Ah, France. It’s the land of wine and lovers, the land for culinary experiences and artistic expressions. France has been in the forefront of art, politics, music, literature, military, and the sciences since the days of antiquity. And now, I have finally arrived at France in my blog, something I’ve been waiting for for a long time. Several years ago, I had this fascination with France. I was trying to learn French (which would come in handy if I actually studied more) and planning vacations I would never take. (My bank account barely allows me to go to the international aisle at the grocery store these days.)
The name “France” is attributed to the Latin word francia, which means “land of the Franks.” Where the name Frank came from is somewhat more up for debate. Some historians believe it’s derived from a Proto-Germanic word for javelin or lance (their throwing axe was called a francisca). Others believe it possibly came from an ancient Germanic language word for free (meaning not a slave).
The country of France lies in Western Europe, surrounded by the countries of Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Monaco, Spain, and Andorra. It also includes the island of Corsica, which is just north of the Italian island of Sardinia in the Mediterranean Sea. There are also several overseas regions that are also counted as part of France: French Guiana in South America, the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique in the Caribbean, Réunion (east of the African island country of Madagascar), and Mayotte (part of the Comoros Islands chain, northwest of Madagascar). The French mainland runs the gamut on climate and land changes: from warm Mediterranean beaches to the snowy mountainous peaks of the French Alps.
|Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in France.|
The earliest peoples in France were hunter-gatherer types. Cave drawings, such as the ones in Lascaux, clearly depict this nomadic life and are famous for being one of the best preserved cave drawings. Later, Ionian Greeks founded a colony near present-day Marseilles around 660 BC making this is the oldest city in France. At this same time, Gallic Celts were landing on the opposite side of the country. This area eventually became to be known as Gaul. Gaul became a prosperous country but fought many times with the Romans, eventually defeating them and remaining a threat for several centuries. By the third century, Gaul had divided into several smaller kingdoms: Germanic territories, Celtic territories, Roman territories. They renamed themselves Francia, and it would take a while for them to fully unite as a country with a unifying language. Charlemagne took much of the responsibility for uniting many of these kingdoms together and building a vast empire that spanned across much of Western and Central Europe. France became a Catholic country, and feudalism took hold around this time as well. From the 9th Century through the end of the 18th Century, France went through a period of many wars and many kings (I won’t bother you with this long laborious history of all the kings of France – the world would end before I was finished. In short, there were no less than 36,000 guys named King Louis, and they all had issues). And of course, there was the famous Napoleon Bonaparte – everyone’s favorite short guy, who apparently was actually 5’6”, which is still taller than me by six inches – one of France’s most notorious Emperors. France was invaded by Nazi Germany at the beginning of WWII, and the Allies landed in 1944. The latter part of the 20th century brought on more conflict in French Indochina and in Algeria, as well as revolts in mainland France.
|Eiffel tower at night.|
Paris is one of Europe’s largest metropolitan areas with over 12 million people, and the capital of France. Paris is the center for art, music, literature, politics, aspiring chefs, and fashionistas alike. Dotted with some of the world’s most iconic buildings such as the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre-Dame de Paris, and the Arc de Triomphe, its cityscape makes for many great photo ops. Paris is known as the City of Lights: a moniker perhaps from the Age of Enlightenment, but perhaps more likely stemming from the early 1800s when Paris was one of the first European cities to install gas street lights.
|The Louvre Museum, the world's most visited museum.|
France is one of the leading economies in Europe, relying heavily upon insurance, banking, and investing as well as nuclear technologies. France also has large areas of highly fertile lands, allowing for their illusive wine industry. They are quite famous for their champagne, Bordeaux wines, rosé wines, Burgundy wines, and cognac. France is home to several successful auto manufacturers: Renault, Peugeot, and Citroën. Tourism is also important to the French economy. France is the number one tourist destination in the world. It has 37 World Heritage sites and 200 Remarkable Gardens, as well as other popular destinations such as the French Riviera, Disneyland Paris, and the Cannes Film Festival.
The official language is French, which has a status as being a global language. Besides French, there are eight regional minority languages spoken in the French mainland, including Alsatian, Breton, and Occitan. If you count the overseas regions, there are 69 minority languages.
While originally a strong Catholic country, today France is far more secular, highly embracing the separation of church and state. Catholicism is still considered a majority religion, although statistics show only 5% attend Mass once a week or more (2006). A large number (between 27-31%) of Frenchmen and -women identify themselves as agnostic or atheist as well as a sizable number of Muslims.
France is a quirky country. And because it’s such a popular country, there is a plethora of information and facts about France. Here are some of my favorites I haven’t already mentioned: Paris has only one stop sign (it says “Arrêt”). You can receive a medal for raising good kids, and you can also marry a dead person. Twenty percent of French people have experienced depression, which is probably why there is a lot of wine. French toast is not French (named after a guy named French who forgot the apostrophe – this is the exact same reason why German chocolate isn’t German), and neither are French fries (French refers to the cut of the potato. By the way, the term Freedom Fries really gets my goat. I hate that term because it’s out of ignorance.) It’s home to the Tour de France, the French Open, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans sports car race. There’s a Victor Hugo Street in every town and city of France (Come on, who doesn’t love Les Misérables and Hunchback of Notre Dame?) A “French kiss” in France is called a tongue kiss or a soul kiss. There are over 400 different kinds of cheese produced in France. And that brings me to French cooking – I have had such a difficult time narrowing down what I’m going to make, but I think I may have it now, thanks to Julia Child. I just need to go on a wild goose chase for some French cheese. So, here we go.
Up next: holidays and celebrations