SURVIVRE - SURVIVING
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🅲 Les symboles de la France – The symbols of France

Les symboles de la France


The French symbols

The Eiffel tower is a symbol of France

A1

Culture

10 minutes

Écrit par / Written by: Anthony Lucas

Dernière révision / Last update: 13 February 2024

There’s no way you’ve never heard of France, the French or the French language! You’ve heard French words like “Voilà“, “rendez-vous” or “déjà-vu” at least once in your life. You’ve seen the Eiffel Tower in a photo or in a film. You’ve heard of Napoleon. Right???


Let’s start with this video on clichés about France and the French

What do you think about it? Have you spotted French symbols?

Les emblèmes officiels de la France – The official emblems of France

Like every country, France is represented by an anthem, a flag, a motto and other symbols. Before talking about other typically French concepts, let’s take a look at the official emblems of the French Republic.

Le drapeau tricolore (bleu, blanc, rouge) – The tricolour flag (blue, white and red)

The flag of France, the blue, white and red tricolour, also known as the “drapeau tricolore” or simply the “French flag”, has been the emblem and national flag of France without interruption since 1830. It has been adopted by various French empires, monarchies and republics since then. It is mentioned in Article 2 of the 1958 French Constitution. The flag’s proportions are 2:3 (“two-thirds”, two for height, three for width) and it is made up of three vertical stripes, blue, white and red, of identical height and width.

Its origins date back to the three colours of liberty (14 July 1789). Blue and red are thought to have been the colours of the city of Paris and of the National Guard, colours that surrounded the white of royalty, and therefore identical to the three colours used by the various French flags under the Ancien Régime.

Le drapeau français - The French flag
🇫🇷 French🇬🇧 English
le drapeau tricolorethe tricolour flag
le drapeau bleu blanc rougethe red white and blue flag
le drapeau françaisthe French flag

La devise : “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” – The motto: “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”

Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité is the motto of the French Republic and the Republic of Haiti. It appears in article 2 of the French Constitution of 4 October 1958 and in article 4 of the Haitian Constitution of 29 March 1987.

French 2 euro coin
🇫🇷 French🇬🇧 English
liberté, égalité, fraternitéliberty, equality, fraternity

L’hymne nationale : La Marseillaise – The national anthem: La Marseillaise

The French national anthem, La Marseillaise, was composed in 1792 in Strasbourg (not Marseille) in only one night by Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle.

It is a patriotic song from the French Revolution, adopted as the French national anthem, first by the Convention (from 14 July 1795 to 18 May 1804), then on 14 February 1879 under the Third Republic.

La Marseillaise is a revolutionary war song, an exhortation to fight against foreign invasion and a patriotic call for general mobilisation, but it is also a hymn to freedom and a call to fight against tyranny.

🇫🇷 French🇬🇧 English
la Marseillaisethe Marseillaise

Marianne – Marianne

Marianne, symbol of the French Republic

Marianne is a symbolic figure of the French Republic.

In the guise of a woman wearing a Phrygian cap, it represents the French Republic and its values as expressed in its motto: “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité”. It is an important Republican symbol and an icon of freedom and democracy.

🇫🇷 French🇬🇧 English
MarianneMarianne

L’animal : le coq – The animal: the cockerel

The Gallic cockerel is a symbol of France. The link between the cockerel and the Gauls was made by the Romans in ancient times. In the Middle Ages, enemy countries used assimilation to mock the French.

The cockerel became the symbol of the French nation during the Revolution. During wars, it was used in opposition to the Prussian or German eagle.

Since the 20th century, it has been used mainly to represent certain national sports teams.

The late comedian and humorist Coluche once explained why the cockerel was a French emblem: “because it’s the only bird that manages to sing with its feet deep in shit!”

the cockerel, symbol of France
🇫🇷 French🇬🇧 English
le coqthe cockerel

Les initiales : RF – The initials: RF

RF, the initials for République Française

After Roger Federer finally won the Roland Garros tennis tournament in 2009, the French government decided to keep his initials to represent France.

No, this is not true 😝 The letters RF stand for République Française (French Republic).

🇫🇷 French🇬🇧 English
RFRF

Les bâtiments français connus – Famous French buildings

You may not be familiar with the official symbols of the French Republic, but I’m sure you’ve heard of one of the following buildings:

La Tour Eiffel – The Eiffel tower

Tour Eiffel Eiffel Tower

You’ve obviously already seen the Eiffel Tower in photos, films, adverts or in real life!

Built in two years by Gustave Eiffel and his collaborators for the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1889, celebrating the centenary of the French Revolution, it has become the symbol of the French capital and a leading tourist site: it was the fourth most visited paying French cultural site in 2016, with 5.9 million visitors. Since it opened to the public, it has welcomed over 300 million visitors.

