Is it true that France invented the hot air balloon? And is kissing on a train platform really illegal?
Learn about France with these 30 fun facts.
Whether you live in France or are just visiting, learning a few facts about the country will help you get to know it better;
Not to mention impressing your friends at your next trivia night. So get ready to test your French knowledge as we share 30 facts about France that may surprise you.
Also read: Best cities to visit in France
1. France is the largest country in the EU and is 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 the third largest country in Europe, behind the European share of Ukraine and Russia.
A third of France (31%) is forested and is the fourth most forested country in the EU after Sweden, Finland and Spain. The country is sometimes referred to as ‘l’hexagon’ due to its six-sided shape .
2. France is the most popular tourist destination in the world
Now may be the time to brush up on your French language skills, because France is one such destination according to the latest tourism statistics.
A total of 89.3 million people visited the country in 2018, making it the most visited destination in the world.
The country’s capital is also the third most visited city in the world, after Paris, Bangkok and London.
3. French was the official language of England for about 300 years
It is 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 conquest of England in 1066, he introduced Anglo-Norman French to the nation. It was spoken by royalty, nobles and high-ranking officials, some of whom could not speak 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 arguments, but was largely unknown to the common people of England, who had no knowledge of what was said in court.
4. Louis XIX was King of France for only 20 minutes, the shortest reign ever
Yes, you read that right. The French king enjoyed only 20 minutes of royal fame after his father Charles X abdicated, leaving him to ascend the French throne in July 1830.
After this short 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 Louis Philippe,
who technically became King of Portugal after his father’s assassination. But 20 minutes later he too died of his wounds.
5. ‘ Liberté, égalitié, fraternité ‘ or ‘Liberty, equality, fraternity’ is the national motto.
The famous slogan appeared around the time of the First Revolution (1789-1799) and was written into the constitutions of 1946 and 1958. Nowadays, you see it on coins, postage stamps and government logos; Often accompanied by a ‘Marian’ symbolizing the victory of the Republic.
The legal system in France is still largely based on the principles set out 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 is an interesting fact about France. The word ‘camouflage’ actually comes from a French verb meaning ‘to prepare 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 known as camouflagers . The following year, the British Army followed suit and established its own camouflage department under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Wyatt. It was known as Special Works Park RE (Royal Engineers).
7. In France, you can marry a dead person!
A surprising 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 intended to marry you when he was alive.
You also have to get permission from the President of France. The most recent sanctioned case was in 2017 when the partner of a gay policeman was allowed to marry his partner posthumously by a jihadist on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.
8. The French invented the tin can, the hair dryer and the hot air balloon
It turns out that we have the French to thank for many of the useful inventions we know and love today. For example, French inventor Nicolas Appert came up with the idea of using 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 blind as a child. Meanwhile, physician René Laennec invented the stethoscope in a Paris hospital in 1816, and Alexandre-Ferdinand Godefroy patented the world’s first hair dryer in 1888.
. The majestic hot air balloon was also heralded by the Montgolfier brothers Joseph and Etienne who pioneered the world’s first hair dryer. Demonstration of the untethered balloon in 1783.
9. France was the first country in the world to ban food throwing at supermarkets
Now, here’s a French fact to be 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 excess groceries to food banks and charities. Supermarkets larger than 400 square meters that are caught packing good quality food approaching its best-before date face hefty fines of up to €75,000 or two years in prison.
Moreover, all French supermarkets also have a ban on destroying food as a way to prevent ‘dumpster divers’ from foraging through waste bins. Well done, France!
10. Film was first publicly shown in 1895 by the French Lumiere
The Lumière brothers, Auguste Marie Louis Nicolas and Louis Jean, were famous for their cinematograph motion picture system and the short films they made between 1895 and 1905.
The famous duo held the world’s first public movie screening at the Grand on December 28, 1895. A cafe in Paris. His directorial debut was La Sortie des Auriers de l’Euzine Lumiere (Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory) .
The five-second-long black-and-white film showed only the workers leaving the Lumiere factory and left the audience completely bewildered. In 1895, Louis Lumière believed that cinema was an “invention without a future”. Oh, how little he knew…
11. The oldest person who ever lived was a French woman named Jeanne Louise Clement
The longest fully documented age that any human has ever lived is 122 years and 164 days. Jeanne Louise Clement was born on 21 Feb 1875 in France and died on 4 Aug 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 the aeroplane. Interestingly, life expectancy for women in France was 85.3 years in 2018 and 79.4 years for men. France ranks 14th in the world for life expectancy with men and women living to an average age of 83. Mmm, there must be something in the water!
