Fun, strange and interesting facts about France

France is the most visited country in the world

France is the most visited country in the world. With 89 millions international visitors in 2017, France is leading, followed closely by Spain and the United States. Most of the visitors are coming from country close-by, such as United-Kingdom and Germany.

What is the most visited attraction in France?

The attraction the most visited in France by visitors is Disneyland with over 13 millions visitors per year. As a French couple, we find it a bit saddening!

After Disneyland, the most visited attractions are the Musée du Louvre, followed by the Château de Versailles and the Eiffel Tower.

What are our favourite tourist attractions in France?

We love the Musée d’Orsay. It displays the largest collection of impressionist and post-Impressionist masterpieces in the world and is located in a unique setting: an old train station built in 1800s.

The Mont Saint-Michel is another of our favourite. Located in Normandy, it is a tidal island with one of the most beautiful abbey in the world. It is also one of the most visited attraction in France, and should not be missed if you pass by Normandy.

Francois’ favourite is The Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie. It is the biggest Science Museum in Europe and you can even visit an old military submarine. If you are into science or engineering, it is well worth a visit while in Paris!

Montmartre vineyards in Paris
Montmartre vineyards in Paris

France longest border is with Brazil

Yes – Brazil. French Guiana is a department of France located in South America. It is the only territory in South America to be totally part of a European Country. French Guiana has borders with Brazil and Suriname.

Are there other French territories outside Europe?

Yes – there are still quite a few:

  • French Polynesia, located in the Pacific is one of the most famous one. Its main island Tahiti and the paradisiac Bora-Bora are part of France and over 24 hours away from Paris by flight. It is also the place where Francois grew up. Wallis and Futuna are two other islands, in the South Pacific that still remain French today.
  • Reunion island, near Mauritius and Mayotte, near Madagascar are two other islands and French regions. They are about 8 hours flight from Paris. Francois also lived in Reunion island for over 5 years. It is a beautiful place to visit full of mountains and nature.
  • Martinique, Guadeloupe, Saint Martin and Saint Barthélemy are all French islands, in the Caribbean. They are popular destinations in the Caribbean for French people!
  • Saint Pierre and Miquelon, a couple of less famous French islands are located near the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. It is the only territory from North America that remains under French control nowadays.
  • New Caledonia, the furthest of them, is close to Australia. It is a pretty large island with many endemic species of Flora.
Stairs in Montmartre - Paris
Stairs in Montmartre – Paris

France produces more than 365 different cheeses

How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese? – Charles de Gaulle

France has now well over 365 types of cheese, which means you can spend a year in France and try a new cheese everyday!

Many of them are truly delicious – if you pass by do not hesitate to spend a couple of evening in a café having wine and cheese with some nice bread! If you are coming over the channel from England, be warned that you can keep your Cheese and crackers!

Some interesting French cheese:

  • Casgiu merzu: a cheese from Corsica. It contains live maggots. We never tried and never will we, but if you do, please let us know how it taste!
  • Morbier cheese, one of Francois’ favourite. It is a cow-milk rich and creamy cheese and it is easy to recognise it due to a single ashes line in the middle of the cheese!
View of Opéra Garnier, Eiffel Tower and Parisian roofs
View of Opéra Garnier, Eiffel Tower and Parisian roofs

France means freedom

France origins from the Francs, a germanic folks, meaning “freedom”. Freedom is also part of France national motto: “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité”, “liberty, equality, fraternity”.

Did you know? France’s most famous built monument in the name of liberty is in New-York! The Statue of Liberty is in New-York and was given by the French Gouvernement to the U.S.A to celebrate friendship between French and American.

L’Ile aux Oiseaux in Arcachon Bay

Messenger pigeons

France army is the last army in the world to still use messenger pigeon. They are specially trained near Paris and they could be used in case of a major catastrophe (or as we think with Alexandra, a major strike of one of the telecom company!)

Canal de Vassé in Annecy
Canal de Vassé in Annecy

Shop do not have to give the change

In France, by law a shopkeeper does not have to give you change. It is up to the client to provide the exact amount required.

While it is the law, most shopkeeper will always give you change, except maybe if you pay with a 500 euros note!

Did you know?
500 euros notes were printed in the EU until 2014. Its value was higher than most of the largest note of other currencies (for example, the 100 USD note in the USA). Such a high value note was easy to hide and transport and was used almost immediately for illegal activities such as money laundering or financing terrorism.
In April 2010, the Serious Organised Crime Agency claimed that “90% of all €500 notes sold in the UK are in the hands of organised crime”. 500 Euros notes are still valid today even though they are not being printed anymore but they are almost never accepted in shops or supermarkets.

Arcachon bay - view from above on the Great Dune of Pilat - The tallest sand dune in Europe
Arcachon bay – view from above on the Great Dune of Pilat – The tallest sand dune in Europe

Napoleon was not small

Napoleon was 1.7 meters tall (5.5″ for our imperial friends). Napoleon’s height was around the average of European men at the time but his generals were all tall men.

Napoleon’s small height reputation largely comes from British and in particular a cartoonist James Gillray.

The world being splitted up between Pitt and Napoleon

In france, it is forbidden to call a pig “Napoléon”. It is one of the weirdest law not precisely dated by historian. We do not associate the Emperor with pigs.