Originally 312 metres high, the Eiffel Tower remained the world’s tallest monument for forty years.

🇫🇷 French🇬🇧 English
la tour Eiffelthe Eiffel tower

Le Mont-Saint-Michel – Mont-Saint-Michel

Mont-Saint-Michel is a French commune in the Manche department of Normandy. It takes its name from the rocky islet dedicated to Saint Michael where the Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel now stands.

The architecture of Mont-Saint-Michel and its bay make it the most visited tourist site in Normandy and one of the ten most visited in France – first after the Île-de-France region – with almost two and a half million visitors each year (3,250,000 in 2006, 2,376,000 in 2018).

Mont Saint Michel
🇫🇷 French🇬🇧 English
le Mont-Saint-Michelthe Mont-Saint-Michel

Les châteaux français – French castles

France is a country of castles. You’ll find them all over the country, wherever you go, in every village. It is estimated that there are currently more than 45,000 châteaux in France.

And among all these old buildings, some stand out for their beauty, their history or their particular architecture, attracting large numbers of tourists every year. These include the castles of Versailles (not far from Paris) and the castles of the Loire Valley (Chambord, Chenonceau, Cheverny, Blois, Amboise, etc.).

🇫🇷 French🇬🇧 English
le château de Versaillesthe Palace of Versailles
le château de ChambordChambord castle
le château de ChenonceauChenonceau castle
le château de ChaumontChaumont castle

La cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris – Notre-Dame de Paris

Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral, commonly known as Notre-Dame, is one of the most emblematic monuments in Paris and France. It is located on the Ile de la Cité and is a Catholic place of worship, the seat of the Archdiocese of Paris, dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

The cathedral has inspired numerous works of art, including Victor Hugo’s novel Notre-Dame de Paris, published in 1831, which in turn had a partial influence on its history. At the beginning of the 21st century, some 13 to 14 million people visit Notre-Dame every year. The building, which is also a minor basilica, is the most visited monument in Europe and one of the most visited in the world until 2019.

Notre-Dame-de-Paris
🇫🇷 French🇬🇧 English
la cathédrale Notre-Dame de ParisNotre-Dame de Paris cathedral

Le musée du Louvre – The Louvre Museum

Louvre Museum

The Musée du Louvre is a museum located in the Palais du Louvre in the 1st arrondissement of Paris, France. Divided into eight departments, its collections present Western art from the Middle Ages to 1848, the art of the ancient civilisations that preceded and influenced it (Oriental, Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan and Roman), early Christian art and Islamic art. With 72,735 m2 of rooms and galleries, it is the second largest art museum in the world, behind the Hermitage Museum in Russia and ahead of the National Museum of China.

🇫🇷 French🇬🇧 English
le musée du Louvrethe Louvre Museum

L’Histoire française – French History

La révolution française – The French Revolution

The French Revolution (1789-1799) was a period of political and social upheaval in France and its colonies, as well as in Europe at the end of the eighteenth century. Traditionally, it began with the opening of the Estates-General on 5 May 1789 and ended with Napoleon Bonaparte’s coup d’état on 9 November 1799 (18 brumaire de l’an VIII). As far as French history is concerned, it put an end to the Ancien Régime, in particular the absolute monarchy, which was replaced by the constitutional monarchy (1789-1792) and then by the First Republic.

This event is celebrated every year on 14 July, the date corresponding to the storming of the Bastille in 1789 (which was a prison at the time).

Prise de la Bastille
🇫🇷 French🇬🇧 English
la révolution françaisethe French revolution

Napoléon Bonaparte – Napoleon

Napoleon

Napoleon Bonaparte, born on 15 August 1769 in Ajaccio and died on 5 May 1821 on the island of Saint Helena, was a French military officer and statesman. He was the first Emperor of the French from 18 May 1804 to 6 April 1814 and from 20 March to 22 June 1815, under the name Napoleon I.

The subject of both a golden and a black legend since his lifetime, he owes his enormous fame to his military skill, rewarded by numerous victories, and his astonishing political career, but also to his despotic and highly centralised regime and his ambition, which resulted in deadly wars (in Portugal, Spain and Russia) with millions of dead and wounded, both military and civilian, for the whole of Europe. He is considered to be one of the greatest commanders in history, and his wars and campaigns are studied in military schools around the world.

🇫🇷 French🇬🇧 English
Napoléon BonaparteNapoleon Bonaparte

La Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen de 1789 – The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789 is a fundamental text of the French Revolution which sets out a series of natural individual and common rights, as well as the conditions for their implementation. Its final articles were adopted on 26 August 1789.

