This virtual journey has been transferred to the Cool Planet website from On the Line. Much of the information here relates to the time when the millennium dawned.
The text below has been taken from the guide book and virtual journey through France and is in a form that can be printed out. Please note that this file does not contain photographs. Individual, printable pages with photos are contained in the virtual journey. See the main virtual journey for these.
Virtual journey through France :
arts and crafts
music and dance
Guide book to France:
facts and figures
Welcome to France
Take a journey through France and experience the culture, cuisine, and scenery of this beautiful and diverse country. Find out why France is world famous for its cooking, and learn how to make a crêpe. Read about the biggest annual sporting event in the world, and see what the French like to do in their spare time. First you might like to check out the guide book for some facts and figures about France, as well as background information on French history, geography, and society. Then click on the buttons on the left to find out about the subject of your choice.
The French love sport and keeping fit. The most popular sports are football, rugby, cycling, ski-ing, tennis, and golf. A popular traditional game in France is boules. In 1998 the football World Cup was held in France, and the French team won the trophy for the first time, beating the favourites, Brazil, by three goals to nil. Throughout the country people gathered together to celebrate their team's victory. In Paris, thousands of people crowded the Champs Elysées for an all night party. Car racing is also popular in France. The Le Mans 24-hour rally and the Monaco Grand Prix are big sporting events which attract many spectators. Skiing is a favourite activity in mountainous regions of France such as the Alps, the Pyrénées, and the Massif Central. Many French children learn to ski almost as soon as they are able to walk! Lots of tourists visit the French ski resorts, such as Val d'Isère and Chamonix.
cycling: the tour de france
The French are great cycling enthusiasts. The Tour de France is a bicycle race which is held every summer, and is the biggest annual sporting event in the world. It was started by Henri Desgranges in 1903. About 200 cyclists from around the world take part, though the tour is so gruelling that by the end 50 or more cyclists may have dropped out. The Tour lasts 22 days and takes the cyclists 4,000 kilometres around France through towns and villages, over high mountains, and often into neighbouring countries such as Spain and Italy. Each day a different stage of the race is held, and the person who is winning overall at that point wears a yellow jersey. The person who goes fastest overall in the mountain stages is called King of the Mountains, and wears a polka dot jersey. Before the race begins, people paint the names of their favourite cyclists on the road, and then turn out in their thousands to cheer the competitors on.
Almost every French town or village has at least one place where people gather to play boules. The game is especially popular in the south of the country. First a small metal ball called a pétanque is thrown, and then the players throw bigger metal balls to see who can come closest to hitting the pétanque. Because the ground is usually uneven, the best way to do this is by throwing the ball high into the air. Now someone has invented square boules so that even people who live in hilly towns with no flat ground can play!
Arts and crafts
The French have produced beautiful and influential work in literature, architecture, painting, and cinema. Well known French authors of novels, plays, and poetry include Molière, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. The French have always strived for architectural excellence, and have been influenced by such innovative approaches as Swiss architect, Le Corbusier. His clean, severe, modernist approach had a huge influence on French buildings in the early twentieth century.
Since the Middle Ages, France has had a central role in European painting. Paris, in particular, has attracted artists from all over the continent. France is also famous for leading the way in fashion.
the pompidou centre
France is home to some very exciting modern architecture, including the Georges Pompidou Art Centre. Designed by an Italian-British team of architects and opened in 1977, the building looks almost like it's been turned inside out! It is usual for functional things like plumbing and wiring to be hidden, but in the Pompidou Centre they are there for all to see. Huge colourful pipes snake throughout the building, and escalators run up its side in clear plastic tubes, giving a fantastic view of the city. Although many Parisians claim that they detest the Pompidou Centre, it is the most visited attraction in town.
