Want to know some fun and interesting facts about France? Here’s my favourite collection of French trivia harvested from my time living in the south of France.
What Are Some Fun Facts About France?
Today, we delve into the soul of France, exploring the nuances of the French people, their language, and culture. And we might have a bit of fun along the way.
We’ll scale the heights of Mont Blanc, uncover the significance of the French motto, and learn about the enduring importance of the baguette.
Join us as we explore some fun and interesting facts about France.
Interesting Facts About France
1. France Has an Annual Music Festival
Each year, the streets are filled with musicians all day and into the night for the Fête de la Musique. It’s a wonderful public holiday and everyone can join in.
2. French Isn’t the Only Language in France
Beyond French, you’ll find Breton, Catalan, Basque and Occitan spoken and that’s just for starters when it comes to other languages.
3. People Do Say Ooh la la!
People do say Ooh, la la. Though most will deny that they do.
But to be fair, you’ll more likely hear the shorter “ooh, la!” or else the full gusto “oooh la la la la la la la la la la laaaa!” favoured by sports pundits during a tense moment of soccer interaction.
4. Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité: The National Motto
The national motto of France, which translates to mean Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, became widely associated with the country during the French Revolution.
This powerful proclamation of freedom, equality, and brotherhood was first used in the 18th century to rally the French citizens against the monarchy.
Today, like the French flag, it’s a symbol of the French Republic’s values, deeply embedded in French culture and French law.
5. Kisses Are Sometimes Against the Law
Believe it or not, France, known for romance, once enforced a peculiar law against platform kisses in train stations.
Initiated in 1910, the law was designed to prevent delays and ensure smooth departures. Couples were prohibited from prolonging their farewells, particularly passionate ones, on the platforms of Paris Gare du Nord and others.
Today, while the law isn’t officially abolished, it’s largely unenforced, making it a whimsical yet intriguing piece of French history. So, if you’re in a French train station, be wary of sneaking in a quick peck!
6. Over a Century of the Tour de France
The Tour de France, a gruelling 21-day cycling race, has been a staple of French and global sports since 1903, barring interruptions during World War II.
This epic tour, which winds through picturesque landscapes like the French Alps, is more than just a sporting event—it’s a symbol of the nation’s love for cycling and a showcase for France’s natural beauty.
7. Marie Curie was Not French
Marie Curie is the only person in the world to hold two Nobel Prizes in two different science subjects. She worked from her laboratory in Paris but was actually Polish, having fled to France to survive.
8. France Invented the Stethoscope
French physician René Laennec began experimenting with rolled up cardboard tubes and one thing led to another.
9. The Birthplace of the Camera Phone
In 1997, in the heart of France, innovation leapt forward. The first country to give the world a taste of mobile photography was none other than France.
It was there that Philippe Kahn, while impatiently waiting for his daughter’s birth, rigged his cell phone with a digital camera, sending the first ever camera phone picture.
The impact has been revolutionary, transforming global communication and making capturing and sharing memories a simple click away. It may also be responsible for the rise of the selfie stick at popular monuments but we won’t hold a grudge about that.
10. The World’s Most Visited Art Museum
Housing some of the most prestigious artwork there is, the Louvre Museum is a testament to France’s dedication to preserving art and culture, making it the most visited museum in the world.
Originally a fortress in the Middle Ages, the Louvre was transformed into an art repository by the French King Louis XIV.
Today, the museum showcases masterpieces like the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo, with a grand entrance of inverted glass pyramids.
11. Nobel Prizes in Literature: France Takes the Lead
When it comes to the Nobel Prize in Literature, France storms ahead. The country boasts the highest number of literary laureates, further honing its reputation for fostering creative genius.
André Gide, Henry Bergson, Albert Camus, J. M. G. Le Clézio, Patrick Modiano, and most recently, Annie Ernaux have received the prize from the Swedish Academy.
Notable laureates also include Jean-Paul Sartre, who famously declined the prize but left an indelible mark on existentialist philosophy.
12. L’Hexagone is France’s Geographical Nickname
Known affectionately by many as ‘L’Hexagone’, France’s unique geographical shape closely resembles a hexagon.
This moniker, rooted in the country’s outline as seen on maps, holds a special place in French culture and identity.
From the rugged landscapes of the Alps with the highest mountain peaks to the glamorous beaches of the French Riviera to the bustling city streets of Paris, each corner of mainland France contributes to the hexagon shape.
