France is the largest country in western Europe. The country has a long history of cultural influence within Europe and across the world as a result of its former colonial power. France is bordered on the northwest and west by the English Channel and Atlantic respectively, on the southwest by the Pyrenees, on the south by the Mediterranean, and in the southeast and east by the Alps. In the north and northeast are low-lying plains and hills.
People and Language
The French people represent mixed ancestries with physical differences and regional dialects. The northern accents are close to standard French; those of the south have highly distinctive nasal vowel sounds. The Occitan dialect of the south is derived from the Provencal language of the Middle Ages. It is reported that the most marked language differences are in outlying areas: Catalan, spoken in the eastern Pyrenees; Breton, a Celtic language of Brittany; the Germanic dialect of Alsace; and Flemish (similar to Dutch) spoken along the border with Belgium. The Basque language of the western Pyrenees (also spoken in northern Spain) is linguistically unique among European languages.
Culture and Religion
The French culture has enriched the world from playwrights, artists, philosophers, writers, composers, film directors, sculptors and more. The French are also known for its fashion and food. French cuisine has come to dominate the tables of the world.
There is no state church in France. The majority of the people belong to the Roman Catholic Church. There are large Protestant and Jewish minorities, and a large number of Muslims among the immigrant-based communities from Northern Africa.
Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
France is the largest agricultural producer in western Europe. It has benefited tremendously from the EU subsidies, though it is reported that the agricultural sector is shrinking. Small farmers, who form the majority, are offered incentives to consolidate farms, modernize techniques and form agricultural cooperatives. Overproduction of wheat, dairy produce and wine is causing problems in the EU and overseas.
Wheat, barley, oats, rye, maize, rice, sunflower seeds and root crops, chiefly sugar beet and potatoes are the main crops. Normandy and Brittany are famous for apples and the making of cider and calvados (apple brandy). Aquitane in the southwest is equally known for plums. Peaches and apricots are grown in the warm Rhone valley.
France is one of the world's largest producers of wine. There are many vineyards in France. Languedoc in the south produces the most wine, but the largest share of high-quality wine comes from Bordeaux, followed by Burgundy and other regions in the southeast.
The French are known for their discovery of Champagne--the king of all wines. Champagne comes from grapes grown on chalky soils and a special process of winemaking. Many others copy the production of Champagne, but the region of Reims is where champagne is produced. The special winemaking process for champagne became known as the methode champenoise, the process that adds the sparkle to this world famous wine. There is a lengthy and complicated fermentation process for the making of champagne, which is one of the reasons that champagne is so expensive. However, modern technology is improving this process and speeding up the production of champagne.
The wine is produced in three areas to the south of the ancient city of Reims. The northernmost area is the Montagne de Reims, where one of the principal varieties of champagne grape, the black Pinot Noir, is grown. To the south are they vineyards along the Marne Valley from Chateau-Thierry to Epernay - home of another black grape variety, the Meunier. South of Spernay is the district know as the Cote des Blancs, where the white Chardonnay grape is grown.
France has an excellent public education system, so much so that private education is less popular there. Most private schools are Roman Catholic. Public education is free at all levels and compulsory between the ages of 6 and 16. After primary education up to age 11, lycees or grammar schools prepare students for the national baccalaureate examinations; others go on to secondary colleges providing general or technical education.
Higher education was reformed after the student unrest of 1968 and now consists of multidisciplinary universities, polytechnics and professional colleges such as medical schools.
Paris, France is called "the city of lights." It is often described as the most beautiful city in the world. Paris is also the ultimate city of daily delights. It is the place that people who really love the place return to year after year-- to revisit favorite sites, places, streets, cafes, museums, shops, parks, palaces, and more. Further, one can experience and enjoy the French style in art, architecture, fashion, culture, landscape and lifestyle.
Ile de la Cite
The Ile de la Cite' is the island that sits in the center of Paris and is considered the "Old Paris" or the historical heart of Paris. The island sits on the Seine River. From the time of the Late Empire (3rd to 5th centuries AD), this strip of land was the focus of royal, judiciary and religious power. This boat shaped island on the Seine was first inhabited by Celtic tribes in the 3rd century BC. One Celtic tribe, the Parisii, eventually gave its name to the city. The Cathedral of Notre Dame is a famous landmark on the Ile de la Cite as well as Saint Chapelle. The Seine River runs through the island of the city and consists of the left and right banks, with the Latin quarters on the left bank.
The Ile St-Louis is across Pont St-Louis from Ile de la Cite and is a little haven of quiet streets and riverside quays. There are many luxurious restaurants and stores. Almost everything on the Ile was built in classical style in the 17th century. One of the houses was owned by Rodin's mistress.
