This page is one of the annex pages of www.understandfrance.org, the foremost site on Franco-American intercultural differences. It contains documents, facts and figures illustrating the content of some of its pages.

Facts & figures

This page contains Facts and Figures about France and the French. Some are significant, other less so....Click here for :

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 The most popular French personalities    Vacation in France

As in any country in the world, the "Best Loved" personalities, resulting from polls, are mostly singers, TV people and sport champions. It would be fastidious and useless to update the list every year but in 2014 they are :

1: Jean-Jacques GOLDMAN, 2: Omar SY, 3: Dany BOONE, 4: Simone VEIL, 5: Florence FORESTI, 6: Jean RENO, 7: Mimie MATHY, 8: Sophie MARCEAU, 9: GAD EDMALEH, 10: RENAUD, 11: Jean-Paul BELMONDO, 12: Francis CABREL, 13: Florent PAGNY, 14: Jean DUJARDIN, 15: Charles AZNAVOUR, 16: Jean ROCHEFORT, 17: Yannick NOAH, 18: Gerard JUGNOT, 19: Jean-Pierre PERNAULT, 20: Patrick BRUEL, 21: Laurent GERRA, 22: Stephane BERN, 23: Fabrice LUCHINI, 24: Zinedine ZIDANE, 25: Jamel DEBBOUZE, 26: Franck DUBOSC, 27: Nolwenn LEROY, 28: Mylene FARMER, 29: Nicolas SARKOZY, ... , 35: Nicolas HULOT, ... , 38: Johnny HALLYDAY, etc.

One may observe that many of these people represent various religions or minorities.

 (as voted by the French: IFOP Survey July 2011) :

1 - Yannick Noah, Tennisman and singer (N°2 in 2006 & 2007, N°1 in 2005, 2008,2010, N°4 in 2004, N°7 in 2003)

2 - Zinedine Zidane, World Champion (Soccer) (N°5 in 2010, N°3 in 2008, N°1 in 2006 & 2007, N°2 in 2005, N°1 in 2003, 2004, N°4 in 2001 & 2002) (still best loved personality, in spite of his shameful behavior in the World Cup)

3 - Mimy Mathy, actor (N°6 in 2010, N°5 in 2008, N°4 in 2006 & 2007)

4 - Simone Veil, Politician,

5 - Francis Cabrel, singer

6 - Michel Sardou, singer (N°8 in 2010)

7 - Gad Elmaleh, Comedian (N°3 in 2010)

8- Charles Aznavour, Singer (N°4 in 2010, N°7 in 2006, 2007 & 2008, N°6 in 2005, N°11 in 2004)

9 - Dany Boon, Comedian, whose movie, Bienvenue chez le Ch'tis, is the most successful French movie ever (N°2 in 2008, 2010)

10 - Jean Dujardin, actor (N°7 in 2010)

Others, who have been on the Top-10 recently, include :Soeur Emmanuelle, the French Mother Theresa, Johnny Hallyday, Henri Salvador, Renaud, Florent Pagny, singers, Jamel Debbouze, Franck Dubosc, Jean Paul Belmondo, Sophie Marceau, Jean Reno, Michel Serrault, Actors , David Douillet, Olympic champion, Thierry Henry, foot-ball player, Nicolas Hulot, TV Producer, etc...

Abbé Pierre, Priest, devoted his life to the poor (N°1 in 2001, 2002 & 2003) ; he died in 2007, aged 95, he was always #1 ! (in 2004, he asked to be removed from the list)

Click here for French historical heroes and here for mini-bios.

DID YOU KNOW THAT....? Of course, this sort of hit-parade ("Most loved people") always give an advantage to people who are seen on TV, singers and movie actors. But it is interesting to see how diverse the French society is, and how varied are their origins : Algerian (Zidane, Debbouze, Boon), African (Sy, Noah), Moroccan Jewish (Elmaleh) , Armenian (Aznavour), Jewish (Goldman, Veil, Bruel) , Italian (Reno) , Guyanese (Salvador) , Carribean (Henry, Pagny) or the group they belong to : a nun (Emmanuelle), a very small person (Mathy).

