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France Facts: Absinthe doesn’t make you hallucinate

It's on one of two things everybody knows about absinthe - it's green and if you drink too much you hallucinate. But scientific testing has proved that one of those things is false.

France Facts: Absinthe doesn't make you hallucinate
Photo: AFP

The potent aniseed flavoured spirit became so notorious for causing hallucinations and madness that the French government banned it in 1915 and it was not allowed back on sale until 2000.

The drink, which was given EU protected geographical status earlier this year, is traditionally produced in the eastern French region of Pontarlier and uses locally grown herbs in the recipe.

The herbs include green anise and fennel, but to be considered real absinthe it must also contain wormwood. And it is one of the active ingredients of wormwood – thujone – that supposedly caused hallucinations.

Except that scientific testing back in the 1970s proved that there are no hallucinogens in absinthe.

Vincent Van Gogh's Café table with Absinthe. Photo: AFP

The fact the drink is 74 percent proof might have something to do with reports of madness though, drink enough of any alcohol that strong and you will probably start to display some odd behaviour.

The drink is widely associated with the artists of the Belle Epoque, although it was widely drunk all over France before the ban, some of whom – such as Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gogh – certainly had their oddities.

But in their cases is seems more likely that alcoholism, physical and mental illness and possible venereal disease played more of a role in their well-documented oddities than a glass or two of la fée verte (the green fairy).

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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.