The culture of France and of the French people has been shaped by geography, by profound historical events, and by foreign and
internal forces and groups. France, and in particular Paris, has played an important role as a center of high culture since the 17th
century, first in Europe, and from the 19th century on, worldwide. From the late 19th century, France has also played an important
role in cinema, fashion and cuisine. The importance of French culture has waxed and waned over the centuries, depending on its
economic, political and military importance. French culture today is marked both by great regional and socioeconomic differences
and by strong unifying tendencies.
The Académie française sets an official standard of language purity; however, this standard, which is not mandatory, is even
occasionally ignored by the government itself: for instance, the left-wing government of Lionel Jospin pushed for the feminization of
the names of some functions (madame la ministre) while the Académie pushed for some more traditional madame le ministre.
Some action has been taken by the government in order to promote French culture and the French language. For instance, there
exists a system of subsidies and preferential loans for supporting French cinema. The Toubon law, from the name of the
conservative culture minister who promoted it, makes it mandatory to use French in advertisements directed to the general public.
Note that contrary to some misconception sometimes found in the Anglophone media, the French government neither regulates the
language used by private parties in non-commercial settings, nor makes it compulsory that France-based WWW sites should be in
Religions in France
France is a secular country where freedom of thought and of religion is preserved, by virtue of the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of
Man and of the Citizen. The Republic is based on the principle of laïcité, that is of freedom of religion (including of agnosticism and
atheism) enforced by the Jules Ferry laws and the 1905 law on the separation of the State and the Church, enacted at the beginning
of the Third Republic (1871–1940). A January 2007 poll found that 61% of the French population describe themselves as Roman
Catholics, 21% as Atheists, 4% as Muslims, 3% as Protestants, 1% as Buddhists, and 1% as Jews. In May 2015, in a poll published by
Le Monde, 63% of the French population describes itself without religions. France guarantees freedom of religion as a constitutional
right and the government generally respects this right in practice. A long history of violent conflict between groups led the state to
break its ties to the Catholic Church early in the last century and adopt a strong commitment to maintaining a totally secular public
Other specific communities
Paris has traditionally been associated with alternative, artistic or intellectual subcultures, many of which involved foreigners. Such
subcultures include the “Bohemians” of the mid-nineteenth century, the Impressionists, artistic circles of the Belle époque (around
such artists as Picasso and Alfred Jarry), the Dadaists, Surrealists, the “Lost Generation” (Hemingway, Gertrude Stein) and the
post-war “intellectuals” associated with Montparnasse (Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir).
Although homosexuality is perhaps not as well tolerated in France as in Spain, Scandinavia, and the Benelux nations,
surveys of the French public reveal a considerable shift in attitudes comparable to other Western European nations. As of 2001,
55% of the French consider homosexuality “an acceptable lifestyle.” The past mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, is gay. In 2006,
an Ipsos survey shows that 62% support same-sex marriage, while 37% were opposed. 55% believed gay and lesbian couples
should not have parenting rights, while 44% believe same-sex couples should be able to adopt.See also LGBT rights in France.
Growing out of the values of the Catholic Church and rural communities, the basic unit of French society was traditionally held to be
the family. Over the twentieth century, the “traditional” family structure in France has evolved from various regional models
to, after World War II, nuclear families. Since the 1960s, marriages have decreased and divorces have increased in France, and divorce law and legal family status have evolved to reflect these social changes.
According to INSEE figures, household and family composition in metropolitan France continues to evolve. Most significantly, from
1982 to 1999, single parent families have increased from 3.6% to 7.4%; there have also been increases in the number of unmarried
couples, childless couples, and single men (from 8.5% to 12.5) and women (from 16.0% to 18.5%). Their analysis indicates that “one
in three dwellings are occupied by a person living alone; one in four dwellings are occupied by a childless couple..”
Voted by the French Parliament in November 1999 following some controversy, the pacte civil de solidarité (“civil pact of solidarity”)
commonly known as a PACS, is a form of civil union between two adults (same-sex or opposite-sex) for organizing their joint life. It
brings rights and responsibilities, but less so than marriage. From a legal standpoint, a PACS is a “contract” drawn up between the
two individuals, which is stamped and registered by the clerk of the court. Individuals who have registered a PACS are still
considered “single” with regard to family status for some purposes, while they are increasingly considered in the same way as
married couples are for other purposes. While it was pushed by the government of Prime Minister Lionel Jospin in 1998, it was also
opposed, mostly by people on the right-wing who support traditionalist family values and who argued that PACS and the recognition
of homosexual unions would be disastrous for French society.
