This page is one of the annex pages of, 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....

 French cultural values   Films
  • Cultural misunderstandings : the case of Eurodisney. Basically, Disney expected the Europeans to act like Americans and spend vacations in the park (several days) but for Europeans, it is a (very good) show i.e. a one-day visit. Therefore, visitors spend much less than expected. In addition to this initial mistake, Disney made several big mistakes when transposing blindly American concepts without even imagining that the Europeans could be different. Among them :
    • There was no WINE in the restaurant on Main Street (at the opening : it had to be changed after a few months...) !
    • They thought Europeans would be impressed to sleep in (expensive) hotels faking medieval castles (in Europe, we have plenty of AUTHENTIC medieval castles)
    • For Chrismas, they imported at great expense real REINDEERS from Scandinavia : but in Latin Europe, a reindeer does not mean much and Christmas being very mild, they lost their horns, thinking Spring was early that year, and they had to perform with plastic horns.
    • They wanted cast members to cut their moustache (and wear deodorants...) which was considered a violation of labor rights!
    • Etc...
  • The Loi (Law) Toubon (August 4, 1994) was designed for the protection of the French language, mostly against an excessive or not needed use of English. Its provisions for foreign companies operating in France include that the following documents MUST be written in French :
    • individual work contract
    • Règlement Intérieur (a document which specifies employees obligations, safety rules, etc..)
    • collective labor contracts signed with unions
    • any corporate procedure which include a compulsory provision for the employee such as accounting procedures, maintenance manuals, etc..
  • Why do the French protect their language ? Here is an statement by Jacques Toubon (New York Times 4/4/1994) : "Admittedly, Americans may have some difficulty in understanding that a problem exists. Europeans would not assume that Americans, who are known for not being too open to foreign cultures and for pursuing their own cultural protectionism, understand foreign languages. Many Americans, on the contrary, often forget that one has the right in other countries not to understand their language and to speak another one ... What France does still generates interest in the entire world. It is probably because France defend a certain concept of freedom and diversity that some people are troubled. France remains, to paraphrase General Charles de Gaulle, the country that sometimes feels compelled to say "no" not out of egotism but a sens of what is right".
  • Most successful (outside France) French films since 1990 (source : Nouvel Observateur 2005 + update):
    • Intouchables (Eric Toledano), with François Cluzet and Omar Sy : 43 million +
    • Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain (Jean-Pierre Jeunet), with Audrey Tautou, 22,2 million viewers
    • Asterix et Obelix contre Cesar (Claude Zidi), 15,3 million
    • Asterix et Obelix : Mission Cléopatre (Alain Chabat), 10 m
    • Le Pacte des Loups, 7,4 m
    • La Double Vie de Véronique, 6,9 m
    • Les Rivières Pourpres (Mathieu Kassovitz), 6,4 m
    • La Môme (Marion Cotillard), 6,1 m
    • Delicatessen, 5,5 m
    • Taxi 2 (Luc Besson), 5 m
    • Le Peuple Migrateur (Jacques Perrin), 4,8 m
    • Huit Femmes (François Ozon), 4,4 m
    • Le Placard, 4,2 m
    • Les Choristes (Christophe Barratier), 4 m
    • Taxi 3 (Luc Besson), 3,9 m
    • Les Rivières Pourpres 2 (Mathieu Kassovitz), 3,8 m
    • Un Long Dimanche de Fiançailles (Jean-Pierre Jeunet), 3,7 m
    • More about movies
  • The most successful film in France are (source : filmsdefrance 2006 + update)
    • Intouchables (Eric Toledano, 2011) : 23 m+
    • Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis (Dany Boon, 2008) : 20 m+
    • La grande vadrouille (Gérard Oury, 1966), 17 m+
    • Asterix et Obelix : Mission Cléopatre (Alain Chabat, 2002), 15 m.
    • Les visiteurs (Jean-Marie Poiré, 1993)
    • Le corniaud (Gérard Oury, 1965), 9 m.
    • Taxi 2 (Luc Besson, 2000), 11 m.
    • Trois hommes et un couffin (Coline Serreau, 1985) (poorly adapted as Three Men and a Baby)
    • Les Misérables (Jean-Paul Le Chanois, 1957)
    • La guerre des boutons (Yves Robert, 1962)
    • L'ours (Jean Jacques Annaud, 1988)
    • Le grand bleu (Luc Besson, 1988)
    • Asterix et Obelix contre Cesar (Claude Zidi, 1999)
    • Emmanuelle (Just Jaeckin, 1973), 9 m.
    • Le dîner de cons (Francis Veber, 1998)
    • Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001), 8,5 m
    • La Môme (Marion Cotillard, 2007), 5,3 m
    • The Artist (Jean Dujardin, 2011),2 m+
    • Back to French movies.
  • "Compagnonnage" is a tradition which goes back to the Middle-Ages. Highly skilled workers travel and work in different places in order to acquire the knowledge of their specialty from a master ("maître") ; their field can be anything from carpentry to cooking, pastry, plumbing, ironworks, stone-cutting, etc... Moving from one employer to another, they make their "Tour de France" and progress from "apprenti" to "compagnon" and finally "master". This is a medieval tradition going back to the time of the builders of Gothic cathedrals. The Compagnons du Tour de France stay in specific hotels for young workers, called "cayenne", managed by a woman, "la mère" who takes care of them. To become a "master" of the Compagnons du Devoir (founded 1347), they have to realize a "chef d'oeuvre", which is something professionally very difficult, submitted to a college of masters. Needless to say that this is extremely close to free-masonry. All famous chefs in French restaurants have been through this cursus and can use the title "Meilleur Ouvrier de France" which is its classical expression, but your plumber can also be a "Meilleur Ouvrier de France" and, in this case, you can be sure he is a good plumber.

