France is the birthplace of the grand notion of bon vivant. For if there's one thing the French do well, it is enjoy life. Here is the home of wine and haute cuisine, of perfume and haute couture, of cinema and jazz. It is where the Impressionists and Fauves came alive, where surrealists and existentialists coexisted, where Baudelaire and Rimbaud held sway, where Pablo Picasso spent the last 15 years of his life, and where Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve redefined sex symbol and beauty respectively. And the French have a way of putting it all together: They call it, Joie de vivre!
The French Republic spans 549,183 square km, making it western Europe’s largest state. The geography consists of flat plains and gently rolling hills in north and west, and mountainous terrain in the Pyrenees to the south and the Alps in the east. The Alps run almost the entire length of the eastern border, starting just north of the Mediterranean coast and extending up to the nation’s border with Switzerland. The nation shares frontiers with Spain and Andorra to the south; Italy, Switzerland, and Monaco to the east; and Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany to the north and northeast.
France is composed of 22 administrative regions, or states, and several dependent territories. Its capital is Paris. The republic maintains a multi-party system of government, with a president presiding as chief of state and a prime minister operating as head of government. Although the country has long pursued an active policy of integrating immigrants, recent unemployment rates remain among the highest in Europe – and frustration has led to a backlash of anti-immigration sentiment. Youth crime rates have risen dramatically as well, and gang violence is now problematic in the urban low-income housing developments. Unemployment rates now sit at 10%.
The population of France is a mix of ethnicities, just as it has been for the past millennium – but some 91% share a Celtic or Latin origin. Approximately 76% of the population claims the Roman Catholic faith; 5% are Muslims; and just 2% say they are Protestants. Three-quarters of France’s people live in urban areas, the largest of which are Paris, Marseille, Lyon, Toulouse, Nice, and Strasbourg. The population density is approximately 110 people per square kilometer.
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