Wednesday, June 13, 2012

French Republic

I've been to France a few times but always in Paris, which is one of my favorite cities in the world.  In a couple of weeks I'm headed to Nice, in the south of France, for my first experience with the Côte d'Azur.  So here's a little bit about the République Française.

France is the third largest country in Europe after Russia and Ukraine.  It's a bit smaller than Texas.  The population is around 62.8 million people.  Paris is the capital city.

The Francophone World

France has been a global power for the last 500 years  The French have had a long history of colonization.  In the 17th and 18th centuries it colonized parts of North America and Southeast Asia.  In the 19th and 20th centuries France had the world's second largest colonial empire, after the British Empire, with territories in North, West, and Central Africa, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and Pacific Islands.  Due to colonization, somewhere between 300 – 500 million people worldwide speak French as either their first or second language.

In the late 1960s, France began granting independence to its colonies.  In 1980, Vanuatu was the final colony granted independence.  Today, France still has some overseas territories which are home to an additional ~2.7 million French citizens.

France is the world's most visited country.  It receives 82 million foreign tourists each year.  The country is home to 37 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  And for sure, you can't beat French food.

A common stereotype about the French is that they are incredibly rude.  This hasn't been my experience at all.  While you can always find some rude people anywhere you go, I've never had a problem in France.  My friend Tomáš got upset one time when we were in Paris because he expected everyone to speak English.  Granted that English will get you further in France than Slovak will but French is still a world language.  In the USA, if a person was to approach you speaking only in a foreign language then the general reply would be that "you're in America – speak English!"  I think that the French are similar to Americans in this way.  However, if you greet someone in French first, even really bad French, people here will normally do everything possible to assist you.

France is a member of the EU, Schengen, the Euro zone, NATO and one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.  It has the second largest diplomatic corps, after the USA, and the third largest stockpile of nuclear weapons.  Walk softly and carry a big stick?

Even with its infamous 35-hour work week, a minimum of 5 weeks paid vacation, and its phenomenal health care system, France still has the world's 5th largest economy and the second largest in Europe.  Along with Germany, the country has been helping to navigate the current financial crisis.  Now that the first socialist president in 17 years has been elected it will be interesting to see what happens.  Here's a YouTube video that gives a bit more information on the change in leadership.


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