In Paris, you can admire a sample of very impressive "chefs d'oeuvres" in the Maison du Compagnonnage, 2 rue de Brosse 75004, along the Seine, facing Ile Saint Louis.
Compagnonnage is a fascinating world of highly skilled professionals with very high technical and ethical standards grounded in a very ancient tradition. Each of them is given a name which includes his region and a moral characteristic (for instance : Tourangeau la Vertu or Périgord Coeur-Loyal).


An example of a chef d'oeuvre (a wooden staircase)



  • Private high schools students, globally, come from richer families (Source : Ministry of Education, 2002)
     Income  Private (%)  Public (%)






     Very High




  • An international education test : the results of the Program for International Student Assessment/PISA 2009 (OECD 2010, source : IHT Dec.8, 2010) :
  Science Reading Math
Best #1 China=595 China=556 China=600
Best #2 Finland=554 Korea=539 Singapore=562
France 498 496 497
USA 502 500 487
Average 501 494 497
Worse#31 Latvia=494 Slovenia=483 USA=487
Worse#32 Portugal=493 Greece=483 Ireland=487


Why are the French not as good in math as they think ? The level in math of French students, who used to rank in the first 5 of OECD, has decreased significantly over the past 20 years or so. Why ? The major reason is a very important change in the hiring rules of teachers in Primary School. Before the reform, they were hired at college level but from special schools (Ecoles Normales) dedicated to training students for this specific job. They learned how to teach children to read, write and count, and they had a good level in math for the latter. Their salary was not very high and lower than the salary of a high school teacher (remember : in France, teachers are civil servants and, at a given level, their salary is the same all over the country). They protested and obtained full satisfaction : they must now have a college degree and their salary is the same as the salary of high school teachers. It looks OK but in fact, it lead to a complete disaster. Almost all (98%) the applicants have a college degree in a field that did not require the slightest knowledge of anything scientific like math, physics, biology or chemistry and they were students whose level in math was next to zero in high school. They can't teach what they don't know (and they don't like calculus and math anyway). It is as simple as that. Now, governments are trying to correct that incredible mistake but it is complicated to change anything in this administration, where unions are very powerful and very conservative. A French story...


School days : French kids work longer days (Source OECD 2010 in Le Monde Dec.10,2010) :

  Hours per year age 7 to 8 Hours per year age 9 to 11 Number of days of school per year
Korea 612 703 220
Japan 709 774 201
Germany 635 790 193
Finland 608 640 188
Spain 833 794 176
Italy 891 913 167
France 864 864 144
  • Working time : On average, students in "Classes Préparatoires" work twice more (56 hours/week of class and personal work) than college students (32 hours/week). (source : OVE in Le Monde Jan. 19, 2011.
 Quotes about France and the French    
  • Charles Gaulle about the strengths and weaknesses of the French (in Peyrefitte's C'était de Gaulle) :
    • " You must trust their strengths and protect them from their weaknesses. They have not changed since Julius Caesar described them. Their strengths are bravery, generosity, unselfishness, impetuosity, curiosity, creativity, the gift they have to adjust to extreme situations. Their weaknesses are a clanic spirit, mutual intolerance, brusque anger, internecine quarrels, the jealousy they feel for the advantages that the others have"
    • "The French need to feel pride in their country. Otherwise, they crawl around in mediocrity, they fight among themselves and they take a shortcut to the nearest "bistrot".
    • More about the French and the Gauls.
  • What Hitler wanted France to become :

    "Germany is not concluding with France a 'chivalrous' peace. Germany does not consider France an ally but a state with which the accounts will be settled by the peace treaty. In the future, France shall play the role of an 'enlarged Switzerland' and will become a land of tourism, eventually taking over some products in the field of fashion. (…) Any form of government that might seem liable to restore France's forces will face opposition from Germany. In Europe, only Germany decides." Ministry of Propaganda of the Reich, July 9, 1940 (posted on the walls of the exhibition "L'Art en Guerre- Paris 1938-1947", Museum of Modern Art, Paris, Jan.2013.

  • Regional languages in France in 2008 : the choice of high school students, among the students who decided to study a regional language in addition to an European language (Source : le Figaro Nov.1, 2011)
    Language Spoken where... %
    Alsacien East (Alsace) 40
    Occitan Center-South (six regional forms) 27
    Corse South-East (Corsica) 10
    Breton West(Brittany) 8
    Créole Carribean (Guadeloupe, Martinique) and Reunion Island 4
    Basque South-West (Bask country) 4
    Catalan South (Catalogne) 3
    Mélanésien Mélanésie (New Calédonia) 2
    Gallo Border of Brittany 1
    Mosellan North-East <1
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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