 

 Vacations : The French have an impressive number of vacation days. The legal minimum for all employees is 5 weeks a year but very often it can go as high as 8 weeks or more, particularly due to the effect of the 35-hour-a-week law : they are called "jours RTT" (RTT stands for :"réduction du temps de travail").

Days-off for (almost) everybody : In addition to vacations, the French have 11 days of holidays ("jours fériés") a year ; most companies are closed and public services (museums, etc..) are minimal. Most, if not all, shops are closed on these days :

  • January 1 ("Nouvel An"): traditionally New Year's Eve is a (big) dinner among friends or an evening at the theater.
  • Easter ("Pâques"): Easter Sunday : there is no Easter Bunny (the concept is unknown) but the bells, which have been silent since Holy Friday, drop chocolate eggs in the gardens on their way back from Rome and children serach them ; Easter Monday is off.
  • May 1 ("Fête du Travail") : you offer lilies of the valley to everyone around you ; they are sold on every street corner ; there is a big parade of the Workers Unions between Place de la République and Place de la Nation. In Europe, May 1 commemorates the Haymarket upheaval.
  • May 8 : ("Armistice") : end of WWII
  • Ascension (40 days after Easter) is always on a Thursday and this makes it possible to enjoy one of those famous "ponts" (bridges) : if you take Friday off, you get a 4-day vacation with that one single work day.
  • Pentecôte is a Monday (50 days after Easter) : when it is in May, it contributes (with the French Open) to make the month of May absolutely delicious with more days of vacation than days of work if the "ponts" situation is favorable. Read about its suppression in 2005.
  • Bastille Day ("Quatorze Juillet") : there is a big military parade on the Champs Elysées and (the night before) balls in many firehouses.
  • August 15 ("Assomption de la Vierge") : if you're lucky, it can give you a nice "pont" : the years when "ponts" are not possible because those vacation days happen to be on Sundays or Saturdays, people almost go on strike...
  • November 1 ("Toussaint") : traditionally, you bring flowers (chrysanthemums) to the graves of your beloved.
  • November 11 ("Armistice") : end of WW1 ; a big celebration, with military parades.
  • Christmas ("Noël") : on Christmas Eve (the24th), there is a huge dinner, with the family, with the traditional courses, the gifts are placed in front of the Christmas tree ; sometimes people attend a Mass at midnight ; the next day (25th) is off and there is also a big lunch with the family. Children gat their gifts in the morning (or on Christmas Eve).

A few additional facts about vacations

  • To limit the peaks of traffic and in touristic resorts, there are three "vacation zones" in France for school vacations (A, B andC). They differ from one another by one week.
  • In business life, when it comes to set a date for a next meeting, someone ALWAYS says, prior to anything : "Let's avoid vacations" (of course in the 3 zones + July and August and of course the begining of September, too busy after vacations, and the end of June, too busy before vacations, December, because of Christmas shopping, May because of bridges, etc..). In fact, the only periods where it is easy to set a meeting are : October, the end of November, the end of January, March OR April (depending on Easter vacations) and the begining of June ! I am exagerating a bit, but not much....
  • The deadest day of the year (i.e. the most delicious for tourists in Paris) is August 15 ; the saddest day is November 1.
  • Halloween is relatively popular in France but it is not a holiday (and not really a tradition)...
  • The Ramadan is largely celebrated by the Muslim community as well as Yom Kippour by the Jewish community but they are not holidays (and the dates changes every year).
  • Vacations are so important for the French that the proportion of people who take Summer vacations (around 55%) is considered a very important economic index and, every year, the medias comment at length if has gone up +0.2% or down -0.15%.
  • In Summer, half or more of the TV News is devoted to vacation, with subjets that would look very akward to Americans. For example, on Aug.20, 2014, France 2, the major national network, ran a 20-minute report on a 170-employee firm which did NOT close in August : what do the employees think of being so different? why did the boss decide that? What if other firms did it? etc.).
  • More to come ...

Read Paris Diary about vacation.

