French culture: Customs & traditions

French culture is most often associated with Paris, which is a center of fashion, cuisine, art and architecture, but life outside the city of lights is very different and varies by region.

France does not only have culture; the word “culture” is actually French. “‘Culture’ derives from the same French term, which in turn derives from the Latin ‘colere’, which means to care for the earth and to grow, to cultivate and to nurture”, Cristina De Rossi, anthropologist at Barnet and Southgate College in London, says Live Science.

Historically, French culture has been influenced by Celtic and Gallo-Roman cultures as well as the Franks, a Germanic tribe. France was originally defined as the western region of Germany known as the Rhineland, but later came to refer to a territory known as Gaul during the Iron Age and ancient roman time.

In the centuries that followed it was home to some of the most powerful royal families of the medieval and modern period and became the center of the Clarification with the French Revolution. The rise in Napoleon saw French influence spread across Europe and beyond, becoming one of the great world powers during the 19th and 20th centuries, at the heart of the First and Second World Wars, which shaped the France we know today today.

French population

the The national institute of statistics and economic studies (INSEE) places the population of France at 67.81 million on January 1, 2022. Of this population, 87.8% would be citizens born in France and an additional 4.8% would acquire French nationality after birth, according to Statistical. The most common nationalities of foreign-born residents in France, according to 2020 figures from The National Institute for Demographic Studies (INED) are Algerian, Moroccan, Portuguese, Tunisian, Italian, Turkish and Spanish.

INED calculates that around 48.35% of the French population is male and 51.65% is female, as of February 2021. Just under a quarter of the population is under 20 and slightly older 20% at age 65 and over.

The vast majority of French people live in urban areas, with Statista indicating that 80.69% of the population lives in cities in 2020. This is a sharp increase from the 61.88% who lived in cities in 1960.

French language

French is the official language and the first language of 88% of the population, according to the BBC. It is the dominant language of France, but there are a number of variants based on region.

French is the second most learned foreign language in the world, with nearly 2 million students learning it as a second language in 50 countries, according to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development. French is also the seventh most spoken language in the world according to Statistical, with approximately 267 million native speakers.

About 3% of the population speak German dialects and there is a small group of Flemish speakers in the northeast, according to the BBC. Arabic is the third largest minority language.

Those who live near the Italian border may speak Italian as a second language, and Basque is spoken by people living along the French-Spanish border.

Other dialects and languages ​​include Catalan, Breton (the Celtic language), Occitan dialects, and languages ​​of former French colonies, including Kabyle and Antillean Creole.

Religion in France

Catholicism is the predominant religion in France. In a survey by the French Institute of Public Opinion (IFOP), 64% of the population (about 41.6 million people) identified as Roman Catholic. Other religions in France include Islam, Buddhism and Judaism. From 33 to 42% of French people do not subscribe to any religion, according to the CIA, although he points out that “France maintains a tradition of secularism and has not officially collected data on religious affiliation since the national census of 1872, which complicates assessments of France’s religious composition.”

French values

The French are extremely proud of their nation and their government and are generally offended by any negative comments about their country. Visitors, especially Americans, often interpret their attitude towards foreigners as rude.

“From about the 16th century, in Europe, culture became a term for the cultivation of mind, intellect, knowledge, learning, creative faculties and acceptable behaviors,” said From Rossi. The French embrace style and sophistication and take pride in the fact that even their public spaces have a regal tone.

The French believe in it equality, which means equality, and is part of the country’s motto: “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”. Many say they value equality more than liberty and fraternity, the other two words in the motto.

The French embody romance and passion, and there is an open attitude towards sex outside marriage, according to a study by the National Agency for Research on AIDS cited by “TimeEven the country’s top politicians have been known to carry on extramarital affairs without making an effort to conceal them. Reflecting the secular nature of the country, it is not uncommon for children to be born to unmarried couples.

In addition to the traditional marriage, French couples also have the choice of obtaining a solidarity civil pact (PACS). This is a union that has many of the same benefits as marriage, such as tax breaks, but can be dissolved with notice or by marrying someone else or instead of a divorce. According to “The Economist”, two thirds of French couples are PACS than married.

