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Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. Photo: Carbon Craft

Whether you’re living in France or just visiting, learning some facts about the country will help you get to know it better; not to mention impress your friends at your next trivia night.

So prepare to put your French knowledge to the test as we share 12 facts about France that might just surprise you.

1. France is the largest country in the EU and sometimes called ‘the hexagon’

France is the largest country in the European Union, covering a total area of 551,695 square kilometers. However, it is only the third-largest country in Europe, behind Ukraine and the European portion of Russia. Around a third (31%) of France is forest and it is the fourth most forested country in the EU, after Sweden, Finland, and Spain. The country is also sometimes referred to as ‘l’ hexagon’ due to its six-sided shape, according to Expatica.

2. Most time zones in the world

Did you know that France uses 12 different time zones? At first, that might sound shocking, but if you think about it’s not that strange since the French has colonized a big part of the world. Within the French territory in Europe, only 1 time zone is being used, but accounting for all areas outside Europe it stretches over 12 different time zones, as said from Swedish Nomad.

3. Several famous inventions are French

Among the many inventions, some notable ones are the hot air balloon, pasteurizer, stethoscope, and the parachute. Each of these has changed the world.

In recent years there is one particular famous French invention, namely the cell phone camera, which was first developed by Philippe Kahn, back in 1997.

4. French was the official language of England for about 300 years

It’s hard to imagine that French was the official language of England between 1066 and 1362. But after William the Conqueror led the Norman conquest and subsequent occupation of England in 1066, he introduced Anglo-Norman French to the nation. This was spoken by royalty, aristocrats, and high-powered officials, some of whom couldn’t speak any English! In 1362, however, parliament passed the Pleading in English Act, making English the official language of government. This was because Norman French was used for pleadings, but was largely unknown to the common people of England, who had no knowledge of what was being said in court.

5. Louis XIX was the king of France for just 20 minutes, the shortest ever reign

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King Louis XIX. Photo: Wikipedia

Yes, you read the right. The French king only enjoyed 20 minutes of royal fame after his father Charles X abdicated, leaving him to ascend the French throne in July 1830. After this brief period, Louis-Antoine also abdicated in favor of his nephew, the Duke of Bordeaux. This makes him the joint shortest reigning monarch in history. He shares the astonishing record with Crown Prince Luís Filipe, who technically became king of Portugal after his father was assassinated. But he also died from a wound 20 minutes later.

6. ‘Liberté, égalitié, fraternité’ or ‘liberty, equality, fraternity’ is the national motto

The famous motto first appeared around the time of the Revolution (1789–1799) and was written into the constitutions of 1946 and 1958. Nowadays, you’ll still see it on coins, postage stamps, and government logos; often alongside ‘Marianne’ who symbolizes the triumph of the Republic. The legal system in France is still largely based on the principles set down in Napoleon Bonaparte’s Code Civil after the revolution, in the 1800s.

7. The French Army was the first to use camouflage in 1915 (World War I)

Now here’s an interesting fact about France. The word ‘camouflage’ actually comes from the French verb meaning ‘to make up for the stage’. This is because the French Army was the first to create a dedicated camouflage unit in 1915. Guns and vehicles were painted by artists called camofleurs. The following year, the British Army followed suit and established its own camouflage section under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Wyatt. It was known as the Special Works Park RE (Royal Engineers).

8. France is the first country who forbade supermarkets to throw away or burn unsold food

Back in 2016, a historical decision was made where France became the first country in the world to ban supermarkets and food stores from throwing away or burn unsold food. From now on, all redundant food must be donated.

9. The Guillotine was the official execution method until the death penalty was abolished

The guillotine was introduced as the official way to execute people back in 1792. It was a simple way that also let people watch offenders get their punishment. Luckily, the death penalty was abolished in 1981.

The last execution with a guillotine in France happened in 1977 after a man from Tunisia named Hamida Djandoubi was sentenced to torture and later death.

10. In France, it’s possible to marry a dead person

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In France, it’s possible to marry a dead person. Photo: Pinterest

In the 50’s it was decided that it should be allowed to marry a dead person, under special circumstances. One needs to prove that there were already plans on getting married, and also send a formal request to the President.

11. The first public screening of a movie was by the French Lumière in 1895

The Lumière brothers, Auguste Marie Louis Nicolas and Louis Jean, were famous for their Cinématographe motion picture system and the short films they produced between 1895 and 1905. The famed duo held the world’s first pub­lic movie screening on December 28, 1895, at the Grand Café in Paris. Their directorial debut was La sortie des ouvriers de l’usine Lumière (Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory). The 5-second-long black-and-white film simply showed workers leaving the Lumière factory and left the audience completely flabbergasted. In 1895, Louis Lumière supposedly said that cinema is ‘an invention without a future’. Oh, how little did he know…

12. It used to be illegal for women in Paris to wear pants

Another strange French law who clearly depicts how unequally the society used to be. For example, women needed a permit to carry pants in Paris, as long as you didn’t ride a bike or horse.

The law came to be in the 19th century and is luckily today not being enforced.

10 Quick France Facts

Hungry for more fun facts about France? Here are 10 quick ones!

1. France has in total 28 Unesco World Heritage Sites

2. French men have the lowest % of obesity in Europe

3. If you try French food, you might be served snails, frog legs or horse meat.

4. The word “Salut” means both hello and goodbye

5. The Louvre is the world’s most visited museum with more than 9 million yearly visitors

6. More than 75 million people have French as their mother tongue

7. France has won the most Nobel prizes in literature

8. The bicycle competition Tour de France has existed for more than 100 years

9. More than 1200 different kinds of cheese can be found here

10. The metric system was invented in France

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