Interesting Facts About France
Part 2 Facts 21 - 40
21. L'Arc de Triomphe is a very large monument in Paris to honour soldiers who have fought and died for France. It was designed by Jean Chalgrin in 1806 but its construction took a very long time and it was completed in 1836
It is an arch standing just over 50 metres high and 45 metres wide. It stands in the centre of a huge roundabout where there is always a lot of traffic circling around. This famous roundabout is known as the 'star' because it has twelve roads running out from the centre, making it look like a 12-pointed star. In fact, the full name of the monument is l'Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile meaning: the triumphal arch of the star. The place where it stands is called la Place de l'Étoile.
Beneath the arch lies la Tombe du Soldat Inconnu - The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from the First World War. In 1923, an 'eternal flame' - une flamme eternelle - was lit here in memory of all French soldiers lost in war. It has remained lit ever since.
22. In 1624, King Louis XIII built a hunting lodge in the village of Versailles, outside Paris. This building was enlarged by the next king - Louis XIV - who turned it into the magnificent palace we see today. In French, this palace is called le Château de Versailles. The gardens of the palace are amongst the most famous and beautiful gardens in the world with lovely fountains (les fontaines) and ponds (les bassins).
Above is a photo of the famous Hall of Mirrors - la Galerie des Glaces - created by King Louis XIV in the 17th century at le Château de Versailles. At that time, mirrors were one of the most expensive items you could buy.
Louis XIV is probably the most famous king of French history. His nickname was le Roi-Soleil, meaning 'the Sun King'. He was King of France from 1643 to 1715.
The reign of Louis XIV is associated with brilliance and magnificence, like a shining star. This magnificence can be seen in the décor of le Château de Versailles and in the king's image as seen in his portraits.
His personal motto was "Au-dessus du reste des hommes," meaning, 'Above all other men.'
His emblem was the sun - le soleil.
23. In France, many people celebrate their 'name day' or jour de fête. Every day of the year is a Christian feast day when a particular saint is remembered, for example: 24 June - St. John the Baptist, 3 July - St. Thomas, etc....
If you have the same name as a Christian saint (or a name that has something to do with a saint) then you will have a special time on that feast day! People will wish you - Bonne fête!
24. There are some well-known nicknames in French, for example:
The English people are known as les rosbifs, meaning - the roast beefs!
Paris has been given the nickname la Ville Lumière (the City of Light). It is believed to have been given this name by visitors who were so impressed by the street-lighting in Paris during the reign of Louis XIV in the seventeenth century. The king organised candle-lit lanterns in the streets to help combat crime.
L'Hexagone - the Hexagon is a nickname given to France because of its shape.
25. In France, it is normal to eat snails (les escargots), frogs' legs (les cuisses de grenouilles) and horsemeat (la viande de cheval).
French cookery is called la cuisine française but the word la cuisine can also mean 'the kitchen'.
A Story About The Word 'Restaurant'
The word restaurant is used all over the world but its origin is French. It means 'restoring'. In the 18th century there was a man who sold soup in Paris. His name was Monsieur Boulanger and he called his soup 'bouillon restaurant' meaning - soup / broth that will restore you.
Above the door to his shop, he had an amusing sign that was written in Latin. It was this:
Venite ad me omnes qui stomacho laboratis et ego vos restaurabo. -
Come to me all who suffer from the stomach (are hungry) and I will restore you.
The hungry people of Paris loved visiting his premises in order to be 'restored' and 'renewed.' Eventually, this style of catering developed with more premises opening and selling an even greater variety of restorative, ready-made food. The idea of visiting premises to eat and be restored spread to other countries with the name restaurant being used. In Spain - restaurante, in Italy - ristorante.
26. Before eating a meal, it is polite and correct to say -Bon appétit! This means 'I hope you have a good appetite so that you enjoy your meal.' When you drink a toast in French you say Santé! which means 'health.'
27. The word Salut means both 'hello' and 'goodbye.' It is an informal way of speaking so should only be used with friends. The word Allô means 'Hello' when speaking by phone. It is the first word spoken in a telephone call.
28. The most popular French bread is la baguette (little stick). It is a loaf 5 or 6 cm. wide and up to a metre in length. If it is a thinner version, it is called une ficelle (a string) and if it is wider it is called une flûte. Bread rolls are called petits pains (little breads). The shape of la baguette makes it very easy to carry under your arm!
In addition to describing a loaf of bread, the word 'baguette' is used in different ways:
La baguette magique is 'the magic wand'!
Les baguettes can mean 'chopsticks.'
La baguette is the baton used by the conductor of an orchestra.
Les baguettes can also mean 'drumsticks.'
29. The word for breakfast is le petit déjeuner (the little lunch). In France you dunk your croissant into a milky drink at breakfast-time. The word 'croissant' actually means 'crescent' because the pastry is a crescent shape. The shape is very good for dunking!
Although croissants are associated with France, they actually started in Austria!
There are various versions of the story but one version is as follows:
The crescent was the symbol of the Turks. When the Austrians defeated the Turks in a battle centuries ago, the French chef employed by the Emperor of Austria decided to make crescent-shaped pastry in the shape of the Turks' emblem for the Austrians to eat in celebration - meaning they were crushing and chewing their enemies!
