Ten facts about the French you probably didn’t know

How much do the French drink and how often to they have sex, smoke and eat pizza? Here are some facts to arm you for your next dinner party.

Ten facts about the French you probably didn't know
Photo: AFP

1. Around 15 percent of the French population are obese. 

This is what a 2012 state sponsored study by ObEpi-Roche revealed. This fact may come as surprise to many given the French have long been known for having some of the world's healthiest cuisine and thinnest waistlines. But it appears their recently acquired love of fast-food may be having an adverse effect. The same study found that the French, on average, have put on more than three kilos since 1997.

2.The French eat 10 tonnes of pizzas per year. 

A seemingly incredible stat that might explain the previous one on rising levels of obesity. At 10 tonnes a year that means the French eat more pizzas than the Italians (9 tonnes) and are second only to the Americans (12) in the global pizza munching table. Find that hard to believe?

3. French women are having more sex than ever. 

French men have the reputation for having all the sex but French women have been catching up recently. A 2008 study revealed they are having their first sexual encounter aged 17, down from aged 20 in the mid-1990s. French women on average have five lovers in the course of their lives, instead of the four, 20 years ago. And 90 percent of women aged over 50 say they remain sexually active, up from 50 percent in 1970. Sound true to you?

4. About 27 people kill themselves everyday in France. 

This stat gives France one of the highest suicide rates in Europe, behind only Finland, Belgium and certain Eastern European countries. That may seem strange for a country renowned for its quality of life but mental health experts have said they believe the high rate is due in part to a lack of resources for people suffering from psychological illness.

5. French teens have been smoking and drinking more since a 2009 law that raised the minimum age for alcohol and tobacco sales. 

It appears government efforts to prevent the invasion of “le binge drinking” among French teens is not working. The rate is highest among 16 and 17-year-olds. France raised the age limit in 2009 in a bid to tackle the increased trend of what is known in French as “la beuverie express” which up until a few years ago had been an Anglo phenomenon.

6. Almost two thirds of French declare themselves as Catholic. 

France has a long tradition of laicité – the non-interference of religion in state matters, but the Catholic church remains a powerful institution in society and it can still count on a high number of Gallic followers. A 2010 poll revealed 64 percent of French people considered themselves Catholic, although that is down from 81 percent in 1981.

7. The French consume around 30,000 tonnes of snails a year. 

If that sounds incredible then the fact that only 1,000 tonnes come from France's 300 snail farms is even more surprising. That means over 95 percent of the country’s edible gastropods are imported. One of the problems with home grown French snails is that some varieties refuse to breed in captivity. 

8. One in two French men cheat on their partners. 

This stat, which will worry expats with French boyfriends, is in line with the stereotype of the unfaithful Frenchman. However it's worth noting the same survey carried out this year revealed that French ladies weren’t much better either when it came to being faithful. About a third of them cheated on their partner. 

9. On average the French drink the equivalent of 13.7 litres of pure alcohol each year. 

That total is the same as drinking well over 500 pints of beer that contain five percent alcohol. It may seem like a lot, but it represents a significant drop from the early 1960s when the French consumed the equivalent of 25 litres of pure alcohol per year. France’s thirst puts it only behind the hard drinking United Kingdom and even harder drinking Russia.

10. In 2011 more French households had a colour TV than those that had a refrigerator. 

The fact that 97.4 percent of homes with a TV, compared to 89 percent with a fridge, may help the confused expat understand why French supermarkets have cartons of milk sitting on the shelf and not in the refrigerated section along with other dairy products. French dry sausage, saucisson, also sits on the self as though it were a can of peas. 

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France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25

Free birth control for all women under 25 will be available in France from Saturday, expanding a scheme targeting under-18s to ensure young women don't stop taking contraception because they cannot afford it.

France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25
A doctor holds an interuterine contraceptive device (IUD) before inserting it in a patient. Photo: Adek Berry/AFP

The scheme, which could benefit three million women, covers the pill, IUDs, contraceptive patches and other methods composed of steroid hormones. Contraception for minors was already free in France.

Several European countries, including Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, make contraception free for teens. Britain makes several forms of contraception free to all.

France announced the extension to women under 25 in September, saying surveys showed a decline in the use of contraception mainly for financial reasons.

The move is part of a series of measures taken by President Emmanuel Macron’s government to boost women’s rights and alleviate youth poverty. The free provision is supported by women’s groups including the association En Avant Tous.

“Between 18 and 25-years-old, women are very vulnerable because they lose a lot of rights compared to when they were minors and are very precarious economically,” spokeswoman Louise Delavier told AFP.

Leslie Fonquerne, an expert in gender issues, said there was more to be done.

“This measure in no way resolves the imbalance in the contraceptive burden between women and men,” the sociologist said.

In some developed countries, the free contraception won by women after decades of campaigning is coming under attack again from the religious right.

In the United States, former president Barack Obama’s signature health reform, known as Obamacare, gave most people with health insurance free access to birth control.

But his successor Donald Trump scrapped the measure, allowing employers to opt out of providing contraception coverage on religious grounds — a decision upheld by the Supreme Court in 2020.

Poland’s conservative government has also heavily restricted access to emergency contraception as part of its war on birth control.