The Seine River
No other European city defines itself by its river in the same way as Paris. The Seine River is the essential point of reference to the city and runs through the city. As described by many sources, distances are measured from it, street numbers determined by it, and it divides the capital into two distinct areas, the Right Bank on the north side of the river and the Left Bank on the south side.
The city is also divided historically: the east is linked to the city's ancient roots, and the west to the 19th and 20th centuries. You can see the city defining itself by its river and there are many buildings along the riverbank on both sides. In fact, a great way to see Paris is by way of a cruise along the Seine River.
The Celts resided in Paris near the river, before Christ. The Latin Quarters name or origin came from Roman times, but Roman art has virtually disappeared in Paris. Early Parisians were skilled in wood carving. The Celts sculpted in wood, were traders and lived by the river.
The Romans were very influential in the making of Paris early on. The oldest bridge in Paris and many of its early architecture was designed and built by the Romans. A few examples are the Arch de Triomphe and the Latin Quarters. Three roman period churches include St. Martin des Champs, St. Germain des Pres, and St. Pierre de Montmartre.
Arrondissements: How Paris is Divided
Paris has 20 arrondissements, or districts. The first arrondissement has the Palais Royal and the Louvre; in the fourth arrondissement has the Place des Voges and the Ile St.-Louis. In the fifth arrondissement is the Sorbonne; the sixth includes the Jardin du Luxembourg and Ecole des Beaux Arts. In the seventh arrondissement is the Invalides and the Eiffel Tower. The eight includes the Champs-Elysées, the Elysee Place and the world famous shops like Hermes and Christian Lacroix. The ninth includes the 19th century Palais Garnier opera house; and the sixteenth is known for its opulent mansions. Not all of Paris is opulent, however. There are many less aesthetically pleasing-looking neighborhoods and sections of the city.
Behavior and Culture
It is reported that garbage is picked up seven days a week, mail is delivered three times a day and all of Paris's 800 miles of streets are swept by hand each day. You will see water running on streets on a regular basis as they attempt to wash down the city daily. Parisians say that they have the cleanest city in the world.
At rush hour, the subways come once every 80 seconds or so and you can get anywhere in the city via metro. Many of the metro stops are in art deco as you entered and underground, many stops are decorated with murals and mosaics. You can also be entertained on the metro as mimers and musicians roam the cars to entertain people and then ask for a contribution for their performance.
There are many apartments in Paris, and many are apartments over commercial areas. There are also apartment and condominium buildings, with very large and expensive home units. Some of the older models have court yards in the middle, with wine cellars and old slave quarters. There are also beautiful and opulent mansions.
Paris is rich in museums, art galleries, monuments, architecture and much more. The Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Pompidou Center, Arc de Triomphe are among the most popular sights.
Paris has such a rich culture, and the people who reside there have such beautiful spirits. You feel the positive energy everywhere! Moreover, the people of Paris dress the part. You will see almost everyone there looking like they stepped out of a fashion magazine, as they pride themselves in being well groomed.
They also love animals very much; and you will see many of them with their pets strolling the avenues and boulevards. Parisians take their pets to church, on the subways and even have sculptures of them made on their tombstones. This tells you a bit more about the spirit of the people. While Parisians claim that they have the cleanest city in the world, there is much dog poop everywhere; and you have to make sure you look where you are stepping. Unfortunately, the pooper scoop laws are not fully implemented there yet. The Paris city services removes 18 tons of dog poop on the sidewalks of Paris on a yearly basis. Six hundred and Fifty (650) people end up in the hospital because they slipped on dog poop.
Parisians also love the good life--good food, good times, good wine, great art and more. They also love fish and potatoes, fresh salads, and homemade sorbet--not to mention bread and cheese. I knew it was a place I belonged. You will also see many couples expressing their love for each other everywhere-- on streets, on steps, on park benches, on the subways, and more.
Paris is also a very safe city. You can go anywhere and not be harmed, violated or harassed. I was embraced everywhere I went -- all over the city -- alone. I walked at night alone and there were policeman everywhere. But this did not matter, as I was totally safe everywhere, even on the metro late at night.
The city has harmonious architecture with the same colors, etc. You can really see this from the aerial views from the Eiffel Tower. The majority of the buildings are made of stone and with cast iron balconies.
Colson, Jean. (1996). Paris: From Its Origins to the Present Day. Paris: Editions Hervas.
Deveze, Lily. A History of France. No date, no publisher.
DK Eyewitness Travel Guides. France. New York: DK Publishing.
Encyclopedia of World Geography. (2004). Michigan: Borders Press.
Knopf Guides. (1995) Paris., New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
The New York Times Magazine. (1992). Why Paris Works, July 19, 1992.