13. 3427km of Coastline
Stretching over 3427km, the French coastline represents an unexpected blend of beauty, diversity, and strategic importance and which takes in both the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.
Interestingly, the beautifully rugged cliffs and beaches also served as significant landing points for Allied armies during the World Wars.
14. France is the Largest Country in the EU
As the biggest country in the European Union, France spans a remarkable 549,087 square kilometres of land, which includes metropolitan France and diverse overseas territories. This expansive area has allowed for significant advancement in infrastructure, as evidenced by the country’s efficient network of high-speed trains.
This geographical status also underscores the influence and power held by the French president within the European Union.
15. An Upside Down Baguette is Unlucky
In France, an upside down baguette on a table symbolises bad luck. This idea dates back the Middle Ages when grocery stores would leave an upside-down baguette for the executioner. The act served as an unspoken stop sign that said, “We have served your daily bread, leave us in peace.”
Today, while this superstition doesn’t carry the heavy weight of death, it lingers as part of French culture. It is one of those fun and interesting facts about France.
16. The Croissant is Actually Austrian
Though an iconic symbol of French food, the croissant has roots not in France, but in Austria. The pastry was originally crafted to celebrate the Austrian victory against the Ottomans in 1683, the shape mirroring the crescent on the Ottoman flag.
Brought to France by Marie Antoinette, an Austrian princess, the crescent-shaped delight quickly became a staple of French gastronomy.
Given the intricate process of creating the flaky layers, a croissant isn’t just bread, it’s an art form.
Whether enjoyed plain or filled with ham and cheese for a main course, the croissant is undeniably a part of the French culinary identity.
17. French Toast is Not French
Despite its name, French toast didn’t originate in France. This classic dish has roots in the Roman Empire, long before French became the official language of France. It became popular in medieval England before the Norman Conquest.
In fact, the French term for it, “pain perdu”, translates to ‘lost bread’, used to save stale bread from food waste.
Many weird facts surround this dish’s history, such as the claim that it was invented by a man named Joseph French.
However, the truth is, like many different types of cheese and the story of French fries, it’s a classic to enjoy, regardless of its history.
18. France Publishes Two Cookbooks a Day
The gastronomic landscape of France is arguably as varied as its regional languages. France is a nation that values its culinary heritage, leading to the fun fact that France publishes on average two cook books a day.
These publications range from guides on how to prepare a simple French cheese platter to complex recipes involving the cheeky addition of a snail.
19. The First Food Waste Law
In a trailblazing move, France became the first country to enact a Food Waste Law. This legislation, a bold strike against food wastage, mandates supermarkets to donate unsold food to food banks and charities, rather than discarding it.
The law aims to eradicate food wastage, promote redistribution, and ensure that no food ends up in the trash unnecessarily.
The impact of this law has been tremendously positive, contributing to a significant reduction in food waste.
20. 500 Snails Per Citizen Per Year
It’s not just a stereotype, people really do eat snails in France. Or, as they say, escargots. The oldest city in France, Marseille, is believed to have embraced this tradition and continued it on from Roman times.
Today, the French appetite for these shelled delicacies remains robust, with an annual consumption of about 500 snails per citizen.
This painstakingly prepared dish, usually cooked with garlic and parsley butter, encapsulates the essence of French cuisine, where even the most humble ingredient can be transformed into a gastronomic delight.
21. 246 Varieties of Cheese
From the creamy Brie of Île-de-France to the sharp Roquefort of the Midi-Pyrénées, cheese means more than just food. It’s an integral part of life in France.
As evidenced by this phrase from Charles de Gaulle:
“How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?”
22. 11.2 Billion Glasses of Wine Per Year
While the Romans brought wine to France, France ran with the idea.
Today, it’s not only an essential part of French cuisine but also a driving force for the country’s economy.
Not only does France consume 11.2 billion glasses of wine each year but it’s also home to the most expensive bottle of wine of all time.
23. French Was Once England’s Official Language
For nearly 300 years, from 1066 to the late 14th century, the official language of France, French, was also the official language of England.
This peculiar linguistic phenomenon occurred after William the Conqueror, a Norman, claimed the throne of England. The United Kingdom’s elite adopted French, thus making it the language of the court, law, and administration.
The impact remains evident, with many French words permeating the English lexicon, particularly in the fields of law and medicine.
24. The French Invented the Kilt. Probably.
Surprisingly, the iconic Kilt, often associated with Scotland, is believed by some to be a French invention. This claim stems from old manuscripts and depictions of French military figures seen donning a similar garment.
