Seven things we learned in France in 2019

With the new year well underway we have pulled out a few important things we have learned about France from the last 12 months of seafood scandals, sex rulings and conflagrations.

Seven things we learned in France in 2019
There's always more to learn about cheese in France. Photo: AFP

1. Sex with a stranger is a legal part of a business trip

Yes, that was the ruling of the Paris appeals court, which decided that picking up a stranger for sex can form a legal part of a business trip. The ruling was in response to a Frenchman who died while away from home on a work trip. His company disputed whether this could be counted as a 'workplace accident' since at the time of his death he was in a fellow traveller's hotel room, having sex.

But the court ruled that as sex is a 'normal, everyday activity' it would count as being a legitimate part of a business trip, and therefore the man was judged to be the victim of a workplace accident.

Although we suspect that ruling is unlikely to cut any ice with an outraged partner if they find out about your extra curricular 'work'.

2. Jacques Chirac had quite a turn of phrase (and was a handsome devil in his youth)

Former French president Jacques Chirac died this year and among the many gushing tributes to the retired statesman one thing stood out – his very pithy turn of phrase (along with his apparently inability to remember when the microphone was on).

Some of his best one-liners can be read here, but he was particularly sharp on the British, once remarking that “you can't trust people who cook as badly as that” while former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was the subject of his outraged remark at a Brussels summit “does this housewife want my balls on a plate?”

And for those who mostly remembered him as a balding middle-aged politician, it was quite a surprise to see pictures of the handsome young communist activist he was in his youth.

Jacques Chirac, pictured in 1962. Photo: AFP

Something of a coureur de joupon (skirt chaser) in life, Chirac even in death continued to stir up gossip – remember this curious incident at his funeral?

3. Nobody wants to go for a swim on the roof of a cathedral

The moment that the blazing spire came crashing down will not be forgotten by anyone who was in Paris. Photo: AFP

The burning spire of Notre-Dame cathedral was one of the lasting images of 2019, but the heat from the flames was nothing compared to the blazing row that then broke out over the restoration of the much-loved historic monument.

Traditionalists wanted an exact rebuilding – despite the fact that the destroyed spire was only added to the Medieval building in 1911 – and were outraged at some of the more creative proposals for the Paris landmark.

READ ALSO IN PICTURES Seven of the more wacky ideas for rebuilding Notre-Dame

Among the options submitted were a glass roof, a spire of light and a rooftop garden, but it was the idea of a swimming pool on the roof that drew the most outrage. The design came from Swedish architecture firm UMA, which didn't actually submit them to the French government, the company said that it merely wanted to draw attention to Notre-Dame as a public space.

We actually quite fancied the idea of a dip in here, but nobody else did. Photo: UMA

4. Frenchmen are not that good in bed (according to one Paris writer)

We asked French writer Olivia Sorrel-Dejerine to puncture some myths about the French and dating and she insisted that this is the biggest misconception of all.

READ ALSO Five French dating myths exploded

And it seems that French men themselves accept that they could do with some help – as a book about giving pleasure to women in the bedroom was one of the publishing sensations of the year, selling out its initial print run.

Copies of Au-delà de la pénétration (Beyond penetration) by Martin Page will be available again from early 2020 after the book had to be reprinted because of high demand.

5. François de Rugy doesn't like champagne

François de Rugy and his wife hosted luxury dinners with €500 a bottle wines. Photo: AFP

You might think that being a French government minister is all lobster and champagne – but apparently not for former environment minister François de Rugy.

The minister was forced to resign in July over luxury dinners he had hosted involving giant lobsters and €500 bottles of wine. He never denied hosting the publicly funded luxury dinners, but he insisted they were official entertainments for important government contacts, while others alleged that they were purely social events for friends of himself and his wife.

After a week of damaging headlines he resigned, but added that he never eats lobster because of a shellfish allergy, while champagne gives him a headache.

6. Allegations of using English cheese is a matter for the courts

Chef Marc Veyrat is taking legal action against the Michelin Guide. Photo: AFP

So it's not news that cheese is taken quite seriously in France – as it should be. But for one French chef the allegation that he had used English Cheddar cheese in a soufflé was an insult so serious that only legal action could be the appropriate response.

Chef Marc Veyrat sued the Michelin guide after its inspectors claimed that his three cheese soufflé contained English Cheddar, rather than local cheeses Reblochon, Beaufort and Tomme at his restaurant in Haut-Savoie.

The chef said he had been 'dishonoured' by the guide when it removed his third star after the 'incompetent' inspector misidentified the variety of cheese used in his soufflé. The guide in its turn sued Veyrat over his description of the inspector as 'incompetent'. 

7. If you see a sign saying 'Stop' you should stop

It may be that there are some among you who had figured that out already, but the news came as an unwelcome surprise to The Local's Europe editor Ben McPartland, who netted a €90 fine when a gendarme watched him failing to observe the stop sign correctly.

French law requires you to come to a complete halt at a stop sign, and a rolling stop is not acceptable – even if you can see that the way is clear.

And if you think that all sounds quite obvious you might be ready to move on to trying to figure out how France's famous priorité à droite (give way from the right) rule works. Bon courage!



Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


What changes in France in July 2022

Summer's here and the time is right for national celebrations, traffic jams, strikes, Paris beaches, and ... changing the rules for new boilers.

What changes in France in July 2022

Summer holidays

The holiday season in France officially begins on Thursday, July 7th, as this is the date when school’s out for the summer. The weekend immediately after the end of the school year is expected to be a busy one on the roads and the railways as families start heading off on vacation.

READ ALSO 8 things to know about driving in France this summer


But it wouldn’t really be summer in France without a few strikes – airport employees at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports will walk out on July 1st, while SNCF rail staff will strike on July 6th. Meanwhile Ryanair employees at Paris, Marseille and Toulouse airports will strike on yet-to-be-confirmed dates in July.

READ ALSO How strikes and staff shortages will affect summer in France

Parliamentary fireworks?

Prime minister Elisabeth Borne will present the government’s new programme in parliament on July 5th – this is expected to be a tricky day for the Macron government, not only does it not have the parliamentary majority that it needs to pass legislation like the new package of financial aid to help householders deal with the cost-of-living crisis, but opposition parties have indicated that they will table a motion of no confidence against Borne.

Parliament usually breaks for the summer at the end of July, but a special extended session to allow legislation to be passed means that MPs won’t get to go on holiday until at least August 9th. 

Fête nationale

July 14th is a public holiday in France, commemorating the storming of the Bastille which was the symbolic start of the French Revolution. As usual, towns and cities will host parades and fireworks – with the biggest military parade taking place on the Champs-Elysées in Paris – and many stores will remain closed.

As the national holiday falls on a Thursday this year, many French workers will take the opportunity to faire le pont.

Festival season really kicks in

You know summer’s here when France gets festival fever, with events in towns and cities across the country. You can find our pick of the summer celebrations here.

Paris Plages

The capital’s popular urban beaches return on July 9th on the banks of the Seine and beside the Bassin de la Villette in northern Paris, bringing taste of the seaside to the capital with swimming spots, desk chairs, beach games and entertainment.  

Summer sales end 

Summer sales across most of the country end on July 19th – unless you live in Alpes-Maritimes, when they run from July 6th to August 2nd, or the island of Corsica (July 13th to August 9th).

Tour de France

The Tour de France cycle race sets off on July 1st from Copenhagen and finishes up on the Champs-Elysée in Paris on July 24th.

New boilers

From July 1st, 2022, new equipment installed for heating or hot water in residential or professional buildings, must comply with a greenhouse gas emissions ceiling of 300 gCO2eq/KWh PCI. 

That’s a technical way of saying oil or coal-fired boilers can no longer be installed. Nor can any other type of boiler that exceeds the ceiling.

As per a decree published in the Journal Officiel in January, existing appliances can continue to be used, maintained and repaired, but financial aid of up to €11,000 is planned to encourage their replacement. 

Bike helmets

New standards for motorbike helmets come into effect from July 1st. Riders do not need to change their current helmets, but the “ECE 22.05” standard can no longer be issued – and all helmets sold must adhere to a new, more stringent “ECE 22.06” standards from July 2024

New cars

From July 6th new car models must be equipped with a black box that record driving parameters such as speed, acceleration or braking phases, wearing (or not) of a seat belt, indicator use, the force of the collision or engine speed, in case of accidents.

New cars II

From July 1st, the ecological bonus for anyone who buys an electric vehicle drops by €1,000, while rechargeable hybrids will be excluded from the aid system, “which will be reserved for electric vehicles whose CO2 emission rate is less than or equal to 20g/km”.

What’s in a name?

Historically, the French have been quite restrictive on the use of family names – remember the concern over the use of birth names on Covid vaccine documents? – but it becomes easier for an adult to choose to bear the name of his mother, his father, or both by a simple declaration to the civil status. All you have to do is declare your choice by form at the town hall of your home or place of birth.

Eco loans

In concert with the new boiler rules, a zero-interest loan of up to €30,000 to finance energy-saving renovations can be combined with MaPrimeRénov’, a subsidy for financing the same work, under certain conditions, from July 1st.

Rent rules

Non-professional private landlords advertising properties for rent must, from July 1st, include specific information about the property on the ad, including the size of the property in square metres, the area of town in which the property is in, the monthly rent and any supplements, whether the property is in a rent-control area, and the security deposit required. Further information, including the full list of requirements for any ad, is available here.

Perfume ban

More perfumes are to be added to a banned list for products used by children, such as soap-making kits, cosmetic sets, shampoos, or sweet-making games, or toys that have an aroma.

Atranol, chloroatranol (extracts of oak moss containing tannins), and methyl carbonate heptin, which smells like violets, will be banned from July 5th, because of their possible allergenic effects.

Furthermore, 71 new allergenic fragrances – including camphor, menthol, vanilin, eucalyptus spp. leaf oil, rose flower oil, lavendula officinalis, turpentine – will be added to the list of ingredients that must be clearly indicated on a toy or on an attached label.

Ticket resto limits

The increased ticket resto limit ended on June 30th, so from July 1st employees who receive the restaurant vouchers will once again be limited to spending €19 per day in restaurants, cafés and bars. The limit was increased to €38 during the pandemic, when workers were working from home.