12. France legalized same-sex marriage in 2013
When President François Hollande signed the law into law on 18 May 2013, France became the ninth country in Europe and the 14th in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. Although polls at the time showed that about 50% of French people supported him, not everyone was happy about it
. In fact, thousands of people took to the streets in protest defending so-called ‘family values’. Just weeks after France legalized same-sex marriage, crowds at the 2013 Paris Pride parade
13. France has more Nobel Prize winners in literature than any other country
With 15 French individuals having won the prestigious prize since 1901, it is 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 winner of the award that year. Among France’s most famous poets, novelists and writers are René Descartes, Voltaire, Charles Baudelaire, Blaise Pascal, Gustave Flaubert and Victor Hugo.
14. The highest mountain in Europe is Mont Blanc in the French Alps
Standing at a height of 4,807m, Mont Blanc is officially the second-highest mountain in Europe. It takes 10 to 12 hours to climb the peak. But if you’re not up for it, you can take a leisurely 20-minute trip on Europe’s highest cable car to the nearby Aigle du Midi to get a great 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 took place in December 2013 at the Georges Pompidou Hospital in Paris. The bioprosthetic device, which mimics real heart contractions, is powered by an external lithium-ion battery and weighs about three times the actual 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 9.6 million visitors in 2019, the famous Louvre is the most visited museum in the world. Located in the heart of Paris, the grand museum is home to around 38,000 works of art and artifacts from prehistoric times.
These include the Mona Lisa , the Venus de Milo , and IM Pei’s famous glass Louvre pyramid that sits in the courtyard. Surprisingly, 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 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 one’s life.
and emphasizes solidarity for its function of bringing groups, as well as friends and family, closer together and strengthening social ties.
18. France produced the world’s most expensive bottle of wine
Of course, France is not only famous for its cuisine, the country also produces some of the best wines in the world – not to mention the most expensive. A 73-year-old bottle of French Burgundy became the most expensive bottle of wine ever sold at auction, fetching $558,000.
A 1945 Romani-Conti bottle sold to a private Asian collector at Sotheby’s for 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 an interesting fact about France. If you’re in the country on April 1, do n’t be surprised if kids try to stick paper fish to your back and call you ‘ Poisson d’Avril ‘ (April Fish).
The tradition is believed 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 in late March were ridiculed as fools. So watch your back!
20. The French eat about 30,000 tons of snails a year
Here’s a fun fact about France. According to Reuters , the French eat about 30,000 metric tons of escargot annually. However, about two-thirds of all snails eaten in France come from Eastern Europe and the Balkans.
So if you’ve eaten snails in France, chances are they’ve traveled a long way to reach your plate. The classic French relish (served with garlic, parsley and butter) is a popular staple of French cuisine.
21. A live snail 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 high-speed trains in France without their own tickets.
In fact, any pet weighing less than 5 kg must be a paying passenger. In 2008, a Frenchman was actually fined when a ticket inspector caught him taking critters to the TGV. Fortunately, however, France’s state-owned rail company SNCF lifted the fine.
22. The croissant was actually invented in Austria in the 13th century
It’s true, believe it or not, the beloved French pastry we all know and love is actually an adaptation of Kipferal ; A Viennese specialty that dates back to the 13th century. As the story goes, August Zhang, an Austrian artillery officer, founded the Viennese Bakery in Paris in 1839. He started serving Kipferl and it quickly became popular with the locals.
In fact, French imitators began making their own French version which they called a croissant because of its crescent shape. And the rest, as they say, is history. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all.
23. In France, turning a baguette upside down is considered unlucky
Oh, the French are a suspicious bunch! According to folklore, leaving a baguette or loaf of bread upside down on the table risks misfortune or worse – death to those around you. This strange superstition is believed to date back to medieval times when hangmen were allowed to snatch items from shops without paying. Therefore, bakers would leave the inversion of bread for them.
And if you happened to touch the bread or put the loaf upside down yourself, you had to mark it with a cross before eating it to ward off bad luck. Oops!
24. France produces about 1.7 million tons of cheese per year in about 1,600 varieties.
To say that the French love to eat cheese is a huge understatement. In 2018 alone, the dairy-munching nation produced nearly 1.7 million tonnes of cow’s milk cheese. There are also about 1,600 different types of French cheese to try,
which are grouped into eight categories. Fortunately, the French don’t keep it all to themselves. In 2018, the country exported more than 679,000 tons of cheese, while in 2017 about 895,000 tons were sold on the French retail market. Merci beaucoup!