Country Fact file
Location: Western Europe
Capital City: Paris
Population: 66 million
Government: Unitary semi-presidential constitutional republic
Main Languages: French
Main Religions: Catholicism, Islam, Protestantism
France is a large, geographically diverse country in Western Europe. It shares borders with Belgium and Luxembourg in the north, Germany and Switzerland to the east and Italy, Monaco, Andorra and Spain in the south. Famous for its cuisine, distinctive culture, magnificent architecture and natural beauty, it’s unsurprising that France is the most visited country in the world, with around 80 million tourists flocking to French shores each year.
As well as a rich cultural heritage, France is also an industrial powerhouse and has the sixth largest economy in the world. France is also considered to be one of the founding fathers of European integration following the Second World War and is one of the most influential EU members.
France is known the world over for its unrivalled contribution to art, literature, philosophy, architecture, politics, language, cuisine and fashion. On the whole French people and are considered to be well-educated, family-oriented, passionate and very, very stylish! France is also a modern, secular democracy with a high standard of living, generous labour laws and a commitment to equality.
From the Pays Basque region in the south to Brittany in the north, French culture varies considerably. However, despite regional differences, on the whole French people take immense pride in their country and are unashamedly patriotic. Indeed, it has been noted by many expats that the closest subject to a French person’s heart is being French.
A leisure time survey by the OECD found the French spend more time eating, sleeping and shopping than any other nation on earth. Relaxing with family, sharing food and conversation is the principal national pastime. As well as food and wine, sport is also high on the list of French passions, particularly football. The French are accomplished footballers and the national team won the FIFA World Cup in 1998.
France’s diverse geography lends itself to countless activities, from holidaying by the Mediterranean or Atlantic coastlines to skiing and hiking in the Pyrenees or French Alps. Paris, which attracts more than 40 million tourists every year, is fairly considered to be the world capital of fine dining as well as being one of the most prominent centres for art, fashion, culture and history in the western world.
Food and drink
France has an unparalleled reputation for its cuisine. Cheese, wine and baguettes are the first things that spring to mind when you think of French food and drink. Indeed, the country produces 450 distinct types of cheese, nearly eight billion bottles of wine per year and the long crisp loaf is a national symbol.
French food is as varied as its geography and there is no one national dish. Specialities include cassoulet (a bean stew with meat); bourgignon (beef stewed in red wine) and a vast array of intricate sweets, cakes, pastries (patisserie) and breads.
Wine is understandably the most popular beverage in France and the country is the source of most grape varieties used to produce wine worldwide. France is home to 17 distinct wine regions, the most well-known being Bordeaux, Champagne and Beaujolais.
The only official language of France is French. The use of French is required by law in all commercial and workplace communications and the French are passionate about the promotion of their language on the world stage.
Accents and dialects
Accents in France vary widely, particularly between the northern areas of Normandy and Brittany and the southern areas which includes around 1,500,000 speakers of the Occitan dialects.
Numerous minority languages such as Breton, Basque, Alsatian, Flemish and Catalan are still spoken in France, although they are not classed as official languages. Despite the variety of accents and dialects, nearly all French people speak standard French as their first language.
France’s large size means that its climate varies considerably. In northern France, you will find a climate similar to the UK (although a little warmer) with higher rainfall and temperatures reaching highs of 25°C in summer and lows of 1°C in winter. In the south east you will find a balmy Mediterranean climate with temperatures reaching up 35°C in summer. Paris sees all types of weather - rain, wind, and soaring temperatures in summer, when most of its inhabitants empty out of the city and head to the coast.
Safety and security
Crime rates in France have increased in recent years, with a noted increase in muggings and drug-related crime. Recent acts of terrorism have also put the country on almost continuous high alert and security checks when entering and leaving France have been tightened.
The highest incidences of crime are in Paris and Marseille, where it’s advisable to be vigilant about personal belongings and to stay with a group after dark. Outside of urban areas, the threat of crime is considerably lower.