Impressionists is the name given to a group of artists who lived and painted in Paris between 1860 and 1890. They include Renoir, Degas, Manet, Pissaro, and Monet, perhaps the most famous Impressionist of all. At the time, artists were generally considered great if they were able to achieve an illusion of reality in other words, if their paintings were a mirror image of their subject. Monet and his friends shocked the art world with their innovative technique. They used sketchy brush strokes, and bold, shimmering colours, to capture an impression of the scene before them hence the name Impressionism. Also, instead of depicting lofty historic, mythological or religious subjects, the Impressionists painted scenes from everyday life in Paris the cafés and bars, the city streets and parks, the ballet, and what was even more shocking to the contemporary art critic, scenes of Parisian nightlife, such as the dance halls. It seems strange that the work of the Impressionists was so controversial at the time, given the great popularity of their paintings today.
The French have always been passionate about cinema. The first ever film was made in the French city of Lyon by the Lumière brothers in 1885. Since the innovative Nouvelle Vague or New Wave period of the late 1950s and early 1960s, French cinema has been regarded as an art form, and its directors as creative artists. New Wave film directors include Roger Vadim, François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, and Alain Resnais. Since the New Wave, French films have tended to be small-scale, intimate portrayals of people's lives. Contemporary directors who have achieved international acclaim include Jean-Jacques Beneix who directed Betty Blue, Luc Besson, director of Subway, and Léos Carax whose work includes Les Amants du Pont Neuf. Recently, French cinema has tackled social issues, such as poverty, race, crime, and drug abuse. Famous French actors include Gerard Depardieu who is known internationally for his performances in films including Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources (1985). Juliette Binoche was the first French actress to win an Oscar, for her performance in The English Patient (1997), although the French have their own awards called Césars, which are more important to them than Oscars. Every year film-makers travel from all over the world to show their latest work at the International Film Festival in Cannes, a luxurious resort on the Cote d'Azur in the south of France.
France has set the standards in western fashion since the days of Louis XIV and his extravagant court, in the seventeenth century. French supremacy in matters of style was confirmed in the nineteenth century with the invention of haute couture, which involves making original and usually very luxurious garments for individual models, and presenting these to the public each season (spring/summer and autumn/winter). Haute couture is carried out by teams of top designers, seamstresses, and embellishers the people who make accessories such as hats and bags, or add detail to the garments, such as embroidery. Most dresses require around three fittings. In January and July journalists travel from all over the world to see the haute couture collections. The garments are paraded on the catwalk by top models, at fashion shows held in the most prestigious hotels in Paris. There are 18 houses of haute couture in France today, including Chanel, Christian Dior, Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, Paco Rabanne, and Nina Ricci. The fashion houses also present collections of prêt-à-porter or ready-to-wear garments at the shows each season. As the name suggests, these are not unique, or individually tailored, but are manufactured to standard sizes. Haute couture, prêt-à-porter, and accessories (including perfume) spread the influence of French design around the world, and are a vital part of the French economy.
Music and dance
A wide range of music is popular in France, and as with the other arts, the French government encourages music to thrive. Famous French classical musicians include Ravel, Debussy, and the contemporary composer, Pierre Boulez. Ballet and opera also have a long tradition in France. In the fifties many leading black American jazz musicians spent time in Paris, and jazz is still extremely popular. The French contribution to jazz music includes the work of Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, and his partner, the violinist Stephane Grappelli.
Although half of all music albums bought in France are recorded by British or American bands, the French have their own singers of original French songs. This type of music is called Variété Française. Edith Piaf was a popular Parisian singer, whose sentimental ballads were hugely popular internationally as well as in France. The daughter of an impoverished acrobat, Piaf worked in her fathers troupe before going to as a café singer in Paris, where she was discovered by a cabaret owner. Her most famous songs include Non, Je ne Regrette Rien and La Vie en Rose. She died in 1963. The Belgian Jonny Halliday, who was a famous rock star in the sixties, is still well-loved in France, and Patrick Bruel is another figure who appeals to all generations. Serge Gainsbourg was a very famous and respected French singer-songwriter, who was at his peak in the 1960s and 70s.
