The culture of France is diverse, reflecting regional differences as well as the influence of recent immigration. France has played an important role for centuries as a cultural center, with Paris as a world center of high culture.
Paris is seen by some as the art capital of Europe, along with Rome. The possible heyday of this was during les années folles in the period between the world wars.
Main article: Visual Arts in France
Main article: Architecture of France
Main article: Literature of France
Main article: Cinema of France
Main article: Theatre of France
Main article: Dance of France
Main article: Music of France
Main article: Media in France
Television & Radio
List of French museums
Since the era of Jules Ferry, the prime minister and Minister of Education, all state-funded schools before university are free, obligatory and laique, meaning separate from the church.
At the beginning of the 20th century, France was a largely rural country with somewhat conservative Catholic mores. However, in the course of the century, major changes have occurred: the countryside has become largely depopulated, and the population has largely become de-christianized. This has led to important changes in social mores.
In the past, unmarried heterosexual couples and cohabitation, while legal, were socially shunned. However, the social outlook on unmarried couples changed considerably since the 1960s, whereby cohabitation, or concubinage, is now considered an accepted way of life, especially for young couples without children. Except in the minority of the population with strong religious feelings, marriage is usually postponed until children are born, or there is a clear advantage to marriage (for tax or work purposes, for instance). Some of the benefits of marriage were extended in the 1980s to couples living in concubinage notoire (notable cohabitation).
The situation of homosexual couples has evolved more slowly. While France decriminalized homosexual sex per se in 1789, homosexuality later was not generally considered acceptable. Homosexuals acting in public, or with minors, were prosecuted. In the 1960s, a law declared homosexuality a social scourge. However, in 1982, the newly elected left-wing government removed the last legal differences between homosexual and heterosexual relationships (the age of consent for homosexual sex was lowered to that of heterosexual sex, and homosexual action was no longer an aggravating circumstance to public indecency). However, homosexual couples were still generally denied the benefits of concubinage. In 2001, the then left-wing government modified legislation, stating that concubinage applied regardless of sex, and introduced the PACS, a civil union contract with some of the benefits of marriage, available regardless of sex. Marriage, as of 2004, is still legally considered as being between a man and a woman; attempts at celebrating homosexual marriages were ruled illegal.
Marriage, traditionally since the French Revolution, was performed as a two-stage process: first, a civil marriage performed at city hall, then a religious marriage. With the loss of the religion feeling, religious marriage is now often omitted, or is sometimes performed just out of tradition and social convention, especially with respect to families.
According to INSEE, in 2003 French families were composed as:
|Couples without children
|Couples with children
|Compound households (several couples, etc.)
The French government does not keep statistics as to religion. However some unofficial statistic exist from CIA and poll:
- A 2003 poll 41% said that the existence of God was "excluded" or "unlikely". 33% declared that "atheist" described them rather or very well, and 51% for "Christian". When questioned about their religion, 62% answered Roman Catholic, 6% Muslim, 2% Protestant, 1% Jewish, 2% "other religions" (except for Orthodox or Buddhist, which were negligible), 26% "no religion" and 1% declined to answer.
Gallup International reports that 15 percent of French citizens regularly attend religious services, compared to 10 percent of UK citizens and 57 percent of American citizens.
The Bohemian history of Paris deserves an article in itself. Many culture icons spent some years in Paris, including Hemingway, Picasso, Toulouse Lautrec, Gertrude Stein, Samuel Beckett and many others.
Customs and Traditions
France is noted for its cosmopolitan, civilised approach to life, combined with great concern for style, fashion and appearances. French people are sometimes perceived as taking a great pride in the national identity and positive achievements of France, although many French people would argue that all nations tend to do that.
French people address each other with formality, calling each other Madame, Mademoiselle or Monsieur in a way which may seem formulaic to outsiders, but signifies a respect for the individual which permeates the French way of life. Similarly, it is expected that social interaction should be preceded by a bonjour or bonsoir (or more familiar) greeting, even in shops and other services. Failing to abide by those rules is considered rude.
The French language has two ways of addressing individual people in the second person (corresponding to the English "you"):
- The formal way is to use the plural vous; talking in that fashion is called vouvoyer. This puts some distance between the person who speaks and the person addressed, shows some respect to the other person, and is the normal and appropriate way to discuss matters between strangers, or business contacts, or for a child to address an adult outside his family. Using vous is the safe solution in most contexts.
