Interesting Things You May Not Know About French Culture!

By: Peta Lesmontagnes
Last Updated on: November 28, 2021
Photo by: Brian McGowan / Unsplash

When people think of French culture, they generally think of France, the language of love (French) and other very well-known cultural icons. While none of this is false, there is a lot more to French culture than meets the eye, and it has some very distinct low-profile elements as well.


Vocabulary:

As an official language in 29 countries and spoken natively in many more, the French language is known for being very eloquent with its phrases, rapid delivery, and overall general tone. As a result, many fascinating and intriguing phrases are used frequently in everyday speech, some of which have no English equivalents.


L’esprit d’escalier (less-pree des-cal-ee-ay)

After a conversation, have you ever thought of things that you wish you had said? L’esprit d’escalier was coined by the philosopher Diderot, and has no English equivalent.


Flâner (flan-ay)

Have you gone on a walk, with no apparent purpose, just for the sake of doing it? The term flâner is the perfect verb to describe just that, often when someone is roaming around and enjoying themselves in the present moment.


Voilà (vwa-lah)

Used colloquially in the English language, voilà is used to show, point, or otherwise raise attention to something specific, usually physical. For instance, you could say “voilà” when showing off a new book to a friend.


Oh là là! (ew lah lah) (note: ew is pronounced very differently depending on the region and accent)

Colloquially used in the English language, oh là là is used to show amazement and awe. Use it next time someone impresses you or you want to express your admiration for something.


Poetry:

When many people think of poetry, they instantly think of William Shakespeare. While Shakespeare was remarkable at poetry, he had several francophone counterparts that came after him, most notably, Charles Baudelaire. Baudelaire was talented as a poet; however, during his lifespan, he was often remarked as careless — something which gave him an incomparable personality as a poet. In Baudelaire’s most famous book, Les Fleurs Du Mal, he published a poem called L’Homme et la mer (Man and the Sea). With multiple interpretations, this poem is well known for describing the human condition by comparing the personality of a man to the rough and rugged nature of the sea.


Comedy:

When most English accustomed French learners watch a French comedy for the first time, it is very traditional for them to be left confused. Comedy within English (predominantly North American) culture is often based on anecdotes with distinct beginnings and ends, or circumstantial irony. French comedy, in contrast, is significantly more shock and experience-based, where the audience is usually given a situation or scenario, and they watch a character or person play it out. In these cases, the audience might even know what troubles lie ahead for a character, either directly or indirectly (through foreshadowing and other dramatic elements). The best equivalent of this in North American culture could be considered Mr. Bean. Note that not all French or English comedy is as described above; instead, the descriptions better suit and correlate to the biggest differences and contrasts between comedy in both cultures.


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