A new generation of popular music in France combines sounds of Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America. Cheb Khaled is one of the best-known singers of Algerian raï music, which has become very big in France. MC Solaar is a famous French-Senegalese rap musician. Dance music is also gaining popularity in France, with plenty of home-grown talent including the band, Air.
French people of all ages are fond of dancing. Teenagers dance le rock, which involves jiving with a partner to almost any kind of music. Older people prefer ballroom-dancing which is accompanied by traditional French music known as Bal Musette, in which the accordion is the main instrument.
Throughout the year, people in France celebrate local festivals through music and dance. Some festivals are religious, while others are related to farming or fishing.
breton music and dance
Brittany in the north-west of France has its own traditions in song and dance which are quite distinct from those of the rest of the country. In the fifth and sixth centuries the Celts fled from Britain following the Anglo-Saxon invasion. These Celtic roots link the Bretons (people from Brittany) with people in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Cornwall (in England), and the Spanish regions of Galicia and The Asturias. Every summer musicians from these countries come together at Lorient to celebrate their common identity at the Festival Interceltique, a colourful carnival of music and dance.
Bretons enjoy their traditional music all year round at local festivals and parties. The Fest-Noz or Night Festival is an evening of eating, drinking and dancing, which is held in a large village barn or hall. The music is usually provided by a couple de sonneurs two musicians, who play instruments called the bombarde and biniou. The bombard is a wind instrument a very old, shortened version of the oboe. The biniou is a Breton bagpipe, similar to Scottish bagpipes. The music is fast, and villagers dance energetically. Sometimes they stop for a rest while a singer performs a gwerz or ballad, which is not accompanied by instruments.
My name is Dimitri Naissant, I am 17 years old.
I live in a country village in the Charente, near to Cognac where the famous brandy is made. It is exactly on the zero degree line in Western France. I live with my brother Gregory who is 12 in our house on 'rue basse' (the bottom street). Our house is about 200 years old and is made of stone. The roofs are still constructed using roman tiles which have been used for centuries to keep out the rain. We sometimes have huge rain storms called orages in the summer, but the old tiles keep out the wet. In the basement of the house is the cave where we make Pineau de Charentes , its made with fresh new grape juice which is stopped from fermenting by adding brandy spirit. It tastes sweet and strong and is a bit like sherry.
When I'm at home I get about on my mobilette. It's a small motor bike which you pedal like a bike to start. Mine is a Peugot 103. Most teenagers have got one in France.
During the week I go to school in Angoulême which is a city about 15 miles away. I went to school close to my house until I was fifteen, then I started to go to the college. I get up at 7am, have my breakfast in the school self service canteen and then attend lessons. 'Lights out' is at 10pm, but I don't go to sleep then. I have specialised in sciences: biology, chemistry and physics. I'm in my last year at school.
I am a voluntary fireman, a sapeur-pompier at the weekends. I intend to go to Bordeaux in 2000 when I leave school to get qualifications to be a full time fireman. There are two teams of teams of voluntary firemen and six fulltime pompiers at our local station in Aigre.
I play the keyboard in my room, mostly for myself although I have a friend with an accordion who sometimes comes round. I play mostly French songs like Claude François's 'le Téléphone pleure' 'The telephone weeps' and I'm also into sixties stuff like the Beatles.
The whole family helps keep the garden in trim. We grow tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, leeks, enough to keep us going throughout most of the year.
We eat snails which are called cagouilles in this area not the usual French name: escargots. We collect them from the fields and hedgerows after it's been raining. My mum Christiane puts a hundred or more into a pan with sausage, garlic, tomatoes and herbs and makes a stew which fills you up very quickly. The Villejesus fountain in the square is in the shape of a snail. Dimitri repainted it last year.
Thierry, my dad is the "agent d'entrien communal a Villejesus". That means that he is in charge of keeping the roads and buildings in good order. He's a jack of all trades building, gardening and looking after the town of Villejesus with his colleague Eric.
