Sep 042010
(asked by Jason from Canada)
Something I was surprised to not have read about on your blog was the difference(s) between the north and south of France!
For reference, I also didn’t see your area of origin on the blog, so I’m sorry if the answers seem obvious or you might not know as much about one of the two! Whatever the case, my questions would basically be:
What actual differences do you see between the north and south of France (and you can define that as you’d like, as far as I’ve got it, Paris seems to be the division point between the unofficial regions)? and, what stereotypes/generally *perceived* differences do you think there are between the two?
Hi Jason,
Yeah, it’s strange that nobody has already asked this question.
So, let’s start to define the North and South of France. Parisians are notoriously bad at geography and if you look at a map of France you’ll see that Paris is by no means in the Center of France but in the North itself.
If you want to geographically divide France between North and South the best option is to find the middle point between the southernmost and northernmost points and to draw a line at that latitude.
So let’s just do that.
The northernmost point in France is easy to find, it’s the France-Belgium border where it meets the North Sea, a few kilometres east of Dunkerque. The latitude of that point according to Google Earth is 51°05’20” N.
The southernmost point is debatable as one can say it is somewhere in the Indian Ocean as France has a few unpopulated islands there, not too far from Antarctica. Well, one could also argue that it’s the South Pole itself as France, like a bunch of other countries has claimed a slice of Antarctica, but this is not recognized by everybody (I even doubt the UN recognizes that). If we restrict to inhabited and recognized places, the question of whether one considers the overseas territories or not arises. For practical purposes, I won’t consider them (as the center of France would then be in Africa, and you can see right away what problems that would cause).
But, even if we stick with “metropolitan” France, do we take Corsica into account or not?
If we consider only continental France, the southernmost point is the Coma Negra peak on the border with Spain, between Andorra and the Mediterranean sea. The latitude is 42°19’59” N.
If we take Corsica into account, the southernmost point becomes either the end of Lavezzi island; but sorry Corsicans, I won’t take Corsica into account here, simply because this North-South issue predates the inclusion of Corsica into France, as we’ll shortly see.
So, where is the middle?
Ok, here I have no idea how to precisely calculate the middle point, I’m sure it involves trigonometry and I forgot how to use it almost to decades ago, so after a few calculations that would embarrass a mathematician but that may impress some of you, I can proclaim that the middle latitude of continental France is : 46°42’36” N.
And if you cut France in the middle along that latitude, you get that:

Afficher France divided North South sur une carte plus grande
Well, before all of that calculation I would simply have said: draw a line between La Rochelle and Genève… On the one hand I wouldn’t have been to far from the truth, but on the other hand I would have stolen the South a chunk of his rightful territory and given a few cities to the North, which would be embarrassing…
Now, I hear some of you “why are you doing all of this, this line is totally arbitrary!”
Yes, it is, but that doesn’t make it irrelevant, because the first difference between North and South, and it’s the one that kinda directed all of the other ones is the fact that France can be divided between North and South climate-wise. Sure, France’s climates are more complex than that; the West is more oceanic, the East more continental, you have mountains, here and there, a few microclimates. But all in all, the South is simply warmer and sunnier than the North (for example today, in early September, it’s sunny and about 85 degrees where I am in the South, while the weather in the North is already hitting the 70’s).
I won’t teach you anything if I tell you that climate influences lifestyles, cultures, even civilizations and personalities. That works for France too.
People from the South are said to be more open, more welcoming, more fun, more laidback than people from the North. People from the North are said to be more reserved, colder, more distant, but also have stronger and better friendships once they start those. And it’s true to a certain extent (of course individual personalities play a huge part in that “certain extent”).
It’s a known fact (and a worldwide one) that when you live in a warm place, you simply spend more time outside, consequently you meet more people, interact with them more for better or worse, but you also don’t spend as much time with every single individual as you know so many of them.
When you live in a place with colder and crappier weather, you spend more time indoors, so you obviously meet less people and you may be less open to meeting new people, but you also may have relationships that are more meaningful with those fewer people…
That is unless you’re British, as the British have found a way to meet and interact with tons of random people while staying indoors, they call those amazing inventions “the Pub”.
The other factor that plays a big part in that North-South divide is the cultural one. Although, the geographical factor is never too far, as climate influences cultures as well as natural barriers do, in this case the Loire river and the Massif Central. Those two elements had an influence on the development of France and the fact that things in the North and in the South are slightly different (and if you’re observant, you’ll notice that both the Loire river and the Massif Central are not too far from that line I drew).
For example, let’s take cooking. Different cooking habits developed… Well, they developed everywhere in France, but there are common traits in the North and in the South. The South uses more vegetables in its local cuisine, simply because warmer weather also implies more vegetables growing around you. The South uses oil (not only olive oil as I’ve heard many times in the US, olive oil is actually not that used in France out of Provence, but then again most Americans limit the South of France to Provence) while the North mostly uses butter.
Language? Well, I won’t do a “history of the French language” lesson now, but in short: after the Roman colonization of Gaul, the whole territory spoke Latin (with a Gallic influence). Then, you know… Roman Empire collapses. Germanic tribes invade and take over the territory, but adopt Latin as their language. Except that, there were more Germanic people settling down in the North than in the South (remember that the word France comes from the Frankish tribe that settled down just north of Paris and even in Paris later on), so the Northern dialects that emerged had a stronger Germanic influence than the Southern ones that were still relatively close to Latin.
It stayed more or less this way (with of course, a constant growing influence of the French language) until the Revolution and most the Third Republic wiped most of the regional dialects out (not, it’s not just Brittany, remember?). But even today the different Southern accents are somewhat similar, while the different Northern accents are somewhat similar to each other too, same thing goes with a few regional expressions that survived their original dialects.
The last major difference I can think of are roofs!
For some reasons, roofs in the northern half of France tend to be made with slates and as such tend to be black, while roofs in the southern half of France tend to be made with clay tiles, and thus be orangish. Here again, the clay tile “technique” of roofing your house comes from the Romans, while the slate technique comes from somewhere else (not sure where, if anybody knows, I’d be glad to learn).
That’s all I can think of right now…
Now, with all of those explanations in mind, one needs to keep something else in mind: while those differences are crucial in many of France’s features, they’re not –nowadays- as important and crucial as the various differences between various regions, and most importantly, the differences between Île de France and the rest of the country.

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  9 Responses to “What actual differences do you see between the North and South of France?”

  1. 46°42’36” N in google maps just threw me to Florida…did i do something wrong? ;p

  2. Yes you must have done something wrong…
    First keep in mind that latitudes go all around the planet, so a latitude alone is not enough to find a point, you also need a longitude.
    But in any case, 46°N in the Western Hemisphere is a line that goes from somewhere South of Seattle (I didn't double check where exactly) on the West coast to Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia on the East Coast.

  3. As a Canadian, I have an answer for the roofing question! Clay things crack when it freezes.

  4. That could be an answer but… it doesn't really freeze harder in the North than in the South (more often, but not harder) and nothing comparable to Canada. Also, one can find clay tiles in the North too. They're just not very common.

    In short, it totally makes sense in a Canadian context, but except for pipes, nothing ever cracks from freezing in France (ok, maybe in Alsace or in the mountains, I don't know, but definitely not in the rest of the country)

  5. No post at all for almost 5 long weeks … I can wait more and I can spend time reading other blogs on France, but I really LOVE this ….

  6. As a Parisian, I'd say the South of France is all the part of the country under Lyon, but if you ask the same question to someone living in Marseille, he'll answer that all the part above it is the North …
    And what about between ?
    Pascale Paris VF

  7. Voyons monsieur Frenchman ! N'induisez pas votre fidèle lectorat étranger en erreur… Paris, Paris n'est ni au sud ni au nord de la France, Paris est le centre du monde !!!

    C'est la première fois que je visite ce blog et pourtant j'en ai souvent entendu parlé après avoir répondu à diverses questions pour le blog "Misplaced in the west" sous le titre "Everything you always wanted to ask a french woman but never dared to ask".

  8. Mon lectorat sait déjà que les Parisiens sont nuls en géographie.

    Attention toutefois, ce blog est anglophone, je poste ce commentaire, mais à l'avenir il faudra bien prendre garde à écrire en anglais.


  9. Coenie de Villiers - South Africa
    Interesting and enjoyable reading.

    My favourite movie at present, is "Welcome to the Sticks". It deals with exactly the differences between north & south and is truly side-splitting.

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