You can’t throw food

In 2016, France law was voted stating that any big supermarket is not allowed to throw unsold food. They are forced to give the unsold food to charity or pay a finance of over 3000 euros.

France anti-waste law inspired some of their neighbooring countries. A new law against waste was also introduced in 2020:

  • Single-used plastic items are forbidden in fast-food since last 1st of January
  • Plastic films will be forbidden for fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Many common plastic and non-renewable items will be forbidden in 2020 such as tea bags, q-tips or plastic cups
Carcassonne Medieval City and its vineyards
Carcassonne, the most visited medieval castle in the World

Hitler must take the stairs

In the second world war, French people cut the cable of the Eiffel Towel lift so when Hitler would visit Paris, he had to climb the stairs to reach the top.

After his visit to Paris, Hitler loved the city and could not stand the comparaison with Berlin. He commissionned Albert Speer, who built the chancellery to work on the architecture of Berlin.

At the end of nazism, Hitler, hating the idea to see Paris and its jewel in the hands of his enemy, ordered his general von Choltitz to destroy Paris. His history is summarized in an extremely interesting movie: Diplomatie.

The parasols in Deauville, Normandy
The parasols in Deauville, Normandy

Not everything that sounds French is French

France is the origin of many words and inventation, but many words sounding French or reputated as French are not.

French fries are not French

French fries, what could be more French? Well… Actually, not French, French Fries originates from Belgium. French fries were “invented” in the XIII century and are the best French fries since then. In French, they are not called French fries at all but “frites”.

French manucure – French is stylish

French Manucure is not french, it’s American. It is named after the “French Touch” which is meant to represent elegance and refinement. French manucure is not very popular in France and is purely from Hollywood, from the 70s.

The French croissant

The croissant, to pronounce with your worst French accent is not French. Croissant origins are from Austria, where we know it existed since before 1000 A.C. According to the legend, when the Austrian won against the Turk, their bakery baked pastry shaped like the Islam Crescent to celeberate.

View over Fourvière from La Croix Rousse in Lyon
Lyon – which used to be France’s capitale !

In France, you can marry a dead person

By law, you can marry a dead person if you are allowed by the president. It a specificity of the French law which has been around since 1803. The law was initially used often to allow the fiancé of soldiers to marry their future husband should he not return from war.

Did you know? In some Chinese traditions, dying single is seen as very negative. Chinese can host wedding where one or both parties are deceased in order to appease the death. In order to organize such wedding, a specific type of matchmaker can be found.

Trouville, used to be a fishing harbour now a fancy week-end destination
Trouville, used to be a fishing harbour now a fancy week-end destination

The inventions you did not know were French

Many famous inventors and inventions are French. A few famous one are:

  • The bicycle, in 1861 by Ernest Michaux
  • Braille, by Louis Braille in 1824
  • X-ray, discovered by Marie-Curie. It is also the first women to receive the Nobel price
  • The cinema, the first commercial projection was done by the Lumière brother in Paris in 1855
  • The plane, invented by Clément Adert who is the first engineer who built a plane that could take off and fly 49m.
  • The memory card, also known as “carte à puce” was invented by Roland Moreno. He was never known internationally even though his invention is used by billions of devices today
  • High speed train (TGV). French trains are still the quickest in the world
  • Cell phone camera, invented by Philippe Kahn in 1997
Not far from Brest, in Brittany

In France food is sacred

A thing French people have noticed: they are the only ones to talk at length about food or next or past meals while they are eating!

French cuisine and gastronomic meal of the French is an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, according to the UNESCO.

A French Gastronomic meal is actually pretty defined: you start with an apéritif (one or more drinks before the meals, which can be champagne for example or cocktails). Then, at least successive courses, usually including at least a starter, meat or fish, cheese, desserts. It is also customary to end the meal with an espresso.

If you want to have a taste of French gastronomy, you can plan a short week-end in Lyon – the capital of French Gastronomy!

  • Reply
    Linda McIntyre Purcell
    June 19, 2020 at 6:47 pm

    I loved this. So interesting from the maggot cheese to Napoleon not really being small. Bravo.

    • Reply
      June 22, 2020 at 6:24 pm

      Thank you – Napoleon was from Corsica as well, so he may (or not) have eaten the cheese with maggots as well!

  • Reply
    June 19, 2020 at 7:03 pm

    I would’ve thought that the Eiffel Tower was the most popular tourist attraction! Interesting article!

    • Reply
      June 22, 2020 at 6:23 pm

      Thank you! Yes it is always a surprised because it is by far the most famous monument.
      I think most people visit the Eiffel tower once but come to Paris many time for disneyland; hence they have more visits!

  • Reply
    Under flowery sky
    June 19, 2020 at 7:14 pm

    Wow so many interesting facts, I love learning French so on the online
    French course we learned about the longest border. Amazing photos too..

    • Reply
      June 22, 2020 at 6:23 pm

      Thank you so much!
      French second longest border is with Spain – less interesting but still a cool fact 🙂

  • Reply
    Travel Addicted Unicorn
    June 19, 2020 at 7:27 pm

    Wow those are some interesting facts…never heard of most of them!! And the inventions list – had no idea either. 365 kinds of cheese sounds good. Great pics too by the way

    • Reply
      June 22, 2020 at 6:21 pm

      Thank you so much! We are glad you like it, we wish you a year full of french cheese!

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