 Miscellaneous figures...    DID YOU KNOW THAT... ? The concept of "ponts" (bridges) is very important in France : if one of the above-mentioned holidays falls on a Thursday or a Tuesday, you can get a 4-day week-end by taking only one day off. The French call this a "bridge". For example, in May 2011, the total number of working days was 22 and it could not be reduced by any "pont", since the holidays took place on Sundays : a disaster ! On the contrary, 2012 was considered a much better year, with 19 working days in May including 3 "bridges", i.e. 16 actual working days !
  • The Public sector employs more than 6 million people (23% of the total work-force) :
    • 2,2 million in the State administration : Education (from kindergarden to university), Army, Postal service, etc...
    • 1,5 million in the staff of local authorities of all kinds
    • 0,9 million in hospitals and public retirement homes
    • 0,5 million in various state-owned organisations (research : CNRS, unemployment : ANPE, etc...)
    • almost 1 million in state-owned companies and utilities (train : SNCF, electricity : EDF, telephone : France Telecom, mass transit : RATP, etc...)
  • French exports are not based on cheese ! The real figures are very different from the traditional image of French products. In 2002 French products exported to the USA represent over 26 billion euros including :
    • Machines, industrial products, electronics : 37,9%
    • Aeronautics and space : 24,5%
    • Pharmaceutical and chemistry : 15,1%
    • Car equipments : 4,1 %
    • Textile, food, etc... 8,9%
    • Wine, water, alcoholic beverages : 7%
    • Perfumes and beauty : 2,5%

However, it is a fact that in the list of the 100 biggest brands in the world, there are 51 US brands, including the first five (Coca-Cola, Microsoft, IBM, GE and Intel), and 9 French brands, all in luxury goods : Louis Vuitton #17, Gucci #46, L'Oreal #50, Chanel #61, Danone #67, Hermes #81, Hennesy #83, Cartier #86 and Moet & Chandon #87 (source : Interbrand 2006).

More about the image of France in America and about the ranking of exporting countries.

  • Click here for facts and figures on religion
  • Click here for a list of famous Americans who lived in France (a year or more)
 

USEFUL HINT.... If you are invited in a French family on Xmas Eve or New Year's Eve, do not eat and drink too much before dinner : be ready for a very long and very caloric dinner which will most probably include all the traditional courses for these circumstances, typically : Foie Gras or Oysters (or both), Game or Poultry (or both), often with Chestnut Purée, Salad, Cheeses, Chocolate Cake or Bûche (Log) de Noël ; you'll drink a sweet (Sauternes?) or dry (Muscadet?) white wine, followed by a red (Bourgogne?) and finish with champagne (as you started)....

 

Miscellaneous figures...

  • Immigration : France is a country of immigration and over the years has assimilated millions of immigrants in the French melting-pot (Poles, Italians, Spaniards, etc...) ; as of today, the number of foreigners by country of origin (source : INSEE 1999) is estimated at 4.3 million of the population (7,4%) of which 30,1% are from North Africa, 9,1% from the rest of Africa, 13,3% from Portugal, 8,8% from Italy, 7,3% from Spain, 14,9% from the rest of Europe, 12,6% from Asia, 2,9% from Latin America and 0,9% from the rest of the world. Détailed figures are : (source : Le Monde, Oct.10, 2007)

 Country

 Period of maximum immigration

 Number (not naturalized) in 1999
 Belgium

 1850-1900

 66,000
 Italy

 1880-1960

 206,000
 Poland

 1920-1930

 34,000
 Portugal

 1960-1980

 555,000
 Algeria

 since 1960

 806,000
 Morocco

 since 1960

 440,000
 Tunisia

 since 1960

 190,000
 Spain

 1939-1970

 161,000
 West Africa

 since 1970

 283,000
 Asia

 since 1970

 205,000
It is estimated that one Frenchman out of four has at least one of his/her grandparents in one of these successive immigration waves.

To related pages : more facts & figures, figures on Europe, etc...

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Harriet Welty Rochefort writes articles and books about France and the French. Order her books :

  • "French Toast, An American in Paris Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press, New York, 1999
  • "French Fried, The Culinary Capers of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001

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