From Time to Fine Wine: Crazy World Records Held by France

Written by Kaleb Houle-Lawrence – high school Intern














Time Zones

Although mainland France only spans one time zone, Central European Time (CET), the country holds the record for the most time zones in a single nation, with 12 or 13, depending on the time of year. There are a total of 40 time zones across the entire globe relative to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). Some are offset by fractions of an hour, such as 30 minutes or 45 minutes, contributing to the number being higher than 24. Given that France has territories in 13 time zones, France has some jurisdiction in nearly ⅓ of the world’s time zones. 

Two countries followed France with as many time zones: Russia and the U.S. Both countries have 11 time zones, because of their large size. The U.S. incorporates other time zones due to overseas territories like Guam and the Virgin Islands. Unlike France, these countries both have many time zones on their mainland, Russia with 11 (all of Russia’s time zones are present on the mainland) and the U.S. with 4. 

How France holds this record is not a factor of its size, but rather its spread across the globe. France comprises not only mainland France in Europe but dozens of overseas territories ranging from French Guiana in South America to French Polynesia in the South Pacific. Wallis and Futuna, an overseas department of France, is UTC+12 (12 hours ahead of the International Date Line), while the easternmost point in French Polynesia is UTC-10 (10 hours behind the International Date Line); at the most extreme, 22 hours, nearly a full day could separate two French people. This widespread sphere of influence has allowed France to become a master of time. 



In 2012, French cyclist Robert Marchand set the record for the longest distance cycled in a one-hour nonstop timeframe in his age group. Marchand cycled nonstop for an entire hour at a Swiss competition for seniors over 100. Over the hour, Marchand managed to cycle 22 kilometers, over 14 miles! That is about ½ the distance of a marathon runner. At the time of completion, Marchand was 105 years old. Soon after, he stopped competing for world records due to health concerns. 



The French are not well known for their military prowess, and often accused of “waving the white flag.” However, the French were the first to use balloons in military warfare, dating back to 1794 in the Battle of Fleurus. This Battle was among the most important in the French Revolutionary Wars and part of the larger Flander’s Campaign. Since 1794, they used balloons in warfare from the Civil War up to WWII. Today, the U.S. uses balloons to detect nuclear bases in foreign countries. Not only was France home to the first balloon warfare, but they also had the most nationalities serving in a single military unit. The French Foreign Legion had 136 countries making up its roughly 7 thousand members.  This record was set in 2007 and has yet to be broken by any other military force. 



The Mediterranean region is a hotspot for wine production. Over 50% of the world’s wine comes from countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, including the top three producing countries: Italy, France, and Spain. According to the World Wide Wine Tours, France produces the greatest amount of wine by volume, accounting for a third of the world’s total wine output. Some sources put France in second with Italy at the top of the list, but no matter the order, France still produces an intoxicating amount of wine.

France is also a heavy-hitter in wine consumption, totaling 43 litres per person per year on average. Assuming the average bottle size of 0.75 litres, more than 57 litres per person each year. That means each person in France, on average, drinks more than an entire bottle of wine every week! France does not drink the most, though; the Vatican City actually consumes more wine per capita at an astounding 53 liters per person, more than an entire liter per week. 

France is also famous for its restrictions on wine production, put in place under Napoleon II, to ensure quality control. These restrictions, known as AOC, dictate where certain types of grapes can be grown and harvested as well as which wines must come from which region. The most known example of this is champagne, which has to come from the French province of Champagne to be legally declared as champagne. The AOC applies to other types of wines and grapes.

French Inventions

Written by Jasmine Grace, High School Intern















Humans have been using tools for centuries to make our lives easier. Many of the inventions we use every day, and even others we don’t often use, originated in France or were worked on by French inventors. 


The Bicycle

A German Baron named Karl von Drais invented the first steerable, two-wheeled contraption in 1817. He called this human-powered device a velocipede. Several inventors added to his original design, developing the first pedals for the front wheel. These French inventors were Pierre Lallement, Pierre Michaux, and Ernest Michaux. By this point, they called this wheeled contraption a bicycle, or a “bone shaker” because of its bumpy ride. Later, Eugène Meyer, also French, and James Starley, an Englishman, introduced an oversized front wheel for stability. This design was successful in the 1870s and ‘80s and introduced the bicycle to mainstream culture and racing. But the four-foot-high seat was too perilous for many to ride. So in 1885, John Kemp Starley (nephew of James Starley) made the ‘safety bike’ that more closely resembles the bike we know and love today. This model featured equal-sized wheels and a chain drive. Brakes and tires soon followed, bringing the bike’s evolution to the modern era. 


