France! It’s just over the channel from the UK, but that stretch of water seems to have created a larger cultural divide than you might imagine. Or maybe it was the years and years of wars. Having now lived here for a couple of years, I’ve observed a few things that surprised me, and learnt a few others that surprised me even more!
So when you visit from the UK (or other equally fine country) and are on that ferry from Dover to Calais, (or other equally marvellous travel option to France, maybe even a Montgolfiere?) here are some things to think about that might tickle or amuse you… including, but not limited to:
A fifth of France isn’t in France
France is fairly big. It’s the third largest European country, after Russia and the Ukraine, and is over twice as large as the UK. But what is even more surprising is that that size doesn’t even take into account the overseas territories that France still has, which account for an additional 20% of land!
These are constitutionally a part of France and over 2.6 million French people live in these territories, none of which are anywhere near Europe!
Croissants aren’t French
Is there anything more French than a morning cup of coffee accompanied by the crescent shaped pastry known as a croissant? Well, other than baguettes of course. You’d think not. Sadly then, it turns out that the croissant was actually invented in Austria way back in the 13th century, and didn’t make it to France until the mid 19th century. Quel horreur!
No French word starts with a W
Le week-end. WC. Wagonnet. These are all good French sounding words, but the truth is that no real French word starts with “w” as “w” never used to exist as a French letter. So all the words in France that you might find starting with a “w” were just borrowed from other languages. Much to the chagrin of the Académie française no doubt, the body responsible for keeping the French language properly French. Le week-end, though, seems here to stay!
Hot air balloons are named after their French inventors
Hot air balloons were invited by the French, and I think it’s rather lovely that in France a hot air balloon is called a Montgolfière, after the Montgolfier brothers, who came up with the brilliant idea of suspending a giant flame-filled picnic basket under a balloon made of sackcloth and paper.
The first pilots were a sheep, a duck and a rooster – the duck was chosen as it was presumably a skilled pilot, and the sheep was a stand-in for the human passenger. I guess that makes the rooster the observer. They landed safely, and it wasn’t long before humans took the step of leaving our earthly confines.
Foie Gras isn’t French
Foie Gras is as French as a croissant, which is to say, not very. Even if any time spent in France will inevitably result in you finding yourself offered some of this treat, and the name sounds wonderfully French, the origins of this dish (which require the inhumane force feeding of some poor goose) are Egyptian, from as far back as 2500BC, when the French were no doubt still banging rocks together rather than pondering fine dining.
You can marry a dead person in France
Death is no barrier to a good marriage in France, with a law in place to allow posthumous marriage (although, at least one of the couple must be alive). This practice started during World War 1, where widows were married to soldiers who had been killed in action. The main reason was to legitimise any children who had been conceived, and also for emotional reasons.
These days it is still possible, you just need to ask the President’s permission, and be able to prove that you had already been planning a wedding.
BBQ’s aren’t quite the same, and involve chips
In the UK, if you have a BBQ, the key ingredients are charred meat and ideally some rain. The grilling technology may vary, from gas, to electric, to wood, but the underlying design remains the same. And the ingredients are fairly flexible, as long as meat is involved in some way.
In France, BBQ’s are also a traditional summer time affair, and if you attend any sort of fete or party in a village or town, you’ll find people happily grilling away. The main difference though, is that there will inevitably be a deep fat fryer churning out chips (no bad thing!), and the main fare will consist of either pork belly, or sausage. Sometimes varying flavours of sausage, but pretty much always sausage. I have never seen a BBQ with a burger on it. Which seems… very odd.
It is illegal to name a pig Napoleon
Ok, so this one isn’t technically true any more. But when Napoleon was running around, it would have been! French law states that is is illegal to insult the head of state. Although most French heads of state don’t bother too much with the law. Which is a good thing, because François is a lovely name, and any pig would be proud to be named as such!
And that’s it for today’s bit of Friday Fun. Did you know about any of these, or do you have any facts of your own about a country you’ve been that we might not know? Do share in the comments!