French bread

The French have some of the most iconic and popular dishes in the world, from baguette to coq au vin. (Image credit: Massimo Borchi/Atlantis Phototravel via Getty Images)

French cuisine

Food and wine are central to life at all socio-economic levels, and much socializing takes place over long dinners in French households.

While cooking styles have changed to emphasize lighter dishes, many still associate French cuisine with heavy sauces and complicated preparation. Some classic French dishes include beef bourguignon – a stew of beef braised in red wine, beef broth and seasoned with garlic, onions and mushrooms – and coq au vin, a dish made with chicken, wine de Bourgogne, bacon bits (small strips or cubes of pork fat), button mushrooms, onions and garlic as an option.

French cuisine is also associated worldwide with haute cuisine (which translates to “haute cuisine”), but its tradition of family meals is just as important. “Authentic French cuisine represented by the family meal belongs to the people and, rhetorically, to the provinces. Nostalgic ‘grandmother’s cooking’ vies with French haute cuisine for the crown of identifiable French cuisine”, wrote Maryann Tebben, professor of language and literature at Bard. College, in his book “Know-how: a history of food in France(Reaction Books, 2020).

The fries, oddly enough, may not be French. According to “National geographic“, they may actually have come from Spain or Belgium. The reason Americans call fried potatoes french fries is that Thomas Jefferson discovered the delicacy in France while serving as a US minister there from 1784 to 1789. He brought the idea back to the United States.

french fashion

Paris is known for being home to many high-end fashion houses, such as Dior, Hermès, Louis Vuitton and Chanel. Many French people dress in a sophisticated, professional and fashionable style, but it is not too difficult. Typical outfits include beautiful dresses, suits, long coats, scarves, and berets.

The term “haute couture” is associated with French fashion and loosely refers to more sophisticated garments made by hand or made to order. In France, the term is protected by law and is defined by the Paris Chamber of Commerce, according to Eva Domjian, a London-based fashion writer and editor, writing on “Dressed.” Domjian writes on his blog:

“To earn the right to call itself a fashion house and to use the term haute couture in its advertising and otherwise, a fashion house must follow these rules:

french art

Art is everywhere in France – especially in Paris and other major cities – and Gothic, Romanesque, Rococo and Neoclassical influences can be seen in many churches and other public buildings.

Many of history’s most renowned artists, including Claude Monet, Edgar Degas and Camille Pissarro, sought inspiration in Paris and gave birth to the Impressionist movement. This was followed by the Art Nouveau movement. According to The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Louvre Museum in Paris is one of the largest museums in the world and is home to many famous works of art, including the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo. Paris is also home to extraordinary examples of architecture, such as the Louvre itself, the Eiffel Tower and more.

Parties and celebrations

The French celebrate the traditional Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter. They mark May Day, also known as Labor Day, May Day. VE Day, May 8, commemorates the end of hostilities in Europe during World War II. Bastille Day is celebrated on July 14. This is the day the Bastille fortress in Paris was stormed by revolutionaries to spark the French Revolution.

Additional reporting by Alina Bradford, Live Science Contributor

Additional resources and reading:

To learn more about the French Revolution and, more specifically, the period that immediately followed, you should read about the reign of terror from 1793 to 1794.

One of the common questions about the history of France is Did Marie-Antoinette really say “let them eat cake”? We can give you the answer.


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  • “How many immigrants are there in France? The National Institute for Demographic Studies
  • “Languages ​​across Europe: France”, BBC “Teaching and Learning French”, French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development
  • “The most spoken languages ​​in the world in 2021”, Statista
  • “Catholicism in France in 2010”, French Institute of Public Opinion
  • World Fact Book: France, CIA
  • “More Sex Please, We’re French”, by Bruce Crumley, “Time”
  • “Carriage and horse”, “The Economist”
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  • “Are fries really French?”, by Rebecca Rupp, “National Geographic”
  • “What is the true definition of haute couture?”, by Eva Domjian, “Dressful”
  • “Timeline of Art History: France, 1800-1900 AD” The Metropolitan Museum of Art