However, counterarguments point to the Celts, ancient inhabitants of modern Scotland, who wore a similar wraparound.
Who really knows the truth?
25. The French Can Marry the Dead
Yes, you’ve read that right. In France, you can marry a dead person. This peculiar law, which is still in force, has its roots in a tragic event involving a dam break in Fréjus in 1959.
A woman asked President Charles de Gaulle if she could go ahead with her wedding even though her fiancé had died in the disaster.
Touched by her story, de Gaulle had the law enacted, allowing posthumous marriages provided the deceased had clear intentions to marry while alive.
So, while it’s an unusual scenario, it’s a possibility!
26. France Had the Oldest Person that Ever Lived
Incredibly, the record for the oldest person to have ever lived anywhere in the world is held by a French woman, Jeanne Calment. Born in 1875, Calment lived an extraordinary 122 years and 164 days.
27. France is the Most Visited Country in the World
For more than two decades, France has topped the charts when it comes to visitors. The 2017 data reveal that more than 80 million people visited in that year alone. Over 30 million people visited Paris in that one single year.
28. There’s an Emergency Baguette Rota
It’s no secret that baguettes are popular in France. But did you know that France operates an emergency boulangerie (bakery) rota to make sure that everyone has access to fresh bread, even during bank holidays?
29. Marie Antoinette was Not French
She was Austrian. She married into the French royal family and, while known to be decadent, never actually uttered the words “let them eat cake.”
That was the invention of a tabloid newspaper at the time – and it captured the imagination of the world.
30. France Doesn’t Have an Easter Bunny
Instead of an Easter Bunny, France has a cloche volant or flying bell. It flies through the night to deliver chocolate to French children for Easter Sunday morning.
31. Louis XIX Reigned for Only 20 Minutes
Louis XIX became king in 1830 but abdicated 20 minutes later in favour of his nephew, the Duke of Bordeaux. That would have been an awkward family gathering.
32. France Has More Michelin Stars than Anywhere on Earth
No fewer than 485 restaurants have won this accolade (which, incidentally, also began life in France.) Foodies should also spend one day in Monaco sampling their Michelin Star restaurants too.
33. France Invented Braille
The system of Braille was invented in France by Louis Braille who lost his sight as a child.
34. And the Guillotine
Also invented in France. The guillotine, often attributed to Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin during the late 18th century, was proposed as a humane alternative to brutal execution methods in France.
Though Guillotin didn’t invent it, he advocated for it.
The device, designed by Tobias Schmidt, was first used in 1792 during the French Revolution. It became the primary execution method during the Reign of Terror, symbolizing egalitarianism and efficiency in the eyes of the law.
Despite its intended humane purpose, it remains a complex symbol of the French Revolution and the ethics of capital punishment.
35. And the Hot Air Balloon
Up, up and away!
The invention of the hot air balloon is credited to the Montgolfier brothers, Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne, French inventors, in the late 18th century.
In 1783, they made history by launching the first untethered manned hot air balloon flight in Annonay, France. This pioneering achievement marked the beginning of human flight, paving the way for modern aviation and aeronautics.
The Montgolfier brothers’ invention ignited worldwide fascination with the possibilities of flight and laid the groundwork for the development of various aircraft and ballooning as a recreational and scientific pursuit.
36. And the Word Entrepreneur
It’s not the only word from France that has entered everyday English use but its role in the George W Bush gaffe makes it one of the most famous ones.
37. France is Frenemies with England
Frane and England have fought together and fought with each other over the years against various inside and outside forces. Today, they share military defence.
But language isn’t invented in a day. It builds slowly over the years, leaving us with fun facts like:
- To leave a party without saying goodbye is to “filer a l’anglaise.”
- And a condom is also known as a Capote anglaise.
- Even Bordeaux, one of the of the world’s finest and oldest centres for wine, developed as it did due to a spat with (and tax law from) England.
- Cassoulet, a traditional dish found in the southwest, came from the desire for sustenance to fight the English.
Yet today, both countries share an aircraft carrier and an integrated defence plan (along with the rest of the United Kingdom.)
38. France Has a Culinary Collection of Place Names
Champagne, Armagnac, Cognac, and Roquefort. Can you think of any more?
39. People Really do Eat Frogs Legs
Yes, you can buy them. And snails. They’re cooked in butter and garlic.
40. Not Wearing a Speedo is Against the Law
France has strict swimwear rules. No board shorts, only speedos. And hair must be covered at all times. It’s just another one of those random facts about France.