13 Other Interesting Facts About France

Posted on 11. Jan, 2013 by in Europe Travel, expat France, France

You guys remember my controversial “10 Little Known Facts About France“?

It had quite a few people talking. To this day, it’s still one of my most popular posts every month, even though I wrote it over a year ago. Since then, I’ve traveled all around Europe, yes, but I also spent a fair amount of time in my adopted country, where I learned more about the ways of the French and the quirky little things that make the country so charming (to some).

Here are, without further ado, 10 other little known facts about France. Let’s see if it stirs up another debate!

1. The toilet question.

In Canada, never, EVER would we ask anyone “Where is the toilet?”. That would be too specific, and unpolite, as it leaves very little room to the imagination. In France, however, they don’t fuss with words. If you ask anyone where the washroom or bathroom is, you are guaranteed to get a funny look.

“Oh, you mean the WC?”

The what?

It took me a while to figure that out one. Even when apartment hunting. Why on Earth would you build a separate, minuscule, claustrophobia inducing room for a toilet is beyond me. And the worst part about that is that, more often than not, the WC is located near the living room, making anyone’s trip there, however long or short, not subtle in the slightest.

What’s wrong with a fully-equipped bathroom, exaclty?

2. Beer or Cola?

Would you imagine my surprise when I was asked if I wanted beer with my BigMac trio last time I went to McDonalds. Indeed, in France, you can get a good ol’ King can or a quarter of wine when you order. Any occasion is a good occasion, I guess?!

3. Everyone has two birthdays.

This puzzled me to no end the first time I heard that.

“Happy birthday!”
“But it’s neither my wedding anniversary, or my birthday. What are you talking about?”
“Well, it’s your name’s birthday today, so happy birthday!” 

You read that right. In France, every single day of the year celebrates a name. Today, for example, is Sainte-Pauline. I bet there’s a bunch of Paulines all around the country that are currently receiving a fancy flower arrangement or chocolates!

Not that it’s bad - for once, this is something I find both ridiculous and extremely enjoyable. I mean, who would be crazy enough to say no to TWO birthdays!?

4. The Simpsons. Or, the Cringeworthy-sons.

Just listen to this. Even if you aren’t fluent in French, you’ll understand why I think the French version of the Simpsons is completely insufferable.

5. Bank infidelity is ok.

Unlike a lot of other countries in the world, including Canada, French banks don’t charge any fees when you withdraw money from a different bank, as long as you’re still in France. Pretty cool! More money to set aside for my old days (who am I kidding - I invested all that money in rosé wine, thank you very much).

6. Wednesday is party day.

Kids don’t have school on Wednesdays - simple as that. It was always a day that had a looser schedule, so people just decided to skip it altogether and invade shopping malls and soccer fields instead. Consequently, a large majority of parents are also off on that day. My tip: stay home as possible on Wednesdays.

7. Welcome to week 31.

I think that may be a European thing, but I haven’t met any German or Italian to discuss this - in France, periods of time are often referred to in week numbers, not months or dates. Every week of the year has a number! If you want to schedule something for, say, July 22nd, you have to say “let’s talk about this on July 22nd during week 30″.

Because July 22nd wasn’t specific enough.

8. Let me show you how to do it properly.

That’s probably what irritates me the most about French people, but it’s a regular occurrence to which I had to get used in order to not go mad. The French have a big tendency to correct foreigners - and not always in the nicest way, re: item #1 on this list.

- “Can you tell me where the bathroom is?”
- “The what?”
- “The bathroom?”
- *turning to colleague “What is she talking about?”
- *colleague sighs* “I think she means the toilet.”
- “What you meant was “where is the toilet”. By the way, it’s over there”.
*claps hands with  colleague while doing happy dance, ecstatic to have crushed the mood/confidence of yet another expat.

(That last one may be a slight exaggeration).

The correction in itself can sometimes be insulting, especially when it’s about mundane, trivial things, but imagine that frustration mixed with their ever so considerate attitude, and you’re sure to spend a bad afternoon wondering why the hell you moved to this country in the first place if you can’t even find the freakin’ toilet.

True story.

9. Every single French can cook.

That fact never ceases to amaze me. Ask any random French person what are the ingredient for a béarnaise sauce, and sure enough they’ll recite the ingredients as if they were all students at a cooking school in their spare time.

By the way, the ingredients are egg yolk, white wine vinegar, butter, black pepper, shallot, chervil and tarragon. You’re welcome.

10. Bonjour! Bonsoir!

This is a very important thing about French etiquette, which I learned the hard way. Coming from North America, where contact is never initiated unless absolutely required, I would enter a store or a restaurant without saying hi to the employees.

Not something you do in France.