The annual fair in Villejesus features a cycle race, a fairground, entertainment and a 'grand feu d'artifice' (a firework display) when thousands of people come from all the neighbouring villages. The village bar which is called 'La Cagouille' stays open late for the three days of the fête.
Audrey, the Grand daughter of Marise the land lady helps out in the bar for three exhausting days. She is 17 and goes to the same school as Dimitri. Audrey takes on all newcomers to Bar La Cagouille at pool. She is super-skilled with the cue and few can beat her.She, too, has wheels: a new red scooter which tears up and down rue basse announcing she is arriving home.
The Villejesus cycling race, two and a half hours of super fast stamina cycling is around a circuit of 8 kilometres. Twelve laps are ridden with the finishing line up a gruelling up-hill gradient.
Throughout Europe and North America the title cordon bleu is given to chefs who have reached the very highest standard. This award for excellence in cooking comes from you've guessed it the French. The French are world famous for their haute cuisine the type of cooking done in expensive restaurants. French home cooking tends to be simpler, but is taken very seriously none the less. Every region of France has its own speciality, which is made using local produce. For example, Quiche Lorraine is a pastry dish, with a filling of eggs, cream, and chopped bacon. It is named after the Lorraine region, in Eastern France. Coastal regions such as Brittany and Normandy specialise in seafood dishes made from freshly-caught shrimps, mussels, and oysters. The influence of foreign cooking has also made itself felt in French cuisine, particulary in the cities where there are North African and Asian communities. Given the variety and quality of food on offer, it is perhaps not surprising that the French eat less "fast food" than their European neighbours.
Bread is a very important basic food in France, and is eaten with most meals. Most French bread comes in the form of a long crusty roll known as a baguette. Baguettes are bought fresh every morning from the boulangerie or bakery. They have to be eaten on the same day as they are bought, because they go stale very quickly. As in the UK, the French make "lost bread" to use up bread which has gone slightly stale. In France it is called pain perdu.
a typical day
For most people in France, the day begins with breakfast, which is known as le petit déjeuner. This usually consists of coffee or hot chocolate which is drunk from a bowl, and pehaps a freshly-baked croissant which is made of a flaky, butter-based pastry or bread. Pain au chocolat is similar but has a chocolate filling. Lunch is traditionally a leisurely affair, and can have several courses. The first course, or hors d'oeuvre, is often a salad, or in winter a bowl of soup. A main dish of meat or fish follows, and the meal ends with cheese, fruit, or sometimes a dessert. At around four o'clock, children who have just returned from school might have some bread with jam or chocolate, and a glass of milk. This afternoon snack is known as le goûter. For many French people, the evening meal is a time for the whole family to gather together and talk about their day. Again, this often consists of several courses (depending on how big lunch was), and for the adults, might be accompanied by a glass or two of wine.
LApéritif is a national custom in France, which involves setting aside half an hour or so before a meal to share a drink, nibbles, and conversation with family, friends, neighbours, or colleagues. It is a firmly established social activity which is enjoyed by people of all ages, and which forms an important part of home life, of public and private celebrations, and of café and restaurant culture.
wine and cheese
France is the second largest producer of wine in the world, and French wine has an excellent reputation. Vineyards line the roads of Burgundy and Bordeaux, the Mediterranean coast, and the length of the River Loire. The Champagne region is famous for the sparkling white wine which takes its name. Champagne is otherwise known as "bubbly", and is generally drunk at special occasions such as weddings and other celebrations. Although similar wines are produced in other parts of France, and in other countries, it is against the law to call them Champagne. Wine is made throughout the country, and the diversity of climate and soil results in the huge variety of French wines available. Wine is taken with most meals, and is always available at social gatherings. Local wine goes best with local food, including of course, cheese.
