Picking a list of “greatest French people” is impossible. How do you define greatness? How do you compare a king to a scientist to a philosopher?
This hasn’t stopped people from trying. In 2005, a French television survey asked viewers this question, with dubious results — Charlemagne was ranked behind a soccer player! A study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology identified the best known French people, but fame is not the same as greatness. And then there are the lists of top French monarchs, French inventors, French writers, etc.
I decided to create my own list, based on who has had the greatest influence on France—usually positive, but sometimes negative. I combined the resources above with an informal survey of French friends, including business people, professors, scientists, and artists.
Check out my Top 10 in France Today!
You may have heard of the “Fifth Republic of France” and wondered what it meant. Hasn’t France been a republic since long ago, back when they stormed the Bastille and all? Well, yes and no.
After King Louis XVI lost his head, a republic was indeed proclaimed – a rather bloody one. It didn’t last long and today is referred to as the First Republic. It was followed by a series of governments – empires, monarchies, and more republics, all the way up to today’s Fifth Republic. There were plenty of crises along the way, a coup or two, and more prime ministers than you can shake a stick at.
There’s never a dull moment when it comes to French politics! Enjoy a fun little history lesson and learn about the five republics of France in The Good Life France.
There are thousands of boulangeries in France, offering a wide range of breads and pastries. By law, their breads have to be made by hand and on site. But the law doesn’t apply to pâtisseries and viennoiseries, all those croissants, pastries, and quiches we love so much. As a result, many boulangeries buy these items frozen, from big industrial suppliers, and bake them on site.
True artisanal breads and pastries taste better, no doubt about it, but how can you find them? Good news: a new label will make it easy. It’s called Boulanger de France.
Find out what makes this new program so special and how you can find the very best boulangeries in Taste of France!
You may have read about something called Meilleur Ouvrier de France (MOF), or perhaps you’ve spotted someone wearing a distinctive red, white, and blue collar. Wonder what it means?
The phrase means “best craftsman of France” and it is a title bestowed on only the best of the best, those who pass a grueling series of tests. Famous title holders include the late chef Paul Bocuse and the chocolatier Jacques Torres.
The MOF was created a century ago as a way to encourage artisans and to preserve and promote traditional crafts. Awards are made in over 200 categories. Some are well known, like baking and pastry making, while others are more obscure, like boiler making and piano tuning. There’s even one for denture makers!
Read all about these elite craftsmen, including the stars of Kings of Pastry–a film about the 3-day pastry competition. It’s all there in France Today!
“The culture of Nice is based on three things: the sea, soccer, and socca.”
In a city famous for dishes like pan bagnat and ratatouille, socca holds a special place in the hearts of the niçois. A thin, deliciously crispy bread made from chickpea flour, socca was first brought to Nice by Italian dockworkers in the late 1700s. Cheap and filling, it became known as “poor people’s food,” a favorite of workers and fishermen.
Eventually, all of Nice discovered the dish, helped by a socca maker named Thérésa. She began with a pushcart near the beach before opening her own restaurant, Madame Thérésa. Today, niçois of all ages love socca’s rich, crispy taste. You’ll find cafés full of these locals, having a chat over a plate of socca and a glass of wine. It is so popular that some call it “the national dish of Nice.”
Socca’s ingredients are simple—chickpea flour, water, oil, and salt. Its distinctive crispiness comes from the wood-fired ovens where it is baked at a roaring 750 degrees. The secret ingredient—you might call it the magic—is the loving care with which Nice’s chefs make it.
Award-winning filmmaker Scott Petersen now shares a bit of that magic with us in his short documentary We Eat Socca Here. Read all about it and watch the fun trailer at Perfectly Provence. Warning: it might make you hungry.
Let’s say you are strolling through a French village and come across thousands of sheep bleating in the streets. Or maybe you see horses with flowers in their manes. Or perhaps you are startled by French cowboys charging past with a bull in their midst. Where might you be?
You are probably in Provence.
The people of Provence have a deep respect for nature and for the animals that have long been integral to their rural life. And they maintain their traditions, many of which have to do with animals. Enjoying them is one of the most interesting parts of a visit to Provence.
What are these traditions? Let’s look at a few in My French Life!
Parlez-vous français? (“do you speak French?”) For most of us the answer is non, but there are more people who have mastered the language than you might expect.
Some you might already know about, like Jodie Foster and Serena Williams. But how about Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II? Or her Prime Minister, Boris Johnson?
Check out this list of surprising French speakers in France Today. And be sure to watch the funny video of a famous actor speaking French…and then being graded by a group of French teachers!
Are you looking for a great new book to read? Then consider trying a French novel. Books that have won the prestigious Prix Goncourt (Goncourt Prize) are a good place to start because most have been translated into English. Some have even become movies, like The Perfect Nanny and The Life Ahead, recently made into a Netflix film starring Sophia Loren.
What’s not to like about the Goncourt? It’s got class! (winners include Simone de Beauvoir and Marcel Proust.) It’s got controversy! (non-winners include Albert Camus and Colette.) And sometimes the prize committee gets hoodwinked, like the time they awarded the Goncourt to an author that didn’t exist.
Find your next great read at France Today!
The world is rich with legends. We still dream of Camelot and King Arthur’s court. We hope to one day find El Dorado and its streets paved with gold. And who wouldn’t love to take a dip in the Fountain of Youth?
Provence, too, has its legends.
Is it true that a terrible monster once lived in the depths of the Rhône River? Did a saint poke his finger in a rock and cause wine to pour forth? And what’s this about Mary Magdalene living out her days in Provence?
Read about these and other legends in My French Life!
Annette Charlton is an Australian woman who bought a house in France on her very first trip to the country–true story! Now she’s a part-time Frenchwoman, as she and her family spend part of the year in Brittany. If you haven’t already visited her wonderful website A French Collection, I encourage you to take a look.
Annette asked me to write about what Val and I love about our part-time life in Provence. There was so much to say that I had to keep myself from running on and on–there are the markets, the charming villages, the stunning landscape, and so much more. Best of all are the people, some of our best friends on earth. Whenever we are away from Provence, we long to return.
If you’d like to know what we love about Provence, take a look at this article that I wrote for Annette.