You have to greet the people in the store, and if you’re in a smaller town, you have to greet the customers too if eye contact is initiated. Mind you, this isn’t a bad thing at all - I’m all for socializing and being friendly. If there’s one thing we should learn from France, that would be it, if you ask me.

Also, past 6PM, bonjour! is not appropriate anymore - bonsoir! is the preferred option if you don’t want to get a weird look (re: #8).

11. Wearing a niqab is illegal.

Since April 2011, it is illegal to wear a niqab in public, everywhere in France. What was a move in the name of gender equality from the French government caused a worrying increase in discrimination and violence, both verbal and physical, for these women. The fine is either a €150 fine or a citizenship course, and can go up to €30,000 for a man who forces his wife to wear a niqab. There are many establishments across France, especially in banks or post offices, that have a small sign in the front door that says “à visage découvert” (i.e., no veil or fabric covering the face).

What do you think about this law?

12. Pastis is disgusting.

I don’t care how fancy it sounds. I will say it once and for all: pastis is disgusting, unless you’re a big fan of a strong liquorice taste.

13. The health care system is just wonderful.

France may be one of the most highly taxed countries in the world, but damn does it pay off. Medical consultations are reimbursed if you have a “Health Ministry” card. Too sick to go to the doctor? Not to worry- just call their office, and have one to come to you instead!

And then you can make your way to the local pharmacy, which is probably only a few hundred meters away, to get medicine for your condition, which probably won’t cost more than €10. Even for non-residents. Not bad, eh?

What do you think of these interesting facts about France? Agree, disagree, surprised?

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27 Responses to “13 Other Interesting Facts About France”

  1. Pierrick

    11. Jan, 2013

    A few comments (I am French btw):

    3. Two birthdays: you got it wrong. The daily “name” party is to honor saints that were distinguished for their actions. So if your first name matches one of the celebrated saints, it is customary to say “Bonne Fête “.
    6. Wednesdays: It’s about to change as we will soon come back to a 4.5 day work week for all kids.
    7. Week numbers: It is used in the business world only. You won’t meet anyone in the streets mentioning the week number when referring to a certain date.

    Reply to this comment
    • Alexandre

      15. Jan, 2013

      The name day concept is not very popular outside of Europe / Latin Americas. To outsiders, it sure looks like a second birthday as it is still customary in some regions to give a small gift on a person’s name day. I don’t think that she meant that french people are born twice and have two actual birthdays ;

      Reply to this comment
    • Jen

      03. Sep, 2013

      There you have it. Another Frenchie correcting you Marie ; )

      Reply to this comment
  2. Laura @Travelocafe

    11. Jan, 2013

    Oh, so in North America when you enter a shop you don’t have to say ‘hello’ and the staff doesn’t come straight to you asking asking you how they can help, when you have barely stepped in the shop just to have a look around or know exactly where the products are? I must go to Canada and do it soon!!!

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres

      19. Jan, 2013

      Well, most of the time, when I go to the mall, I don’t say hi to customers or sales person, nor do they say I to me…

      Reply to this comment
  3. Liv

    11. Jan, 2013

    I love the acceptance of bank infidelity. 9, 10 and 13 are some of the reasons I love France. I agree with you on point 12 though. I have recently discovered (in Australia) that the packets of sweets labelled ‘licorice’ actually contain no licorice at all - bonus!

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres

      19. Jan, 2013

      Me too! In Canada it’s very expensive to withdraw money from another bank.

      Reply to this comment
  4. Julika

    11. Jan, 2013

    Oh, that toilet thing! I’ll get over that one too! I stayed with a friend in Paris last year, and the toilet in her apartment was a little (sink-free) booth in the kitchen - you would basically use the toilet right next to someone having breakfast. Or the other way around. Very disturbing.
    And we Germans count in “calendar weeks” too, but mostly referring to a work environment.
    Great post! Learned quite a lot of new things! :)

    Reply to this comment
    • Alexandre

      15. Jan, 2013

      Bonus: toilets’ door are usually so thin you wonder why they bothered making one in the first place. Goodbye intimacy, everyone is very aware of your business :/

      Reply to this comment
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres

      19. Jan, 2013

      Oh my - that’s not much for privacy, is it?!

      Reply to this comment
  5. Tiny Girl with Big Bag

    11. Jan, 2013

    Thanks for sharing these interesting facts :)
    Actually about name days, as far as I know, my country, Hungary is one of the few countries where actually Name Day exists. Every day has a name assigned to it, and so in the lives of people there are two personal celebrations, the birthday and the name day. I pretty much like it, though mine falls exactly on All Saints Day (1 Nov), still I can be sure to get some little chocolates or flowers :)

    Reply to this comment
  6. Ele

    13. Jan, 2013

    In Lithuania we also have name days. Mine falls in May.

