Have you ever wondered when we started wearing denim jeans or where all those sci-fi novels came from? As it turns out, these and many other everyday things originated—or were perfected—in France. Whether or not the branches of your family tree grow in that direction, you likely enjoy French influence in your daily life. Here are just a few examples.
The art of ballet dates to the Renaissance period. While the art form itself originated in Italy, we have the 15th-century French court to thank for its popularity. Catherine de’ Medici, the wife of King Henry II, was Italian and had a deep love for the arts. Her elaborate celebrations allowed ballet to blossom in the French courts. Ballet academies were opened a century later when King Louis XIV, who loved ballet so much he did it himself, made the dance form more popular.
Several famous French foods originated in other countries, but we recognize them today by what the French culture added. Crêpes are one of these. While some form of crêpes can be found in earlier civilizations, the ones that stuck originated in Brittany, France, where they are still sold to locals and tourists. These crêpes resemble a work of art with different fillings and syrups, both savory and sweet, but they started out as a dish that medieval peasants would present to their feudal lords as a token of loyalty.
The French have a long and unique history in the world of fashion. Many of their clothing articles are still popular today, including the ballet tutu and the beret—and denim clothing. The word denim, or ‘de Nîmes’, is a direct reference to the city of its origin: Nîmes, France. This fashion staple was then sold to gold miners in California to make clothing that offered better protection.
Quiche is another one of the many popular French dishes that you can find even in places well outside of France. While this dish came from Germany, the quiche that we are familiar with today came from the French. They adopted the idea of filling pie crust with egg and other ingredients but added an extra spark by including cheese in the recipe. They then changed the name of this dish to quiche Lorraine.
While French culture has many renowned and prolific writers, only one has been named “the Father of Science Fiction”: French author Jules Verne. His writings are a large part of what created the world of science fiction. Novels like Around the World in 80 Days, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Journey to the Center of the Earth continue to influence popular media even today.
France is known for its writers and artists, but it was also home to one of the world’s most important inventors: Louis Pasteur. A brilliant scientist, Pasteur’s early understanding of microbes and germs led to his invention of the vaccine. His findings on microbes also led to pasteurized milk, named after the scientist himself. It is dairy milk that has gone through a special heating and cooling process to kill off harmful germs and make it safer to drink. Since Pasteur’s scientific breakthrough, millions of lives have been saved from a variety of diseases.
Before the metric system, countries each had different ways of calculating weights and measurements. However, in 1799 French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte put a new measuring system into place called the metric system. This system was influenced by French scientist and mathematician Gabriel Mouton, who had lived a century earlier. Under this system, countries have become more unified in their calculations, influencing things from science to time zones.
Have you ever seen a cliché movie? Or committed a social faux pas? Maybe you grew up in a cul-de-sac. These terms, along with so many others, are French! The English language is a melting pot and has borrowed words from dozens of languages—and French is no exception. In fact, it is estimated that anywhere from 30 to 45% of English words have French roots—and over 7,000 French words have been directly integrated into the English language. Here are some more French words and terms you may use in your everyday conversations:
- déjà vu
- en route
- carte blanche
There are so many others! Can you think of any we missed?
This is only scratching the surface. Are you native to France, or do you have French ancestors? If so, you have a powerful heritage. French culture and French influence has made an impact on the world in everything from food to fashion. Add your part of the legacy by sharing your memories or experiences in FamilySearch Memories.