Why parts of Israel, Germany, Italy and Britain are actually French

You might think the answer to 'where is French' is obvious - France. But apart from l'Hexagone (aka mainland France) there are a surprising amount of places around the world that are French.

Why parts of Israel, Germany, Italy and Britain are actually French
French territory spreads much further than just France. Photo: AFP

French president Emmanuel Macron ruffled a few feathers this week while on a trip to Israel when he forbade an Israeli security guard to enter a church in Jerusalem.

At first glance it might seem that the president was well overstepping his powers, but in this case he was correct as the Church of St Anne in Jerusalem is – through a quirk of history – considered French territory.


And former French president Jacques Chirac had the exact same argument when he visited the church in 1996 (leading some suspicious souls to claim that Macron had staged the whole incident in order to 'ape' his popular predecessor, particularly as his French accent in the clip seems much heavier than it normally does when he's speaking English. We'll leave that one for others to argue over).

But what's even stranger about the whole thing is that the Eglise de Sainte-Anne is not even the only bit of Jerusalem that belongs to France – four other sites are also considered part of French territory along with a host of other sites around the world.

Emmanuel Macron in Jerusalem, about to enter a part of France. Photo: AFP

So where in the world is French?

Well firstly, obviously, is France itself, commonly known as l'Hexagone (the hexagone) because of its six sided shape, and Corsica.

But the other reason for the popular use of the phrase l'Hexagone is to distinguish mainland France from its départements d'outre-mer (overseas départements)

France has five of these and they are as much a part of France as Paris, Marseille and Dordogne.

The overseas départements are the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique in the Caribbean, the islands of Mayotte and Réunion in the Indian Ocean and French Guiana in South America.

Thanks to the tiny country of French Guiana, France officially shares a border with Brazil, as Emmanuel Macron pointed out last year when the Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro asked how the Amazon fires were his business. But Macron and Bolsonaro now have other things to argue over.

The five overseas départements are all former colonies of France.

But the French empire was at one point large and sprawling, including many slave colonies.

While many former parts of the empire have declared independence and now have nothing to do with France (apart from sometimes retaining French as an official language) other former colonies now have a quasi autonomous status.

These collectivité d'outre-mer are French Polynesia, the islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon off the coast of Canada, Wallis and Futuna islands in the Polynesian archipelago and Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy islands in the Caribbean. There are also several uninhabited islands in the Antarctic which are visited only by researchers.

Finally, and more weirdly, are the places like the Eglise de Sainte-Anne that are part of another country but count as French territory because of a historical quirk.


In the case of this church, the grounds were gifted to Emperor Napoleon III in 1856 by the Ottoman Sultan Abdülmecid as a little merci for his help in the Crimean war.

Eagle-eyed history students may have noticed that Napoleon III is no longer ruling France, but the country still considers the church and its grounds part of French territory – hence Macron's order.

Also in Jerusalem France owns l'abbaye Sainte-Marie de la Résurrection d'Abu Gosh (the abbey of St Mary of the resurrection of Abu Gosh) le Tombeau des Rois (the tomb of the kings) and the Eglise du Pater Noster (Church of Our Father).

Foreign ownership of sites in Jerusalem is not particularly unusual, thanks to the city's complicated past (and present) but France also owns some oddities of territory elsewhere in the world.

Seven churches in Vatican City belong to France – the Trinity of the Mounts, Saint-Louis des Monts, Saint-Louis des Français, Saint-Nicolas-des-Lorrains, Saint-Yves-des-Bretons, Saint-Claude des Francs-Comtois de Bourgogne, the National Chapel of France in Loreto and France also owns the Villa des Médicis in Rome.

French write Victor Hugo does not seem to have been a minimalist when it comes to home décor. Photo: AFP

In Germany, France owns a hefty forest. The 680-hectare Fôret du Mundat is on the French-Germany border, part of the Alsace-Lorraine area that has passed between French and German hands numerous times over the previous two centuries.

In the case of the forest the compromise that was finally agreed in 1984 is that France owns and manages the forest via the Office national des forêts but Germany has sovereignty.

The British-owned island of Saint Helena in the south Atlantic is famously the place where Napoleon spent his final days under house arrest after his defeat at Waterloo.

