• With a land area of 547,000 square kilometres, France is the largest country in the EU; its population of 66 million is second only to that of Germany.
• France has a long secular republican tradition dating back to the revolution of 1789. Yet the majority of its population is Roman Catholic – nominally, at least – and there’s a substantial Muslim minority of around 8–10 percent.
• Annual GDP per capita is around $44,000, making France one of the world’s richest countries, but unemployment is a persistent problem, at around 10 percent. Taxes are high, at around 43 percent, but so is social spending, at almost 30 percent.
• France remains by far the most popular tourist destination in the world, with some 82 million visitors annually.
• The French film industry is the world’s third most prolific, after the US and India, with around 215 million tickets sold annually.
• France is no longer the bastion of popular gastronomy it once was. Frogs’ legs, horse flesh and snails do indeed still appear on many restaurant menus, but contrary to its self-image, the country is also the second largest consumer of McDonalds’ burgers after the US, flipping more than a million Big Macs daily.
• A great source of confusion when meeting and greeting French people is the double kiss, or bise. When it is appropriate, and how many times to do it, which cheek to start with, whether to touch or air kiss, what to do with your hands, or whether it’s better to shake hands instead, are all matters that vex the French just as much as foreign visitors – not least because norms vary between regions, social situations and age groups. When in doubt, hang back, copy what everyone else does, and go left for the first one.
• In 1910, a law was passed in France forbidding couples from kissing on train platforms to avoid delayed departures. The law is still in place, though no longer enforced.
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