Article 1: “All men are born free and equal in rights. Social distinctions can only be based on the common good.” This is both the culmination and the main demand of the revolutionary programme, namely the abolition of the society of orders and privileges of the Ancien Régime.

Article 2 states that the aim of any political association must be “the conservation of the natural and inalienable rights of man“. It lists four rights identified by Enlightenment philosophy in the eighteenth century:
. liberty
. property
. security
. resistance to oppression.

Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in 1789
🇫🇷 French🇬🇧 English
La Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen de 1789The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen

Les savoir-faire français – French expertise

La parfumerie française – French perfumery

The history of perfumery goes back to antiquity. From Egypt to the Romans, via the Greeks and the Arabs, its development went through different stages. But in reality, the manufacture and consumption of perfumes reached its apogee on French soil. In fact, ever since fragrances conquered France, the country has maintained its position as a leader in perfume creation to this day.

In 1370, the first perfume made in France made its appearance! Eau de la reine de Hongrie was a hit for its freshness and suppleness. It was, from then on, the inaugurator of a new art and a branch of the economy that would later prosper: French perfumery.

French perfumes

Today, some of the best-known French fragrances on the international stage include: J’adore de Dior, Opium d’Yves Saint-Laurent, Shalimar de Guerlain, La Vie est Belle de Lancôme, Chanel N°5, Le Mâle de Jean-Paul Gaultier

🇫🇷 French🇬🇧 English
la parfumerieperfumery
un parfuma perfume
J’adore de Dior
Opium d’Yves Saint-Laurent
Shalimar de Guerlain
La Vie est Belle de Lancôme
Chanel N°5
Le Mâle de Jean-Paul Gaultier

La haute couture française – French Haute Couture

Haute couture

Haute couture is the professional sector in which luxury clothing designers work. Today, it is organised around “haute couture houses”, some of which are quite old names, with which many great couturiers have collaborated over the years. It plays an avant-garde role, and its work prefigures fashion.

In France, where it originated, “haute couture” is a legally protected designation that stems from a 1945 decree. Haute couture houses must meet a certain number of criteria: handmade work in the house’s own workshops, two workshops, number of employees, uniqueness of made-to-measure pieces, two shows in the haute couture calendar each year, number of passes per show (at least twenty-five), use of a certain amount of fabric.

The most famous names in French haute couture are: Coco Chanel, Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Givenchy, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Lanvin and Yves Saint Laurent.

🇫🇷 French
la haute couture
Coco Chanel
Christian Dior
Louis Vuitton
Hermès
Givenchy
Jean-Paul Gaultier
Lanvin
Yves Saint Laurent

La gastronomie française – French Gastronomy

If you’ve ever eaten a crêpe or a baguette, then you’ve eaten French food! There are foods that are typically French and represent French gastronomy in every country in the world: baguettes, stinky cheeses (like camembert or roquefort), crêpes, croissants, macarons and so on.

And there are also dishes that people think of when asked to name typically French dishes. It’s said that in France we eat snails 🐌 … true or false? Well yes, it’s a dish that exists and you can find restaurants that offer to eat them. But it’s definitely not a dish we eat on a daily basis. The same goes for frogs 🐸 …

fromages
🇫🇷 French🇬🇧 English
une crêpea crepe
une baguettea baguette
du camembertCamembert cheese
du roquefortRoquefort cheese
un croissanta croissant
des macaronsmacaroons
ratatouille

French gastronomy is an important symbol in the collective imagination. There is no single national dish, but each of France’s regions has its own specialities: boeuf bourguignon, cassoulet from Languedoc, sauerkraut (choucroute) from Alsace, quiche from Lorraine, crêpes and galettes from Brittany, goose liver from Périgord, ratatouille, etc.

🇫🇷 French🇬🇧 English
du bœuf bourguignonboeuf bourguignon
un cassouletcassoulet
une choucroutesauerkraut
une quichea quiche
du foie grasgoose liver
de la ratatouilleratatouille

Le vin français – French wine

Winegrowing in France dates back to the time of Greek colonisation. As a country of Latin heritage, wine is an integral part of French culture. The way in which French culture has invested itself in the production of its wines has even earned it the international reputation of being “the land of wine“. France has 76,000 winegrowing operations. France is the world’s leading wine producer in 2023, with 45.8 million hectolitres, ahead of Italy (43.9) and Spain (30.5).

vignoble en haute-Savoie
vin rouge

French wines are distinguished not only by their colour – red, white or rosé – but also by their category and the region to which they belong.

