21.05.2017 | Le Mans - Le Mans
Location: Western Europe.
Area: 551,500 sq km (212,935 sq miles).
Population: 62,814,233 (2015).
Population Density: 113.9 per sq km.
Geography: France, the largest country in Western Europe, is bordered to the northwest by the English Channel (La Manche), to the northeast by Belgium and Luxembourg, to the east by Germany, Switzerland and Italy, to the south by the Mediterranean (with Monaco as a coastal enclave between Nice and the Italian frontier), to the southwest by Spain and Andorra, and to the west by the Atlantic Ocean. The country’s loose six-sided shape means it often gets referred to by the informal nickname 'L’Hexagone'.
The island of Corsica, southeast of Nice, is made up of two départements. France is home to an astonishing range of scenery, from the mountain ranges of the Alps and Pyrenees to the attractive river valleys of the Loire, Rhône and Dordogne, and the flatter countryside of Normandy and the Atlantic coast. The country has some 2,900km (1,800 miles) of coastline. Away from the mainland and Corsica, there are a number of French-administered overseas departments and regions outside of Europe. These include Guadeloupe (an island in the Caribbean), Réunion Island (located in the Indian Ocean just east of Madagascar), French Guiana (on the northeastern coast of South America), Martinique (another island in the Caribbean) and Mayotte (an island in the Mozambique Channel).
Language: French is the official language. There are many regional dialects, but these are rapidly declining, with the exception of Basque, which is spoken as a first language by some people in the southwest, and Breton,which is spoken by some in Brittany. Many people speak at least some English.
Religion: Approximately 83-88% Roman Catholic; Protestant 2%; Muslim 5 - 10%; Jewish 1%; unaffiliated 4%.
Time: GMT + 1 (GMT + 2 from last Sunday in March to last Sunday in October).
Social Conventions: Shaking hands and, more familiarly, kissing both cheeks, are the usual forms of greeting. The form of personal address is simply Monsieur or Madame without a surname and it may take time to get on first-name terms. At more formal dinners, it is the most important guest or host who gives the signal to start eating. Mealtimes are often a long, leisurely experience. Casual wear is common but some clubs, casinos and exclusive restaurants warrant more formal attire. Evening wear is normally specified where required. Topless sunbathing is tolerated on most beaches but naturism is restricted to certain beaches - local tourist offices will advise where these are. A smoking ban for workplaces and public spaces has been in place since February 2007.
Electricity: 230 volts AC, 50Hz. European plugs with two round pins are used.
Head of Government: Prime Minister Manuel Valls since 2014.
Head of State: President François Hollande since 2012.
Recent History: Prior to the French Revolution in 1789, France was a monarchy known for its colourful (and often extravagant) royals. The revolution itself brought about a sea change in the way the whole country was structured, shifting power from the church and nobility to the state. The Napoleonic era then oversaw the expansion of the French Empire, before defeat at Waterloo in 1815 resulted in the restoration of the monarchy. The abdication of King Louis-Philippe in 1848 saw the formation of the Second Republic, since when the country has been ruled by different heads of state.
In the twentieth century, France played an important role in both world wars (the country’s surrender to Nazi Germany in 1940 resulted in the temporary Vichy Regime) but the post-war presidency of Charles de Gaulle restored stability. In modern times, Jacques Chirac's reign as French president finally came to an end on 16 May 2007 with the ruling party's Nicolas Sarkozy winning a decisive victory in the second round of the presidential election. He won 53% of the vote, finishing six points ahead of Socialist rival, Ségolène Royal. Measures taken by his government have tried to boost growth by reducing taxes. High unemployment and the financial crisis remain pressing problems.