Of course, there are baguettes, fine wines, and ‘haute couture’… but beyond the stereotypes, French culture runs so much deeper, and the only way to understand it as an expat living in France is to be a part of it.
Here is a rundown of ‘all things culture’ to help you soak it all up and make the most of your new life in France.
All things culture in France
The French like to celebrate. Festivals at Christmas and Easter are the norm, but there is a lot more besides!
‘La fête nationale française’, also known as ‘Le 14 Juillet’ marks the storming of the Bastille in 1789, a turning point in the French Revolution. Celebrations are held all over France, from small villages to large cities, involving fireworks and dancing at the ‘Bal des pompiers’ (literally, the fireman’s ball). In Paris, the Bastille Day military parade takes place on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées.‘La Fête de la Musique’, or ‘Music Festival’ takes place on 21 June, with the purpose of promoting amateur and professional music. Free concerts are organised all over the country, and there’s a wonderful party atmosphere. The festival was the brainchild of former Minister of Culture Jack Lang, and its success has led other European cities to stage their own music festivals.
Many small towns and villages also have their own local festivals. It’s not uncommon to stumble across festivals such as a ‘Foire du vin’ (wine fair) a ‘Fête de la crevette’ (Shrimp festival) or even a ‘Fête de la pomme de terre’ (Potato festival). Go along and join the locals to sample the delicacies on offer!
The French film industry is one of the oldest in the world, and is the most successful in Europe, perhaps thanks to the protections afforded to it by the French government. In France’s cities, you’ll find a cinema on every corner, and the biggest film festivals, such as Cannes and the Nuit des César in Paris, are important events both nationally and internationally. Be a part of this cultural experience by watching some of France’s cinema classics from the last few decades, such as Jean de Florette, Amélie, La Haine, Intouchables, and Le Grand Bleu. Be sure to watch them in ‘Version Originale Sous-Titrée/ VOST’, (in French with English subtitles), to really get the full cultural experience, and improve your French too.
France is of course famous for its culinary delights, and each region has its own set of culinary dishes to sample. Bretagne, for example, is famous for crêpes, Bourgogne for Boeuf Bourguignon, Toulouse for its Cassoulet, and Provence for its ratatouille, to name but a few. But the act of eating itself is indeed a favourite French pastime. If you’re invited around to a French friend’s house for lunch, expect to be there for the rest of the day sampling five or six courses. Whatever you do, don’t forget to take a gift of flowers or chocolates with you. This is a must! A bottle of local wine will also be warmly received and is a great way to discover ‘the terroir’ (how a particular French region’s climate, soils and aspect (terrain) affect the taste of the wine produced there).
Paris is officially the fashion capital of the world, and rightly so. Dior, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Louis Vuitton are just a few of the most famous names, not to mention the new generation of talented French designers. Take a wander down Paris’ Avenue des Champs-Elysées and you won’t be disappointed, but you may be a little poorer!
France has almost as many famous artists as art galleries. The most famous such as Monet, Cézanne and Renoir are known the world over, and Paris has many galleries where you can view some of the finest masterpieces. The Louvre, the Centre Pompidou and the Musée d’Orsay are just some of the most renowned. Many of France’s smaller towns and cities have their own local artists and galleries, and even touring exhibitions that you can explore too.
So now that you know what to look out for, how can you find out about places of cultural interest and events happening where you live in France? Look out for local newspapers and posters up at your town hall (La Mairie). Join some local groups (in person or on social media); yes, you can join the expat ones, but be sure to join the French ones for your local community too. Learn some French and make friends with your neighbours. If you don’t speak French, Google translate is your new friend to help you find your way!
There’s so much going on ‘culture-wise’ in France, but if you’re moving to France and you choose to surround yourself with only the British and other expats, you’ll miss it all! Take the time to learn the language and immerse yourself into the culture, and you won’t be disappointed.
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