was the tallest man-made structure in the world until 1930, when the Chrysler Building in New York City was erected.

The Louvre is another famous landmark that is a must-see in Paris. One of the most prestigious art museums in the world, it houses the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo among many, many others.

And in the region of Brittany, Mont St. Michel has its own claim to fame as a picturesque town on a tiny island, with a centuries-old abbey in the centre.

There are around 40,000 castles (châteaux) in France.

Go to this other page to find out what are our top 10 French landmarks to visit!

French Food & Drink

Some classic French foods include:

  • Escargots, or snails cooked in hot oil and butter
  • Foie gras, or goose liver pâté, is a French delicacy eaten frequently around Christmas time. It originated around 4,500 years ago in Ancient Egypt.
  • Croque Monsieur and Croque Madame, a ham and cheese sandwich that includes an egg on top in the “Madame” version
  • Crepes, which can be filled with chocolate, sugar, fruit, cheese, and many other combinations

There are over 1,200 kinds of cheese made in France.

French Inventions

The French invented a handful of the things we take for granted today, such as the bicycle, film cameras and parachutes.

Although the American Wright Brothers were the first to fly an airplane in 1903, another set of brothers, Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier, manned the first flight in a hot air balloon in 1783 (another French invention).

Stethoscopes are also a French invention, as well as pencil sharpeners, hair dryers, the metric system, and Braille.

French Sports

The French are known for a few prestigious events worldwide. One of them is the Tour de France, a 23-day long bike race that started in 1903.

Another is the French Open, a tennis tournament among the ranks of the US Open, Australian Open and Wimbledon. Racquet sports were actually invented in France in the 13th century by monks.

Sports such as tennis, squash and badminton all originate from what they called jeu de paume français, or “palm games,” due to the early method of throwing or bouncing balls against their hands.