- The informal way is to use the singular tu (corresponding to the archaic "thou" in English); talking in that fashion is called tutoyer. It expresses some kind of intimacy, and sometimes some lack of respect for the other person. It is the common way to address people in one's own family, or one's closest colleagues, or to talk to a small child. It is also common among the youth; students address each other with tu unless the age difference is large.
One should especially beware of interactions when one party says vous to the other and the other uses tu. This may be interpreted as very rude and demeaning behavior from the party using tu.
One of the first things some people note in France is the kissing on both cheeks (not always involving making contact with the lips) between two people. Family members generally kiss each other this way. In young and familiar settings, males generally kiss females in the same way. Similar kissing between males is common in the southeast, but uncommon in other regions.
In other settings, especially in business settings, the protocol is to shake hands.
Most of France's population used to be Catholic, and this is reflected in the calendar of holidays, which mark several major Catholic celebrations. With the waning importance of religious practice, many of those holidays have lost their religious meaning in the general population.
See Holidays in France for the dates of the main holidays.
Anniversaries of the armistices of the World Wars
On May 8 and November 11, the dead and wounded of the Second and First World War are respectively honored. Delegations lay wreaths on the monuments to the dead of both wars, which abound throughout the country: each village, college, administration, etc., tends to have its own monument.
- Main article: Bastille Day.
July 14 is the national day, simply called Fête nationale or 14 juillet (though it is generally referred to as Bastille Day in English). Many cities hold fireworks during the night. It is also customary that firefighters organize dancing parties (bals du 14 juillet).
Military parades are held on July 14 morning, the largest of which takes place on the Champs-Élysées avenue in Paris in front of the President of the Republic.
On All Saints day (Toussaint) or the following day All Souls Day (fête des morts), families lay flowers on the tombs of their deceased relatives.
A recent import is the celebration of Halloween, which is controversial. Critics of the celebration of Halloween oppose it for a variety of reasons:
- it interferes with the celebration of Christian All Saint's Day;
- it interferes with the honors to the dead;
- it is a import of foreign, American, mores;
- most notably, the celebration of Halloween in France was marketed by companies selling candy and Halloween accessories in order to boost their revenue; critics therefore argue that this adds yet another financial superfluous burden on families.
End of the year
On the eve of Christmas (Noël), most families with a Christian background (but not necessarily Christian) have a long family dinner (réveillon), where special or luxury dishes (foie gras, oysters, escargots, game...) are often consumed. Gifts are then deposed under the Christmas tree, to be recovered on Christmas morning by children (and often adults). Christians may attend the midnight mass .
The Christmas tree and other decorations are generally prepared in advanced. Cities, towns, villages, schools, etc. generally put out Christmas decorations; the ones installed by major cities such as Paris can be very impressive.
On the night before New Year's Day (the evening of Saint Sylvester's day, la Saint-Sylvestre), many people have another réveillon with friends, in a festive athmosphere. Many cities hold fireworks at midnight. The two réveillons are generally collectively referred to as the "end-of-year festivities" (fêtes de fin d'année). In schools and corporations, it is often the case that the workplace cafeteria will have some special meal at some point shortly before Christmas.
In some areas Eastern France, the custom is not to hand out presents at Christmas, but at Saint Nicholas' day. Also, in some families, the custom is not to give Christmas presents, but étrennes, or beginning-of-the-year presents; this used to be especially true in families that, for some reason, wanted to make a statement that they were not Christian.
Beginning of the year
Traditionally, individuals exchange best wishes greeting cards at the beginning of the years. People in a leadership position, the foremost of which the President of the Republic, make a speech in which they express their wishes (vœux) for their fellow citizens, employees, etc. and in which they may delineate some of their policy for the upcoming year.
Food & Wine
Main article: Cuisine of France
The normal meal schedule is to take a light breakfast in the morning (consisting of bread and/or cereal, possibly coffee and some fruit, perhaps croissants), a lunch at some point between noon and 2PM, and dinner in the evening. A normal complete meal consists in appetizers (perhaps raw vegetables or salad), a main dish (generally, meat or fish with a side of vegetables, pasta, rice or friest), some cheese and/or dessert (fruit or cake). While most working people and students eat their lunch outside, it is to be noted that corporate and school cafeterias normally serve complete meals (appetizers, main dish, dessert); it is not usual for students to bring sandwiches.
