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France Facts: Dead people can get married

France is will known for lots of great things, from its quality of life to its rich culture, beautiful countryside and great gastronomy, but in our new series we celebrate some of the less well known - and frankly sometimes bizarre - things about France and the French.

France Facts: Dead people can get married
Photo: AFP

Known as the country for lovers, France does not limit romantic attachments only to the living and in fact is it possible to get hitched in France if you are dead.

This custom goes back to Napoleonic times and was usually used by women whose intended husbands had been killed during a war. 

It was especially common during and after World War I, when a posthumous marriage was necessary for women who wanted to assure the legitimacy of children whose fathers had died on the front before being able to walk down the aisle.

The law in its current form was formalised and added to the Civil Code – Article 171 – in 1959.

That was the year that a dam burst in Fréjus in southern France, killing 420 people.

Among the dead was a young man by the name of André Capra who had been due to marry his pregnant fiancée. Devastated, she petitioned President Charles de Gaulle to allow the wedding to go ahead – and therefore for her child to be born legitimate.

The law was passed so now it is officially possible to marry a dead person.

You can't just marry any old dead person though, the French president has to sign off all requests and certain conditions need to be met, the main one being that the deceased person had a clear intention to marry – usually through the announcement of an engagement or making preparations for a wedding.

As the social stigma behind unwed parents fades these marriages are becoming less common, but there are still about 50 a year.

So there you have it – in France, not even death gets in the way of true love.


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France Facts: Paris once had a ‘strike square’

The French have something of an international reputation for being fond of a strike - but did you know that Paris once had a Place de Grève (strike square)?

France Facts: Paris once had a 'strike square'

But in this case the French did not name the square after one of their favourite activities, in fact it was the other way round.

The Place de Grève, in central Paris next to the Seine, was the place where unemployed workers gathered, seeking casual labour.

Over time grève came to signify a group of people who were not working.

After the French won the right to strike in 1864 – 20 years before they won the right to form a union – the word attached itself to workers who were choosing to without their labour, rather than people who were unable to find work.

These days the French are quite fond of une grève, and between 2010 and 2017, the number of French strike days was 125 per 1,000 employees, according to a study by the European Trade Union Institute.

As a comparison, the UK, Germany and Sweden had 20, 17 and 3 respectively. 

The Place de Grève still exists, but in 1802 it was renamed the Place de l'Hôtel de Ville and houses the very impressive city hall of Paris.

The square's other claim to fame is that it used to be where public executions took place, and saw the first public use of the guillotine when robber Nicolas Jacques Pelletier was executed on April 25th, 1792.

And France has seen one or two strikes since 1864.