UPDATED: Oct 19, 2019
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If you have ever watched Disney movies and you are familiar with Cinderella, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Sleeping Beauty, or even Beauty and the Beast, you should know that these are not stories Walt Disney came up with alone. Instead, each of these movies were based on French literature, like so many others.
French culture has become prominent in the United States, and much of our history involves France as well. If you have been to New York City and gazed upon the Statue of Liberty, you were looking at a gift to the United States from a French artist. France has contributed so much to the United States, from foods we enjoy to architecture that we see every day.
Let’s take an in-depth look at just how much French culture and history we can find in the United States.
French Influences in American Culture
There are so many French influences in American culture today. When you go out to your favorite restaurant and enjoy crisp, hot French fries, know that they are called that for a reason. These fried potatoes have been enjoyed by Americans since 1802 when Thomas Jefferson served them at a formal White House dinner. They have been a staple in American cuisine ever since.
Our nation’s capital was also designed by Pierre Charles L’Enfant, a French architect. He fought in the War of Independence. When the war was over, he stayed in Washington, DC to plan the city’s design for George Washington himself. When he first started designing the Washington that we know today, all he had to work with was a hilly area covered with forest. Today, Washington is a stunning city, with wide avenues and public squares. The Thomas Jefferson Building, located in DC, was designed to replicate the Palais Garnier, showing how much Americans valued the French designs.
Some of the most loved designer brands in the US today are French, including Louise Vuitton, Chanel, and Christophe Lemaire. These brands all offer luxury items that exude nothing but pure class and have easily become staples in American closets, despite their often-large price tags.
- National Park Service: The French connection
- Fashion Institute of Technology: Fashion industry timeline
Anglicized French Words
Whether you are speaking or reading, you will be surprised to know just how many French words you can find and use on a daily basis. If you have ever been out to eat and ordered a piece of apple pie a` la mode, you have used a French term, or when you order your side of bacon a` la carte, you are ordering it exactly as it is on the menu, using another French word. When you send out party invitations and ask for an RSVP, you may not have known it, but that is a French term as well. RSVP, in French, is Répondez S’il Vous Plaît. In English, it means ‘Please Respond.’
There are many other French words that we have come to use in the English language and now pronounce based on English rules. One example of an Anglicized French word used in the English language is etiquette. Today, we know that this means a code of acceptable and polite behavior. In French, this word meant a little deck of cards with all the rules needing to be abided by while one was at court. In both languages, the definition is basically the same. Coupons that save you money also come from a French word, as ‘couple’ means to cut off, and coupons cut off some of your prices. It is quite amazing just how many words we use that are actually French!
- Argonne National Laboratory: A list of 100 French words and their meaning
- University of Wisconsin: English to French words
- Georgia Highlands College: Germanic and French influences on the English language
- MidAmerica Nazarene University: Famous French Romantic Quotes (DOC)
French Language Resources
If you have decided that you want to learn French, or you want to brush up on what you already know, there are some great resources available.
French may seem like a difficult language to learn, but with the right resources, you can become fluent in no time. If you are an absolute beginner, try starting with a basic course that allows you to listen to the French language and learn starting with the most basic words and phrases. There are a variety of courses available online. You can even find people offering free language lessons on YouTube.
Places in the US That Feel Like France
You do not need to catch a flight to France to feel like you are visiting the country. If you live in the United States, there are plenty of places that you can visit to get a feel for France. If you’re on the East Coast, visit Washington, D.C., and go to the National Cathedral. The National Cathedral is elaborate like the cathedrals in France. When you are done, you can take a break and get dinner at one of the city’s wonderful French restaurants. Paris was even used as a major influence for designing Washinton D.C.
Not far from DC in Philadelphia, there is Rittenhouse Square with a central park. Here, you can take time to relax, read a book, and snack on a biscotti and a coffee. New York City has many French spots you can visit, including Greenwich Village and parts of Washington Square Park.
The South, however, is home to one of the most French cities in the country. New Orleans was settled by the French and still has the same atmosphere centuries later. In fact, local Cajuns still speak French! If you go, be sure to visit Cafe Du Mond and have a café au lait or have a meal in one of the wonderful French restaurants like Antoine’s, Cafe Degas, or Lillete.
- Designing the Nation’s Capital: The 1901 Plan for Washington DC
- Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission: Second empire: Mansard style
- French Quarter Citizens: A history of the French Quarter
- New Orleans.com: History of New Orleans
French Festivals and Tourist Destinations in the US
There are a variety of French festivals that you can attend in the United States including in Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. The most popular is the French Quarter Festival in New Orleans. This event takes place yearly in April and lasts for three days and four nights. It is completely free and offers tourists a taste of France, including music and food. For tourists, there are private tours of hidden patios and gardens at French Quarter homes, and there is plenty for kids to explore as well.
- French Embassy: 2018 French Festivals
- French Quarter Management District: History of the French Quarter
- Hillwood Estate, Museum, and Gardens: French festival
Additional French Resources
If you want to learn more about France, their culture, and the impact that their influence has had on the United States, you can learn more about the history through the Department of State Office of the Historian. If you would like to learn more about how the Statue of Liberty found its way to New York, visit the Statue of Liberty Ellis Island Foundation.