But despite the island being British three parts of it are technically French. These are the buildings of Pavillon des Briars and Longwood House, where the deposed emperor was held and where he died, and the vallée du Tombeau where he is buried.

And it's not the only part of Britain that is French.

The Channel Islands have been part of British territory (as Crown dependencies) since the Norman Conquest, but one part of Guernsey is actually French. It is Victor Hugo's house in St Peter Port.

Owned by Paris City Hall rather than the French state, the site is a significant one historically as it's where the celebrated French author wrote Les Misérables after he was forced to flee France after being less than polite about Napoleon III.

And of course like all countries, France considers its embassies part of French soil, wherever they are in the world.




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Everything you need to know about France’s 2022 summer sales

In France, you can only shop the best deals twice a year - during the soldes. Here is everything you need to know about this year's summer sales.

Everything you need to know about France's 2022 summer sales

They happen twice a year – Each year, France has two soldes periods: one in the winter, usually starting January, and another in the summer, usually starting in June.

This summer, the soldes will start on Wednesday, June 22nd in most parts of France and run for four weeks, so even though you might be tempted to go on the first day, keep in mind they’ll be going on for a while.

They are progressive, so items will be continuously marked down as the soldes wear on. If you wait, you are risking that your favourite t-shirt might sell out quickly, but if you’re lucky it might end up marked down even further.

During 2020 and 2021 the government altered sales dates and time periods to help shops cope with closures and lockdowns, but now we’re back to the usual timetable.

This is the only time stores can have “sales” – Technically, the soldes are the only time that stores are allowed to have sales, but the definition of ‘sale’ is important.

Basically, the French government qualifies a ‘solde‘ as the store selling an item for less than they purchased it for.

During the rest of the year discounting is allowed in certain circumstances, so you might see promotions or vente privée (private sales, usually short-term events aimed at regular customers or loyalty-card holders) throughout the year.

In these situations the stores might be selling items for less than their original price, but they are not permitted to sell the item for less than they bought it for. 

Shops are also permitted to have closing-down sales if they are shutting down, or closing temporarily for refurbishment.

They are strictly regulated by the French government – Everything from how long the soldes go for to the consumer protection rules that apply to the very definition of ‘solde’ is regulated by the French government, and the main purpose of this is to protect small independent businesses which might not be able to offer the same level of discounts as the big chains and multi-national companies.

Whether you shop in person or online, the same rules apply.

As a consumer, you still have the same rights as non-sales times regarding broken or malfunctioning items – meaning you ought to be entitled to a refund if the item has not been expressly indicated as faulty. The French term is vice caché, referring to discovering a defect after purchase.

On top of that, stores must be clear about which items are reduced and which are not – and must display the original price on the label as well as the sale price and percentage discount. 

READ MORE: Your consumer rights for French sales

They started in the 19th century – France’s soldes started in the 19th century, alongside the growth of department stores who had the need to regularly renew their stock – and get rid of leftover items.

Simon Mannoury, who founded the first Parisian department store “Petit Saint-Thomas” in 1830, came up with the idea.

Funnily enough, this department store actually is the ancestor for the famous department store Le Bon Marché. His goal was to sell off the previous season’s unsold stock in order to replace it with new products.

In order to do this, Mannoury offered heavy discounts to sell as much merchandise as possible in a limited time.

The soldes start at different times depending on where you live – The sales start at the same time across most of mainland France, but there are exceptions for overseas France and certain départements, usually those along the border.

France’s finance ministry allows for the sales to start at different times based on local economies and tourist seasons. 

For the summer 2022 sales only two parts of metropolitan France have different dates; Alpes-Maritimes sales run from July 6th to August 2nd, while on the island of Corsica they run from July 13th to August 9th.

In France’s overseas territories the sales are held later in the year.

You might qualify for a tax rebate – If you are resident outside the EU, you might be eligible for a tax rebate on your sales purchases.

If you spend at least €100 in one store, then you qualify. You should hold onto your receipt and tell the cashier you plan to use a tax rebate so they can give you the necessary documentation (a duty-free slip).

Then when you are leaving you can find the kiosk at the station or airport dedicated to tax rebates (détaxe) and file prior to leaving France. For more information read HERE