The French generally take a strong interest in food. French food was largely regional, and these influences still show (to draw some caricature, the cooking of Normandy is based on cream and butter, while Provence uses olive oil as a cooking fat). Some dishes, such as garnished sauerkraut, are connoted for a particular region (in this case, Alsace). However, with the movements of population across contemporary France, regional distinctions are less acute; while many dishes retain the association with their region of origin, they are available and appreciated nationwide. Furthermore, international cuisines are appreciated; let us cite Northern African dishes such as couscous stew, Chinese cuisine, and, more recently, Japanese cuisine (the latter are generally appreciated in restaurants).
Traditionally, France has been a culture of wine consumption. However, this characteristic has lessened with time, and nowadays only 23% of the French consume wine every day. Especially, the consumption of low-quality wines during meals has been greatly reduced. Beer is especially popular with the youth. Other popular alcoholic drinks include pastis, an aniseed-flavored beverage drunk diluted with cold water, especially in the summer.
The legal drinking age for most spirits is 16; it is not customary that shopkeepers or bartenders check for the age of consumers.
Sports and Hobbies
The most played sport in France is Pétanque. The leisured form of the sport of Pétanque is played by about 17 millions of persons in France. The category Sport Competition of Pétanque is played by about 480.000 persons licenced with the Federation Française de Pétanque et Jeu Provençal (ffpjp). The ffpjp is the 4th sportive féderation in France. The licensed players play under precis rules the very competitive form of Pétanque which is called Pétanque Sport.
The most watched sports in France are football (soccer), rugby, cycling, tennis and handball. France is notable for holding the football World Cup in 1998, for holding the annual cycling race Tour de France, and the tennis Grand Slam tournament Roland Garros, or the French Open. Sport is encouraged in school, and local sports clubs receive financial support from the local governments. While football is definitely the most popular, rugby takes dominance in the southwest, especially around the city of Toulouse.
Babyfoot (table football) is a very popular pastime in bars and in homes in France, and the French are the predominant winners of worldwide table football competitions.
Main articles: French language, Languages of France, Language policy in France
French culture is profoundly allied with the French language. The artful use of the mother tongue, and its defense against perceived decline or corruption by foreign terms, is a major preoccupation for some persons and entities.
The Académie française sets an official standard of language purity; however, this standard, which is not mandatory, is even occasionally ignored by the government itself: for instance, the left-wing government of Lionel Jospin pushed for the feminization of the names of some functions (madame la ministre) while the Académie pushed for some more traditional madame le ministre.
Some action has been taken by the government in order to promote French culture and the French language. For instance, there exists a system of subsidies and preferential loans for supporting French cinema. The Toubon law, from the name of the conservative culture minister who promoted it, makes it mandatory to use French in advertisements directed to the general public. Note that contrary to some misconception sometimes found in the Anglophone media, the French government neither regulates the language used by private parties in non-commercial settings, neither makes it compulsory that France-based WWW sites should be in French.
France counts many regional languages, some of them being very unrelated to standard French such as Breton and Alsatian. Most of them are from the same language group (Indo-European languages), and some regional languages are Romance, like French, such as Provençal. Many of them have some enthusiastic proponents among the people; however, the real importance of local languages remains subject to debate. There is also a language completely unrelated to French, Basque. In April 2001, the Minister of Education, Jack Lang, admitted formally that for more than two centuries, the political powers of the French government had repressed regional languages, and announced that bilingual education would, for the first time, be recognized, and bilingual teachers recruited in French public schools. The real importance of local languages remains subject to debate.
Main article: Transportation in France
There are significant differences in lifestyles with respect to transportation between very urbanized regions such as Paris, and smaller towns and rural areas. In Paris, and to a lesser extent in other major cities, many households do not own an automobile and simply use efficient mass transportation. The cliché about the parisien is rush hour in the Métro subway. However, outside of such areas, ownership of one or more cars is standard, especially for households with children.
The TGV high speed rail network, train à grande vitesse is a fast rail transport which serves several areas of the country and is self financing. There are plans to reach most parts of France and many other destinations in Europe in coming years. Rail services to major destinations are punctual and frequent.
Since prehistoric times, France has been a crossroads of trade, travel, and invasion. Three basic European ethnic stocks - Celtic, Latin, and Germanic (Frankish) - have blended over the centuries to make up its present population.
Last updated: 08-11-2005 02:18:44
Last updated: 09-02-2005 16:52:30