12 of the best quotes about France and the French

Many people throughout history have had a lot to say about France and the French, including the French themselves. These quotes explain a lot about the country, its people and what others think of them, from the adoring to the slightly less adoring.

12 of the best quotes about France and the French
Clockwise from top left, Charles de Gaulle, Julia Child, Josephine Baker and Jacques Chirac. All photos: AFP

How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese? – Charles de Gaulle

Three years into his 10-year presidency, the ultimate Frenchman jokingly complained about the impossibility of governing the country.

Rather proving his point is the fact it is regularly gleefully pointed out his estimate of the number of cheese varieties in France is way off the mark. The number of French cheeses is thought to be more than 1,200 and there are eight ‘cheese families’.

READ ALSO This is how much the French are obsessed with cheese


France is a paradise inhabited by people who believe they are in hell – Sylvain Tesson

Addressing the well-known French habit of complaining, French writer Sylvain Tesson came up with this pithy little phrase to address the fact that French people frequently regard their own country as the worst in the world . . . apart from all the others.

READ ALSO Why I love the French habits of scolding and complaining

The relations between France and the United States have been, are, and will always be conflictive and excellent. It is the nature of things … The US find France unbearably pretentious. And we find the US unbearably hegemonic – Jacques Chirac

The former French president, and master of the pithy phrase, summed up the frequently complicated relationship between France and the US, which became even more complicated when Chirac flatly refused to join the US-led invasion of Iraq.

READ ALSO ‘Does Maggie Thatcher want my balls on a plate?’ – Jacques Chirac’s best quotes

There is an admirable fact about the psychology of France: she knows no half measures, loathsome or sublime, she forges the thought and the beauty of a world or of a dung heap; her destiny is never to be mediocre – Josephin Peladan

The 19th-century novelist had this to say about la beauté et la bête that is France, and believed it kept the country from ever being ‘mediocre’.

It seemed that in Paris you could discuss classic literature or architecture or great music with everyone from the garbage collector to the mayor – Julia Child, My Life in France

Proof, if you ever needed it, that France is a country of culture vultures, from the American food writer who was later immortalised by Meryl Streep in the gentle Julie and Julia.

I wanted to get far away from those who believed in cruelty, so then I went to France, a land of true freedom, democracy, equality and fraternity – Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker was remarkable in every possible sense of the word. The American-born French entertainer, Resistance agent, and civil rights activist had this to say about her adopted country.

France is like a maddening, moody lover who inspires emotional highs and lows. One minute it fills you with a rush of passion, the next you’re full of fury, itching to smack the mouth of some sneering shopkeeper or smug civil servant. Yes, it’s a love-hate relationship – Sarah Turnbull

READ ALSO Why the customer is not always right in France

The Australian TV journalist-turned-author sums up France and the French in 47 words. She’s not the first to try it, but few have managed to say it as succinctly.

France is the most civilised country in the world and doesn’t care who knows it – John Gunther

The American journalist and author of Death Be Not Proud damns France and the French with faint praise.

What I gained by being in France was learning to be better satisfied with my own country – Samuel Johnson

When he wasn’t spending nine years writing the first dictionary of the English language, Dr Johnson was quick with a quote. The 18th-century master of the soundbite clearly didn’t have much truck with France.

The French are a logical people, which is one reason the English dislike them so intensely. The other is that they own France, a country which we have always judged to be much too good for them – Robert Morley

The actor and raconteur on why the French seem able to live rent-free in the heads of a certain class of English people.

READ ALSO French bashing – why the hatred towards France?

France has neither winter nor summer nor morals. Apart from these drawbacks it is a fine country – Mark Twain

The American writer clearly didn’t like France. He didn’t like golf, either – though whether that also counts against him depends on your opinion of golf. Or France.

We always have been, we are, and I hope that we always shall be, detested in France – Duke of Wellington

Anglo-French relations, as per the Duke of Wellington… In fairness, he was at war with the French for significant parts of his life. Maybe he would have been more chill if he had the option of a gîte holiday in Dordogne.

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French government aims to block ‘burkinis’ in swimming pools

France's interior minister said on Tuesday that he would seek to overturn a rule change in the city of Grenoble that would allow women to wear burkinis in state-run swimming pools.

French government aims to block 'burkinis' in swimming pools

The all-in-one swimsuit, used by some Muslim women to cover their bodies and hair while bathing, is a controversial issue in France where critics see it as a symbol of creeping Islamisation.

The Alpine city of Grenoble changed its swimming pool rules on Monday to allow all types of bathing suits, not just traditional swimming costumes for women and trunks for men which were mandated before.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin called the change an “unacceptable provocation” that was “contrary to our values”, adding that he had asked for a legal challenge to the new regulations.

Under a new law to counter “Islamist separatism” passed by parliament last year, the government can challenge decisions it suspects of undermining France’s strict secular traditions that are meant to separate religions from the state.

Attempts by several local mayors in the south of France to ban the burkini on Mediterranean beaches in the summer of 2016 kicked off the first firestorm around the bathing suit.

The restrictions were eventually overturned for being discriminatory.

Grenoble’s mayor Eric Piolle, one of the country’s highest profile Green politicians who leads a broad left-wing coalition locally, has championed the city’s move as a victory.

“All we want is for women and men to be able to dress how they want,” Piolle told broadcaster RMC on Monday.

The head of the EELV party, Julien Bayou, argued that the decision had nothing to do with secularism laws, which oblige state officials to be neutral in religious matters but guarantee the rights of citizens to practice their faith freely.

Burkinis are not banned in French state-run pools on religious grounds, but for hygiene reasons, while swimmers are not under any legal obligation to hide their religion while bathing.

“I want Muslim women to be able to practice their religion, or change it, or not believe, and I would like them to be able to go swimming,” he added. “I want them also to suffer less demands to dress in one way or another.”

Grenoble is not the first French city to change its rules.

The northwestern city of Rennes quietly updated its pool code in 2019 to allow burkinis and other types of swimwear.