France boasts more than 365 varieties of cheese at least one for every day of the year. It comes in all shapes, sizes, textures, and smells. Again, each region of France has its own speciality. Cheese can be made from the milk of cows, goats, or sheep, and the flavour and texture depend on several factors, including the time it is given to age, and the ingredients added to it. Camembert is a creamy, mild cheese. Roquefort is one of the many blue cheeses, so-called because of its veins of harmless blue mould. Like most of the blue cheeses Roquefort has a very strong smell which not everyone likes! Chèvre fermier is farmhouse goat's cheese which can be flavoured in many ways, for example by adding local herbs or peppercorns, or by wrapping it in walnut or chestnut leaves.
Crêpes, originally a Breton dish, are a popular snack in France. In cities and towns they are often sold from stalls on the street. They are quick and easy to make, and can be eaten with savoury fillings such as cheese or mushrooms, or as a sweet treat, with jam, chocolate, or even ice cream.
You will need:
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 15-20 minutes
Method:Sift the flour and salt into a bowl and make a well in the centre. Break in the eggs and add 150 ml (1/4 pint) of the milk. Beat in the flour from the sides of the bowl until you have a thick, smooth batter. Gradually add the rest of the milk. Heat a little oil in a frying pan, then pour it off, leaving a very thin coating on the base of the pan. Pour in just enough batter to cover the base of the pan thinly. Tip the pan from side to side to make sure the batter is spread evenly. When bubbles appear on the surface, and the underside is nicely browned, turn the crêpe over with a spatula and cook on the other side for one to two minutes. Make the rest in the same way, re-oiling the pan and reheating it again for each one. To keep hot, place a saucer upside-down on a large plate over a pan of simmering water. As the crêpes are cooked, drape them over the saucer. If you are going to keep them for a long time or are going to re-heat them, cover the plate with a bowl.
poires au caramel
Cheese and fresh fruit usually end the traditional family meal in France, but on special occasions, sweet courses are served. Poires au caramel, caramelised pears, are a popular pudding in France.
You will need:
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 50-60 minutes
Oven: 200 C, 400 F, Gas Mark 6
Peel the pears, leaving the stalks on. Brush each pear with lemon juice. Place in an oven-proof dish. Dissolve the sugar in 150 ml (1/4 pint) water, then bring to the boil without stirring. Boil until the syrup becomes a light golden caramel. Remove from the heat. Quickly pour on the rest of the water, and stir over a gentle heat until the caramel has dissolved. Pour over the pears. Cover with a lid or aluminium foil and cook for 30-40 minutes in a preheated oven, until the pears are soft and translucent. Turn the pears in the syrup once or twice during the cooking time, so that they colour evenly. Carefully lift out the pears and stand them upright in a serving dish. Put the syrup in a saucepan and boil until it becomes thick, then add the butter in a small pieces. Pour over the pears and leave to cool. The pears are delicious on their own, or you can serve them with ice cream or lightly-whipped cream.
Young people from France reveal their hopes and dreams for the future.
"I hope that each person will find innner peace, to lead towards world-wide peace. Happiness, love, material conditions assuring a comfortable life... So many things could be wished for! Let's wish for every one to accomplish their own dream." Sarah, age 16, France
like to be able to tell people that life is wonderful and that you have to take
advantage of it."
Olivier, from Grenoble
2000, I intend to go to Bordeaux to get qualifications to be a full time fireman."
Dimitri, aged 17, from Villejesus, near Cognac
like to see the gap between under-developed and wealthy countries reduced. And
I'd like to see political decisions, whatever they are (e.g international or
inside a country), more concerned with people's well-being."
Olivier, from Grenoble
the answers to the following questions can be found in the French virtual journey
and guide book pages.
