The largest country in Western Europe, France is a major world power. It is a founding country of the European Union, and is also a member of the G8 and NATO. Its rich cultural history and many places of interest consistently rank it as the top tourist destination in the world.
France is one of the world’s oldest continuously independent states, and its long history bears witness to many events of global significance, including the Crusades, the French Revolution, and both World Wars. The country once held the world’s second largest empire, which allowed the exportation of French culture into many areas of the planet. As a result, even today, several decades after decolonization, one would be hard-put to find a civilization completely devoid of French influence; this can range from the ground-breaking philosophy of the great thinkers of the Enlightenment, all the way down to the bouquet garni used to flavor a stew.
Today France is composed of its metropolitan territory on the European continent and several overseas possessions. Paris is the capital and largest city; though small in area, the city packs in a wealth of fascinating sights. Lists are usually dominated by such landmarks as the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and Notre Dame Cathedral, but visitors should allow plenty of time to get sidetracked – Paris features hundreds of museums and art galleries, and countless examples of breathtaking architecture. There’s plenty to explore in the rest of France as well: the great châteaux of the Loire Valley, Mediterranean resorts in Nice, and ski lodges in the Alps are but a few examples.
Foreigners move to France for a variety of reasons. The country has a high standard of living, excellent health care, and a strong, diverse economy with many job prospects in a wide range of fields. There are living conditions available to suit any taste, from fashionable Paris to the quiet countryside of Brittany and Provence. Recent decades have seen an influx of immigrants, mostly from Africa and the Middle East, such that France has truly become a multi-ethnic nation. The country has a long history of leadership in education, and many fine institutions offer an excellent environment for international students. Job seekers should bear in mind that France has a highly skilled labor pool and, at present, fairly low employment, so hiring is competitive; however, with a good career background, a well-written résumé, and perseverance, finding work from abroad is possible, and can lead to a very rewarding experience.
French is one of the most widespread languages in the world, and is almost universally understood in France. It can be challenging for the English speaker, but travelers should try to learn at least a few phrases before arriving; many French people consider it rude not to attempt to speak the local language, but will be very understanding if you make the effort. Many regional and minority languages exist as well, and English education is widespread.