French is one of the most widely-learned languages in the world. Many people fall in love with its melodic intonation, its enchanting words, and even its elegant culture. Despite two decades of declining enrollments and majors at American universities, French Studies remains a core part of the curriculum for many students.

While it is true that French and American cultures have much in common, the differences between France and the United States are also profound. Often, French studies students enter class with a handful of cliched notions and a simplistic vision of French society, and are eager to learn more about the multiparty political system, the welfare state, French secularism, or issues surrounding gender relations, for example.

The capital of France and the UNESCO World Heritage City of Paris has long been considered one of Europe’s preeminent cultural and commercial centres. Known as the “city of light,” Paris has been remade many times over the centuries, most notably in the mid-19th century under the leadership of Baron Georges-Eugene Haussman, who sought to transform its cholera-ridden alleys into broad avenues and a rational plan.

Throughout its history, France has been one of the most influential and creative nations in the Western world. Its legacy of literature, philosophy, art, cuisine, and science has been recognized and celebrated internationally for generations. It has been a founding member of the European Union and is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, with a veto power over certain decisions that it votes on.

The government of France has issued a high degree of caution, due to the elevated threat of terrorist attacks. This may affect travel to, from, or within the country, particularly in areas with significant French tourism. The country maintains a 3-level public alert system, and visitors should be prepared for increased police or military presence in some locations. Those who wish to drive should bring an International Driving Permit, as French law requires that drivers hold a valid licence from the country of residence. In addition, the covering of faces in public is prohibited; offenders face hefty fines.

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