1. What is the name of the biggest annual sporting event in the world, which is held in France every summer?
2. Name five of the painters who are known as the Impressionists
3. What name is given to an evening of traditional music and dance in Brittany?
4. Which French actress won an Oscar award for her performance in the film, The English Patient?
5. How many houses of haute couture are there in France today?
6. How many people live in France?
7. What do French people call the first meal of the day?
8. In what year did the French Revolution take place?
9. What name is given to the people who blend scents to make perfume?
10. Who is the current President of France?
11. Name the highest mountain in France, and give its height in metres.
12. Which French invention is often seen as a predecessor of the Internet?
13. Name three types of animal which can be found in the Pyrénées National Park.
France quiz answers
1. The biggest annual sporting event in the world, which is held in France every summer, is The Tour de France
2. Renoir, Degas, Manet, Pissaro, and Monet, are five of the artists known as the Impressionists
3. An evening of traditional music and dance in Brittany is called a Fest-Noz
4. The French actress Juliette Binoche won an Oscar award for her performance in the film, The English Patient
5. There are 18 houses of haute couture in France today
6. The population of France is 58.3 million
7. French people call the first meal of the day le petit déjeuner
8. The French Revolution took place in 1789
9. The people who blend scents to make perfume are known as "Noses"
10. The current President of France is Jacques Chirac.
11. The highest mountain in France is Mont Blanc. It is 4807 metres high
12. The French invention which is often seen as a predecessor of the Internet is the Minitel
13. The Pyrénées National Park is home to the brown bear, chamois, lynx, marmot, golden eagle, and bearded vulture.
Guidebook to France
This guide book is packed with facts and figures, and all kinds of interesting information about France and the French. Did you know that France is home to brown bears and wolves, or that the French invented a predecessor to the Internet, which is called the Minitel? You'll learn about this and much more in the guide book. If your curiosity still isn't satisfied, you can check out our list of websites on France.
Facts & Figures
|Size||551,500 square km|
|Languages||French (official), Breton, Flemish, Catalan, Basque, Provençal, Corsican, Alsacien|
|Average life expectancy||Male 74, Female 83|
|Infant deaths per 1,000 births||5|
|Major exports||Manufactured goods (including cars), food, wine|
|Communications||580 TV sets and 891 radios per 1000 people; 54.7 main telephone lines per 100 inhabitants|
|Time||one hour ahead of GMT (Greenwich mean time), except for a short period in October, when it is the same|
|Places on the line||Argentan, Fresnay-sur-Sarthe, Fontevrault, Moncontour, Plaines du Poitou, Aigre, Chalais, La Réole, Gabarret, Maubourguet, Lourdes, Parque Nacional de Ordesa-Monte-Perdido|
Sources: The World Guide 1999/2000, http:www.france.com, Economist Intelligence Unit
Ninety-two per cent of people who live in France are of French descent, although there are also many people of North and West African, German, and Vietnamese origin. France is made up of several regions, each with its own traditions and identity. In particular, people in Brittany, Alsace, and the Basque country, see themselves as having their own very distinct identity, which they are very keen to preserve.
Although France is the worlds fourth-largest economic power, it currently faces a decline in the economy, and unemployment has reached an all-time high. Six million people are living on or below the poverty line. Many immigrants and unemployed people live in deprived suburbs known as "la banlieue", where violence and drug addiction are on the rise. The number of homeless people who are forced to sleep rough and to beg on the streets, is growing.
While France is a predominantly Christian, Catholic country, there are people of many races and religions, including several million Muslims, the offspring of North African immigrants who settled in France in the 1950s. Although there has been a history of discrimination against immigrants, since the 1980s many young French people have supported protests against racism.
Culture and the arts are extremely important in everyday French life. In recent years the French government put laws in place to restrict the broadcast of English-speaking movies and songs, and English vocabulary in general, in an attempt to resist Americanisation and to protect French cultural identity.
Towards the end of the third century BC, Paris was founded by a tribe of Celtic Gauls known as the Parisii. In 52 BC centuries of conflict between the Gauls and the Romans ended when the land was conquered by the Roman General, Julius Caesar. Gaul or the area which we now call France was to remain part of the Roman Empire for over 500 years.
