French II 5/19/99
Not large by North American standards (about the size of Texas), France is nonetheless extremely diverse: it concentrates a wealth of scenery, regional identities each with their own particular flavor defined by cultural and historic differences.
Through the years, France's stamp on western civilization has left an unchangeable mark in many domains and French know how remains a prominent in the arts, politics, cuisine, fashion and science.
Since World War II, French society has undergone great transformations. Whereas one person in 3 used to work in farming, today this ratio stands at 1 in 16. At the same time, religious practice (mostly Catholic) declined almost at the same rate.
This new age ushered in such changes in social habits as the wider acceptance of the practice of unmarried couples living together and the legalization of abortion. After the students took to the streets in infamous May 1968, conditions for women have tremendously improved and many social structures became less constructing for everyone.
French society likes formality in many aspects of everyday life as obligatory handshaking or cheek kissing ;-), the use of the word vous (rather then the familiar tu ) and of titles when referring to a superior or a stranger and the concern about always dressing well.
Nudity is not seen as a sin and women generally go topless on the beaches of the Riviera. Many French TV shows do not hesitate to include partially or totally undressed men or women even during prime time.
As a result of Napoleon's Civil Code, most of everyday life's transactions follow written texts or laws. French people, however, take great pleasure and pride in finding new clever ways to bypass these restrictions or instructions.
Modern Life in France
Since the 1950's, French people have enjoyed the benefits of mass culture and consumerism. As the fourth economic power, France's standard of living and level of consumption are very similar to those in the USA.
Urban life in a city such as Paris has become almost the same as in any other megalopolis in the world. Regional and rural life, on the other hand, has remained very unique and varies tremendously from one region to another.
Culture and the arts are very important in everyday life in France. The worldwide appeal of the US model and the related Americanization is well present in France. However, in order to protect France's cultural identity, the government recently stepped in and enacted some laws aiming at restricting the broadcast of English speaking movies or songs and the use of English vocabulary in general.