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Culture, Society and Religion

France - Culture, Society and Religion

The French people are known for having a laid-back attitude to life and those who spend time in the country will find that this is true. The French have also managed to acquire an image of being stand-offish with foreigners, but this tends to be reserved for those who make no effort to mix at all. If you make the effort to say a few words in French you will find that the people are very friendly and will go out of their way to help you. If you greet people by asking if they can speak your language you will find that the answer is an automatic ‘no’.

In rural areas the French people have kept their traditions and it is not uncommon to see the elder men of the towns and villages playing boules in the squares of the town. Food forms a large part of French culture and mealtimes are taken very seriously, so much so that many people take a two hour lunch. There is a different cheese for every day of the week and the variety of wines on offer is also extensive.

Frances is known for its cafe culture. Many towns and cities have their streets lined with cafes of all descriptions and these are popular meeting places, particularly among the younger generation, who often prefer this type of night out to a bar or nightclub. Cafes offer drinks and snacks at a reasonable price and often have tables on out the pavement, so you can while away a few hours watching the world go by and this is a major part of the laid-back attitude of the French people.

The family is the central part of French society and culture and the extended family is very important. The French are very private people and behave differently with people they do not know and are not sure of. They have old-fashioned values and treat elders and those they have only just met with respect. The French have two words for ‘you’. ‘Tu’ is the informal version which is used for family members and friends and colleagues that you know well. ‘Vous’ is the formal version which is reserved for older people and those you have only just met. This is a grammar rule which is strictly observed in France, while other countries are much more relaxed about this.

Greetings are normally handshakes in formal situations such as work, but those who know each other better will greet each other by kissing once on each cheek. When you first meet people it is not acceptable to just use each other’s first names and you should use their surname until you are invited to use their first name. French people will greet each other in the street with a cheery ‘Bonjour’ even if they do not know each other, particularly in rural areas. This is a custom which is much harder to do in a busy town but people will do this with their neighbours when they see them.

France is also known for its contribution to the arts with many different types of architecture and the country is the birthplace of many different schools of artists, including Impressionism and Surrealism. There are a number of world class art galleries in the country, with the Louvre in Paris famous the world over. France has also produced some of the world’s leading writers, including Jean-Paul Sartre, Alexandre Dumas and Victor Hugo.

Religion in France is mainly Christian. The majority – around 62% - are Catholic but Protestants are in the minority at around 2%. There are also a number of other religions beginning to grown in the country such as Islam, as there are large numbers of immigrants from northern Africa. France is officially a secular country so all those who live there are free to practise whichever religion they want to. In recent years the number of people in France who are actively practising their religion has dropped and it has been estimated that only 60% of new babies are baptised into a church. Despite this, the number of visitors to the religious shrine at Lourdes rises each year and this is one of the busiest tourist destinations in the country.

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