The 2nd century AD saw the introduction of Christianity. In the fifth century AD the Romans were conquered by the Franks. Gaul was united as a kingdom by the Frankish king Clovis I, and Paris was named as its capital. Throughout the Middle Ages the Frankish dynasties fought with one another. Charlemagne won many wars to extend the boundaries of his kingdom, and even became the Holy Roman Emperor in 800AD.
France was heavily involved in the Crusades, which were holy wars started by the Christian church against non-Christians. All through the late Middle Ages France fought with England. This led to the Hundred Years War which lasted from 1337 to 1453. In 1429 a 17-year-old woman known as Joan of Arc rallied the French soldiers to defeat the English at the Battle of Orleans. She was later captured and burnt at the stake by the English, who were finally expelled from all parts of France in 1453. In the middle of the sixteenth century France was plunged into a civil war of religion between Protestants and Catholics, which was to last thirty years.
France continued to prosper under its kings, but the wars it was constantly fighting with neighbouring countries were expensive, and the French people grew angry with the monarchy. In 1789 the French Revolution took place. King Louis XVI was executed, and France became a republic.
In the early 1800s the Emperor Napoleon took over, and led France to invade several other countries, though these lands were lost again when the French army suffered defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
France suffered heavily during the First World War: over a million troops were killed, industrial production dropped, and large areas of the country were devastated. During the Second World War France was occupied by Germany until it was liberated by Allied Forces in 1944. Every town and village in France has a monument to the people who lived there, who were killed fighting for their country.
Modern French politics have been characterised by a left wing/right wing division, although this has recently been blurred. The current President is Jacques Chirac, from the right-wing RPR party, Rassemblement pour la République (Rally for the Republic). Chirac was forced into an alliance with the left-wing Lionel Jospin, when Jospin was elected Prime Minister in 1997. In France the State and the Church are two completely separate institutions, meaning that things which are under State or government control have no religious content for example, religion is not taught in State schools.
France is the biggest country in Western Europe. It borders six other countries from the north-east to the south-east these are Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. The south of France borders with Spain. France has over 3200km of coastline, with rocky cliffs and sandy beaches. In the north, the Channel Tunnel runs under the English Channel, connecting France with the UK. To the west is the Bay of Biscay, and the south coast of France is on the Mediterranean Sea. Major rivers include the Seine, the Loire, the Garonne, and the Rhône.
The highest mountain ranges in France are the Alps which run along two-thirds of the eastern border down to the Mediterranean, and the Pyrénées in the south, on the border with Spain. The highest peak in France is Mont Blanc in the Alps, on the Italian border. It is 4807 metres high.
Because France is so big the weather varies enormously from one part of the country to another. In Brittany, on the north-west coast, it is often quite mild, with moist winds from the Atlantic Ocean bringing plenty of rain. The north-east has hot summers and cold winters. In the mountainous regions there is lots of snow in the winter, and this can stay on the tops of the mountains all year long. The south has a Mediterranean climate, with mild winters and hot summers. In the spring a very strong, cold wind known as Le Mistral blows down the Rhône valley. It can make life quite unpleasant, and it is sometimes said that people living in the region are bad-tempered at this time of year. Le Mistral is so strong that people have to put stones on their roofs to stop the tiles blowing off. Mischievous villagers sometimes tell foreign tourists that the wind was so strong it blew the stones on to the roof!
France has many industries, including the production of iron and steel, machinery, aircraft, and chemicals. French people take a pride in the countrys innovative achievements in technology. France is the world's fourth-biggest car manufacturer, behind Japan, the USA, and Germany. It is also famous for its wine, perfume and fashion industries. Tourism is extremely important to the French economy: every year thousands of visitors flock to Paris and other cities, to the coastal resorts, and in the winter to the many ski resorts.
