The ‘cheese-eating surrender monkeys’ tag immortalised by Homer Simpson, has contributed to a general sense of the French as cowardly losers. But the French have arguably the best military record in Europe. According to historian Niall Ferguson, of the 125 major European wars fought since 1495, the French have fought in 50, more than both Austria (47) and England (43). And they achieved an impressive overall batting average: out of a total of 168 battles fought since 387 bc, they have won 109, lost 49 and drawn 10.
The British rightly pride themselves on their naval superiority, but this was largely born out of the certain knowledge that we would never win a land war on the continent. Over its long history, the French army was usually the largest, best-equipped and most strategically innovative army in Europe. Most of the words used in modern warfare derive from French words, such as: army, artillery, captain, cavalry, charge, espionage, general, lieutenant, lance, marines, manoeuvre, military, mine, naval, parachute, pilot, platoon, regiment, soldier and trench.
At its maximum strength, under Napoleon, the French army achieved a feat that even the Nazis couldn’t repeat: they entered Moscow. Contemporary accounts of French military prowess were glowing with military historian and soldier General Sir William Napier (1785-1860) commenting: ‘It is well known with what gallantry the [French] officers lead and with what vehemence the troops follow’. British Coldstream guardsman, John Mills said that ‘their movements compared with ours are as mail coaches to dung carts. In all weathers and at all they are accustomed to march, when our men would fall sick by hundreds.’
The French invented a precursor to the Internet called Minitel. It was used to shop online from as early as 1984.
The Eiffel Tower wasn’t designed by Gustav Eiffel but by Morris Koechlin, an employee of his. His proposal was chosen unanimously from 700 other designs. However, critics of the tower complained of its aesthetics and nicknamed the tower ‘the shame of Paris’.
A petition of 300 names including Guy de Maupassant, Émile Zola, and Alexandre Dumas the Younger signed the ‘Protest against the Tower of Monsieur Eiffel’ published in Le Temps, addressed to the World’s Fair’s director of works Monsieur Alphand. It began ‘We come, we writers, painters, sculptors, architects, lovers of the beauty of Paris which was until now intact, to protest with all our strength and all our indignation, in the name of the underestimated taste of the French, in the name of French art and history under threat, against the erection in the very heart of our capital, of the useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower…’
Guy de Maupassant described the tower as ‘a high and skinny pyramid of iron ladders, this giant ungainly skeleton upon a base that looks built to carry a colossal monument of Cyclops, but which just peters out into a ridiculous thin shape like a factory chimney’. He is said to have lunched in the Tower’s restaurant frequently because that was the only place in Paris from which the Tower could not be seen.
Initially Gustav Eiffel had a 20 year lease on the structure, after which it reverted to the ownership of the City Council of Paris. They had planned to tear the structure down (part of the original design brief was that the structure had to be easy to dismantle) in 1909. However, by this it had proved useful as a radio transmitter, and so it was kept for this purpose.
At a total weight of 7,300 tons for the metal structure, the tower is, in fact, remarkably light for a structure of its size. If you surrounded the tower with a cylinder containing the base and reaching to the top, the tower would weigh no more than the air contained within the cylinder.
Three-quarters of French people holiday in France.
Disneyland Paris recieves more visitors than the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre put together.
France, at 211,000 square miles (544,000 sq km) is the biggest country in the European Union. It is 50% larger than Germany, and bigger than Britain and Italy combined. It also has the highest birth rate and the fastest growing population. It’s also the world’s top tourist destination with 79 million visitors in 2006 (27% more than its population).
The English originally applied the term ‘frog’ to the Dutch in the 17th century, during the Anglo-Dutch Wars. It made sense – they were frogs hopping around in their damp swamp of a country. ‘Frogland’ was Holland. ‘Frog’s wine’ was gin. But after 1688, the Dutch effectively ran Britain (which had been conquered for the second by a William, though bloodlessly on this occasion). At the same , the Old Enemy (France) was stirring once more, so, by the 1750s, the term of the abuse had moved seamlessly across to the French, where it has stayed. The fact that they eat frogs only makes it more apt.
More tourists visit France than any other country in the world - 75 million a year.
In France, cooking is a serious art form and a national sport.
In all likelihood Napoleon was about 5ft 6in tall, while the average 18th century Frenchman was only 5ft 3in.
There are six villages in France called Silly, 12 called Billy and two called Prat.
In 15th-century France, one in every four days was an official holiday.