Role of the State
The French state has traditionally played an important role in promoting and supporting culture through the educational, linguistic,
cultural and economic policies of the government and through its promotion of national identity. Because of the closeness of this
relationship, cultural changes in France are often linked to, or produce, political crisis.
The relationship between the French state and culture is an old one. Under Louis XIII’s minister Richelieu, the independent Académie
française came under state supervision and became an official organ of control over the French language and seventeenth-century
literature. During Louis XIV’s reign, his minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert brought French luxury industries, like textile and porcelain,
under royal control and the architecture, furniture, fashion and etiquette of the royal court (particularly at the Château de Versailles)
became the preeminent model of noble culture in France (and, to a great degree, throughout Europe) during the latter half of the
At times, French state policies have sought to unify the country around certain cultural norms, while at other times they have
promoted regional differences within a heterogeneous French identity. The unifying effect was particularly true of the “radical
period”” of the French Third Republic which fought regionalisms (including regional languages), supported anti-clericalism and a
strict separation of church from state (including education) and actively promoted national identity, thus converting (as the historian
Eugen Weber has put it) a “country of peasants into a nation of Frenchmen”. The Vichy Regime, on the other hand, promoted
regional “folk” traditions.
The French educational system is highly centralized. It is divided into three different stages: primary education, or enseignement
primaire, corresponding to grade school in the United States; secondary education, or collège and lycée, corresponding to middle
and high school in the United States; and higher education .
Minister of Culture
The Minister of Culture is in the Government of France, the cabinet member in charge of national museums and monuments;
promoting and protecting the arts (visual, plastic, theatrical, musical, dance, architectural, literary, televisual and cinematographic)
in France and abroad; and managing the national archives and regional “maisons de culture” (culture centres). The Ministry of
Culture is located on the Palais Royal in Paris.
Traditional French culture places a high priority on the enjoyment of food. French cuisine was codified in the 20th century by
Georges Auguste Escoffier to become the modern version of haute cuisine. Escoffier’s major work, however, left out much of the
regional character to be found in the provinces of France. Gastro-tourism and the Guide Michelin helped to bring people to the
countryside during the 20th century and beyond, to sample this rich bourgeois and peasant cuisine of France. Basque cuisine has
also been a great influence over the cuisine in the southwest of France.
Ingredients and dishes vary by region (see: Regional cuisine). There are many significant regional dishes that have become both
national and regional. Many dishes that were once regional, however, have proliferated in different variations across the country in
the present day. Cheese (see: List of French cheeses) and wine (see: French wine) are also a major part of the cuisine, playing
different roles both regionally and nationally with their many variations and Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) (regulated
appellation) laws, (lentils from Le Puy-en-Velay also have an AOC status). Another French product of special note is the Charolais
France renewed its dominance of the high fashion (couture or haute couture) industry in the years 1860–1960 through the
establishing of the great couturier houses, the fashion press (Vogue was founded in 1892; Elle was founded in 1945) and fashion
shows. The first modern Parisian couturier house is generally considered the work of the Englishman Charles Frederick Worth who
dominated the industry from 1858 to 1895.In the early twentieth century, the industry expanded through such Parisian fashion
houses as the house of Chanel (which first came to prominence in 1925) and Balenciaga (founded by a Spaniard in 1937). In the
post war year, fashion returned to prominence through Christian Dior’s famous “new look” in 1947, and through the houses of
Pierre Balmain and Hubert de Givenchy (opened in 1952).
culture while designers like Yves Saint Laurent broke with established high fashion norms by launching prêt-à-porter (“ready to
wear”) lines and expanding French fashion into mass manufacturing and marketing.Further innovations were carried out by
Paco Rabanne and Pierre Cardin. With a greater focus on marketing and manufacturing, new trends were established in the 70s and
80s by Sonia Rykiel, Thierry Mugler, Claude Montana, Jean Paul Gaultier and Christian Lacroix. The 1990s saw a conglomeration of
many French couture houses under luxury giants and multinationals such as LVMH.
France boasts a wide variety of indigenous folk music, as well as styles played by immigrants from Africa, Latin America and Asia. In
the field of classical music, France has produced a number of notable composers such as Gabriel Fauré, Claude Debussy, and
Hector Berlioz while modern pop music has seen the rise of popular French hip hop, French rock, techno/funk, and turntablists/djs.
The Fête de la Musique was created in France (first held in 1982), a music festival, which has since become worldwide . It takes place every June 21, on the first day of summer.In 2010, the French electronic music duo, Daft Punk was admitted into the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, an order of merit of France. Bangalter and de Homem-Christo were individually awarded the rank of Chevalier (knight).
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