The tradition of perfume manufacture goes back many centuries in France, and is extremely important to the French economy. The town of Grasse in the French Riviera has been producing perfume since the sixteenth century, when immigrant Italian glovemakers discovered the beautiful scents of the region's flowers, and began using them to make their leather gloves smell nice. Grasse is now famous as France's perfume capital its gentle climate, fertile soil, and protective barrier of surrounding mountains make it ideal for growing flowers such as roses, jasmine, and lavender, which provide the raw material for perfume. Huge numbers of the flowers are needed to make small amounts of concentrated perfume around 4,000 kilos of roses are needed to make just one kilo of essential oil. Scents are blended and perfumes invented by people known as "Noses" for their very sharp sense of smell. Perfumes are carefully named and packaged, and are labelled by the big fashion names such as Christian Dior, Givenchy, and Coco Chanel. Huge amounts of money are spent on advertising, and the most expensive perfumes are launched all around the world. In France, nine out of every ten women, and one out of every two men use perfume. A recent trend is the production of perfumes for children.
France is one of the most high-tech countries in the world, and the French take pride in their country's innovations. These include Concorde, the high speed aircraft built by a French-British team, and TGV trains, which can travel at speeds of up to 300km per hour and are renowned for their comfort and efficiency. The French also invented the Minitel, which began life in the early 1980s as an electronic database of names, addresses, and telephone numbers. To promote the Minitel, French Telecom gave away millions of free terminals, and quickly expanded the services the Minitel provided. Soon the French were able to order food, reserve train tickets, sell products, and chat over the Minitel, which is now widely recognised as a predecessor to the Internet.
Between one quarter and one fifth of France is forested, though much of this has been recently planted for commercial timber production. Most of the natural vegetation in France deciduous woodlands in the north, and drier scrubland and pines in the south has been cleared to make space for farming.
Farming in France varies from place to place. Livestock farming is very important in the north-west, where the climate is cooler and wetter, and grass grows well. In the lowland areas of France, such as the Paris basin, crops such as maize, barley and wheat are grown in huge fields. Further south the warmer climate is suitable for growing fruit such as peaches, melons and cherries. Sunflowers are grown for their oil, which is also used to make margarine. In the south it is also common to see fields of purple lavender, which is used for making perfume. All over France grapes are grown on vineyards to make wine.
The wide range of climates and terrain in France means that it has a rich variety of plants and wildlife. France has a number of national parks, which have set up programmes to protect fragile species. These have been endangered due to intensive farming, the spread of towns and cities, and increasing levels of pollution. The Pyrénées National Park was created in 1967, and stretches for about 100km along the border with Spain. The park covers an area of 460 square km and contains forested areas, several lakes, rivers and brooks. Protected wildlife includes the brown bear, chamois (a goat-like, mountain animal), lynx, marmot, and endangered birds of prey such as the golden eagle and the bearded vulture.
There is an environmental movement in France which tends to concentrate on local-level campaigns, for example, protecting national parks, preventing new roads being built, and reducing pollution. However they tend not to take a stand on issues of national importance. Seventy per cent of France's energy is produced by nuclear power, and yet there is little awareness of the potential hazards of the nuclear industry, and green issues are not of primary concern amongst most French people.
Many French children start playschool (école maternelle) when they are just two or three years old, and go to primary school (école primaire) when they are six. When children are ten or eleven they move on to secondary school, or to a trade and technical school where they can learn skills that will help them to get a job. Children at the secondary school sit an exam called the Baccalauréat when they are eighteen. Many go on to University, though how long they stay there depends on how well they do in the exams at the end of each year. A small number who do well in the Baccalauréat go on to professional training colleges known as filières. These have a very good reputation, and those who attend the filières expect to get well paid, professional jobs, eg in business or engineering. Grand écoles are where the elite of French society go for their education, instead of University. The majority of schools in France are State schools, meaning that they are run by the government. There are also some private schools, a number of which are run by the Roman Catholic church.
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