When the chef returned to France, he made his 'invention' popular there too. This type of pastry is referred to in French as la viennoiserie, meaning - pastry in the style of Vienna, the capital city of Austria.
30. Officially, it is said that - Il existe un fromage différent pour chaque jour de l'année. This means that in France there exists a different cheese for each day of the year - 365. However, it is believed that there are many more than this!
French cheese is grouped into eight categories known as 'families' - les huit familles de fromages. They are also known as les grandes familles. The eight categories are:
1. fresh cheese - le fromage frais
2. soft cheese - le fromage à pâte molle with natural rind such as Brie and Camembert
3. soft cheese with washed rind
4. hard cheese - le fromage à pâte pressée
5. hard cheese that is cooked such as Emmental, Beaufort and Gruyère
6. goat's cheese - le fromage de chèvre
7. blue cheese - le fromage à pâte persillée
8. processed cheese - le fromage fondu such as Boursin
31. France has won the Football World Cup twice - in 1998 and 2018. The French football team is nicknamed les Bleus (the Blues). The French word for 'football' has been 'borrowed' from the English language - le football. If you like, you can just say 'le foot.'
To cheer for the French team, you can shout - Allez les Bleus!
32. France produces many cars. The main makes are Renault, Peugeot and Citroën.
Others are: Venturi (they make sporty, electric cars) and Bugatti.
Bugatti cars are among the most expensive in the world. The latest model, called Bugatti Divo, costs around five million pounds / euros! Only forty of these cars will be manufactured. It is named in honour of a great French racing driver called Albert Divo who lived from 1895 till 1966.
Quelle belle voiture!
33. In the south of France, close to the Pyrenees Mountains, there is a little town called Lourdes. Millions of pilgrims from all over the world visit this place every year. Inside a cave by the town, there is a very special spring of water, discovered by a young girl called Marie-Bernarde Soubirous in 1858. The cave is called la Grotte de Massabielle.
It is believed that the water is very special and that it has miraculous healing powers. It is said that many sick people have been cured by touching the water. Every day, sick people visit this place in the hope that the water will cure them.
The young girl who discovered the spring was canonised in 1933 and is now called Sainte Bernadette de Lourdes.
34. Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc) is a national heroine of France. She was born in Domrémy, Northern France, in 1412. During this period, the English had invaded Northern France.
Joan said that God, saints and angels spoke to her in visions and told her to lead the French soldiers in their battle against the English. She visited the future French King, Charles VII, and he believed her.
Joan dressed as a soldier and led the French army into battle over a period of two years.
She was captured at the age of nineteen years.
On 30 May 1431, she was executed by the English in the city of Rouen, Normandy. She was made a saint in 1920. She is also known as The Maid of Orléans or La Pucelle in French. La Pucelle means 'maiden.'
35. Some famous French painters are -
16th Century: François Clouet and Jean Clouet.
17th Century: Nicolas Poussin.
18th Century: Antoine Watteau.
19th Century: Eugène Delacroix, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri Matisse, Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet,
20th Century: Jacques Villon.
36. Mary Stewart (also known as Mary, Queen of Scots) was half French. Her mother was Marie de Guise. In French she is called Marie Stuart, the surname being spelled in the French way. The House of Stewart is la Maison Stuart.
Mary was sent to France at the age of five and married the future King Francis II in la Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris in 1558. She became Queen Consort of France in 1559 when she was seventeen years old. Mary loved France and the French language.
Here is a portrait of Mary with her French husband. Portrait by François Clouet, 1558.
37. The French King Francis I was the grandfather of Mary, Queen of Scots' husband. He was nicknamed 'Le Roi Grand Nez' (King Big Nose) because he had such a large nose! His real name and title in French was François I, Roi de France.
King Francis loved art and he greatly admired Leonardo da Vinci. He acquired the famous painting Mona Lisa and hung it and other works of art in his bathroom at Fontainebleau Palace - le Château de Fontainebleau.
This bathing area was a suite of rooms called l'appartement des bains.
38. There is a story that the origin of the word 'marmalade' comes from the French words 'Marie est malade' (Mary is ill). Whenever Mary, Queen of Scots was unwell, she liked to eat fruit jam to make her feel better.
Some more interesting facts about words:
a. The emergency word 'mayday' comes from the French m'aider - meaning: to help me.
b. The exclamation 'Atishoo!' to represent the sound of someone sneezing comes from the French words: À tes souhaits! - literally meaning - 'To your wishes!' À tes souhaits! is used in France after someone sneezes and is the equivalent of the English 'Bless you!'
39. In French history, the heir to the French throne was called le Dauphin - which also means 'the dolphin.' The feminine version is la Dauphine. The title comes from an area in south-east France.
In the 12th century, the ruler of the south-eastern area, called Guigues IV (the Count of Albon), had a dolphin on his coat of arms and so he was nicknamed le Dauphin. The area became known as Dauphiné. The nickname / title of le Dauphin was also given to the Count's successors and eventually to the heirs to the throne of France.
40. Denim is a fabric that came originally from the French town of Nîmes.
de Nîmes = of/from Nîmes.
The full name of the fabric was la serge de Nîmes. Nowadays, the word denim in French is la toile de jean or le denim.