    Reply to this comment
  7. Andrea

    14. Jan, 2013

    I knew about some of these but not others - so excited to hear that the socialized health system is actually wonderful, compared to some of the places where high taxes still don’t get you much! Very interesting that the French celebrate name days! I thought that was just a slavic thing…

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres

      19. Jan, 2013

      From what I read in the comments apparently this is a European thing, not just French!

      Reply to this comment
  8. Cheryl Howard

    15. Jan, 2013

    Ba ha ha, great list!

    Regarding the toilet - I found the exact same thing in German. It must be specifically referred to as the toilet. :)

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres

      19. Jan, 2013

      I think this is really funny though. No room for imagination whatsoever! :P

      Reply to this comment
  9. Very interesting and learned a lot. Now I just need to get myself to France and put my knowledge to use :-)

    Reply to this comment
  10. Abby

    20. Jan, 2013

    Hilarious! I had a French roommate once in NYC. We had a bbq once, and everyone brought over stuff for the grill. She slaved away in the kitchen making these elaborate dishes for everyone, the concept of barbequing completely lost on her. There was no way we were going to have people over for “dinner” and just serve hamburgers and such.

    Reply to this comment
  11. Maria

    31. Jan, 2013

    The niqhab law is a great idea, too bad it´s being ignored. You can still see horrible in-black-from-head-to-toes figures right in the heart of Paris

    Reply to this comment
  12. lula12

    24. Sep, 2014

    I don’t understand something…
    I’m french and there is a lot true things in your blog but lot false too…

    Yes we ask for the toilets but no we don’t drink beer at Mcdonald’s…. in 20 years of life in France and a lot of Mcdonlad’s meal nobody never ask me if I want a beer with my meal… it was just this person who was weird…

    We don’t really celebrate the “saint” it’s just written in the calendar, but we really don’t see that like a birthday, there is no gifts, no celebration just sometimes a little “happy sainte pauline” and not everybody has that “saint” because to have that you need to have a christian name, so there is not a lot of people who have a saint… I don’t have a saint like the majority of my friends

    We never never never say that : “let’s talk about this on July 22nd during week 30″ One more time it’s just written in the calendar but nobody in France know by heart the number of every week …. Nobody do that, really

    There are many establishments across France, especially in banks or post offices, that have a small sign in the front door that says “à visage découvert” ==> but that is not about the niqab it’s just in the case of a hold up that the cameras permit to recognize the person… I’m french but also arabic so I know…

    Sorry if I seems rude or something, your blog is great but there is a lot of false things, and it’s really weird to read things like that when you are french and that you know how your country works…

    Have a nice day

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres

      30. Sep, 2014

      Hey Luna! These are just mere observations I experienced during my stay in France. Yes, McDonald’s do sell beer even though most people won’t specifically order it. As for week numbers, I can affirm that some industries do plan in week numbers and talk about it regularly. At least the Michelin factory in Clermont-Ferrand does! Sorry you don’t agree with some of the things here, but nothing here is false. I guess it’s just a question of interpretation.

      Reply to this comment
      • lula12

        05. Oct, 2014

        Hey thanks for your answer,

        Yeah I know that they sell beers in Mcdonald, I never been in Canada so I don’t know how is it in your country but in all Europe i think it’s like that. That is not false, what is false is to say that french people drink beers at mcdonald instead of a coke because I really don’t know anybody who do that.

        Yes some company can use it on the calendar, but in the “real life” we really don’t do that. For me it’s not that what you say is false, it’s just that is excessive, like “everybody do that”.

        I really don’t want to seem mean, beacause i really appreciate your blog and you seems to be a really nice person, it’s just that sometimes when you are speaking about France, our country seems just weirdest than it is reality. Also in an other article I think when you say that french people are rude. That can be really true.I live in Paris (for the moment i’m in erasmus in spain but anyway) and sometimes people are really rude and stressed and I really hate that. But I think that people who don’t know France will think if they see that on your blog thaht all french people are impolite. And that’s not true. I traveled a lot and I met also a lot of rude and nice people in diferents countries. It just depends of the culture, the education and the personality no just the country.
        I have a lot of friends who traveled to Canada and they told me that it’s an amazing country and that people were really nice and open-minded. So maybe canadian people are more friendly and that’s why you was schoked ? but don’t worry I’m french and sometimes I am too.

        It just make me sad that people can think that France is really weird and that people are rude … because (and I think that you know that by staying 1 year in France) for me that’s a minority there is a lot of really friendly and open-minded people like in all countries.

        I just don’t want that people who come in France meet the wrong persons and just stay on a bad Idea.

        Have good evening,

        Lula

        Reply to this comment

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