These characteristics mean that there are now more than 3,200 different wines in France, with 1,313 different names. These bottles are produced in 10 major vineyards spread over 80 départements, covering almost the whole of France.

One of the great vineyards is Alsace. This is renowned for its great white wines such as Riesling, but also Chasselas, Pinot Blanc, Muscat and many others.

There’s also the Beaujolais vineyard. Highlighted once a year for the Beaujolais nouveau, this vineyard brings out exceptional wines of every colour.

When it comes to grands crus, we often talk about the vineyards of Bordeaux. Its reputation is well established, and has been for several centuries now. Some of the region’s finest wines include Yquem, Mouton-Rothschild, Château Lafite, Margaux and many others.

After Bordeaux, Bourgogne (Burgundy) is obviously one of the best-known vineyards. Here you’ll find the famous Pinot Noir, planted on the orders of Philippe le Hardi, then Duke of Burgundy, who didn’t appreciate Gamay, the grape variety found in this region at the time. As well as Pinot, Burgundy is also home to Chardonnay, Romanée Conti and many other grands crus.

champagne
🇫🇷 French
Riesling
Chasselas
Pinot Blanc
Muscat
Bordeaux
Yquem
Mouton-Rothschild
Château Lafite
Margaux
Bourgogne
Pinot Noir
Chardonnay
Romanée Conti

It’s often overlooked in the list of French vineyards, but Champagne is also fertile ground for French viticulture. It’s one of the pillars of its international reputation. Wine lovers, the greatest champagnes come from this region. Dom Pérignon, Bollinger, Louis Roederer and many others can be found on tables around the world to celebrate a wide range of events.

🇫🇷 French
du champagne
Dom Pérignon
Bollinger
Louis Roederer

Les Français – French people

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to describe the French because everyone is different. There are, however, trends in behaviour or style for the inhabitants of each country. Some clichés are fairly close to the truth, while others are far-fetched.

Here’s how the French are generally perceived from abroad:

The French are lazy.
They have this reputation because they only work an average of 40.5 hours a week. In reality, however, the French work among the most productive in Europe.

typical French man

The French wear a beret.
Uh, no, that’s not true. That’s a big cliché!

The French always carry a baguette under their arm.
Well, obviously not always, but the baguette is sacred in France and the boulangerie are their churches.

The French is rude.
😣 It may be true… Remember: if you’re going on holiday to France, try to speak French, it might help the situation!

The French are dirty.
A recent survey shows that 20% of French people forget to shower every day, and are content to wash every other day. 3.5% only shower once a week, while 11.5% shower several times a day. I’ll let you make up your own mind…

The French smoke.
Apart from their arrogance, the French are best remembered for their cigarettes. The image of French smokers cannot be taken away from foreigners: it exists, it is real, since 30% of the French population aged between 15 and 85 consume tobacco.

The French are sophisticated and chic.
The French are seen as cultured and refined, thanks in part to the reputation of their museums, artists and other intellectuals. As for the French woman, she’s always at the cutting edge of fashion and society dinners.

The French are gallant and romantic.
The French are said to be romantic, gallant and thoughtful, and even more evocative is the reputation of the “French lover” or “French kiss”. As for French women, they are considered coquettish, tasteful but as easy to open as a flower in the morning dew.

French woman

La langue française – The French language

langue française - French language

French is an Indo-European language from the Romance family, whose speakers are called Francophones. It is sometimes referred to as the “language of Molière“.

In 2023, French was spoken on every continent by around 321 million people: 235 million used it daily and 81 million were native speakers. In 2018, 80 million pupils and students around the world were taught in French. According to the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), there could be 700 million French speakers on Earth by 2050.

French is the fifth most widely spoken language in the world after English, Mandarin, Hindi and Spanish. It is also the second most widely learned language in the world, the third most widely used language in business and commerce, and the fourth most widely used language on the Internet. French is the second most frequently taught foreign language in the world.

These are facts, but they do not explain why the French language is (relatively) popular around the world. So why do so many people want to learn French? Of course, there are plenty of good reasons to learn French but the most common argument is the beauty of the language. French is often considered to be the most romantic language in the world, because of its softness and sensuality.

Anyway, you must have already heard French words and idioms even in the English language as although English is a Germanic language, it shares a lot of vocabulary with French, a Romance language like “Bon voyage!“, chic, déjà vu, fiancé, omelette, premiere, rendez-vous, souvenir, and many more…

À RETENIR

WORTH REMEMBERING

There’s nothing you absolutely need to learn from this lesson…

I just hope that if you’re interested in learning the French language, you were also interested in this lesson on the symbols (and sometimes clichés!) of France and the French.

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