The Hot Air Balloon

The first manned flight of a hot air balloon took place in 1783 in France. This early design was created by French brothers Joseph-Michael and Jacques-Ètienne Montgolfier. Hot air provides the lift that carries these balloons through the air, and this design was powered by various materials that were burned while the balloon was in flight. This was hazardous and made it hard to control the temperature of the air, and thus the altitude of the balloon. In 1960, American Ed Yost invented a propane-powered heating system to solve this problem. The first flight with this new design took place in 1960 in Nebraska. Then in 1963, Yost used his innovative balloon to cross the English Channel, proving that balloons could be a legitimate form of transportation. In 1987, Englishman Richard Branson and Swedish engineer Per Lindstrand were the first to cross the Atlantic in a balloon. They flew a stunning 3,000 miles in 30 hours, reaching speeds of 130 miles per hour. 


The Parachute

Frenchman Sebastien Lenormand created the first functioning parachute in 1783. His design was based on the work of European inventors before him, including a sketch by Leonardo da Vinci and Croatian Faust Vranic, who created an actual device from Da Vinci’s drawing. Vranic successfully jumped from a tower in Venice using his creation. All of these early parachutes had rigid frames. But in 1797, Frenchman André-Jacques Garnerin was the first to complete a jump with a more modern silk parachute that folded. Garnerin went on to refine his design and even shared his passion with his wife Genevieve Garnerin, who became the first woman to complete a jump with a parachute.


The Trebuchet

The catapult was a weapon of Roman legions and Greek armies, but the more complex trebuchet was invented in 12th century France for siege operations. The trebuchet is far superior to its predecessor — it could throw objects over 300 pounds, and had an accurate range of 350 yards. Using a sling to launch the missile instead of a solid bucket like in a catapult doubled the power of the launch. It was also incredibly accurate compared to the catapult because it had a guide chute that straightened the trajectory of the missile. Missiles were commonly rocks or infected corpses meant to spread disease among the besieged enemy. Some stories even tell of flaming oil and beehives that were launched by trebuchets. 



Braille is a tactile reading system used by the blind and visually impaired around the world every day. This ingenious system was invented by Louis Braille, who went completely blind after an accident at age three. Even though he couldn’t read like the other children, he went to school, learning by listening. He studied hard, and earned a scholarship to the National Institute for Blind Youth in Paris. While he was there, he learned about a 12-dot tactile communication system used by the military to send messages at night. This system had a good idea, but it was hard to learn, and was based on sounds instead of letters. From age 12 to 15, Louis studied and refined this system, turning it into something of his own. From this, he invented a simpler 6-dot system, then created a reading and writing system with 64 symbols.


In 1824, he presented this system to his peers at the National Institute for Blind Youth. It was very popular and made learning much easier for the students. The school supported Louis’s system until they hired a new director in 1840. He banned the Braille system, fearing it would eliminate the need for seeing teachers. But Louis continued his work. He used an awl to make raised dots on paper, the same as the leatherworking tool that blinded him as a child. At age 20, Louis published a book about his system and how it could be used. He died of illness relatively young, and his brilliant system went unused for many years. Today, it has been adapted to many languages worldwide and plays an important role in the lives of many people who are visually impaired. 


Each of these five inventions were created because there was a need for a new device. Things like the trebuchet are seldom used in the present day, but gave rise to more advanced technology that is still in use today. Other inventions like Braille and the bicycle are used daily around the world. Parachutes have become a valuable tool, and hot air balloons are still the most beautiful way to see the world from above.

French Voices: Asian Dialects


Written by Kaleb Houle-Lawrence – high school Intern


Asia is not typically perceived as a hearth of French language and culture, but “Jum reap soo a” (Hello) and “Bonjour” are often heard alongside each other in Cambodian streets. The French language is spoken throughout Southeast Asia, particularly in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. The French arrived in Asia during the Age of Exploration, while French explorers were making claims in the territory of French Indochina. Since then, French language and culture have had a massive impact on the region. The opposite is true, as well. Asian dialects of French have risen from this region. The Asian dialects are strikingly different from each other, despite their geographic proximity.



Vietnam has the most prominent French dialect because it cooperated with the French government to preserve the French language. Such preservation efforts have allowed the French language and culture to prosper in Vietnam, even in the present day, despite larger efforts to remove French from Southeast Asia. A massive educational movement, funded by the government, has recently taken effect in Vietnam. Often, the International form of French is taught in schools and universities throughout the country. In these higher institutions of learning, French has found its home in Vietnam. They cover Vietnamese media in traditional Vietnamese and French to reach the entire population. Le Courrier du Vietnam is one of the largest newspaper organizations in Vietnam, and it is written in International French. This mingling of French and Vietnamese has created a distinct dialect of French in the country. 


The Vietnamese dialect is an example of a mingling of many languages in an area. In particular, traditional Chinese, International French, and English have influenced the Vietnamese dialect of French. These influences occurred because of the sequence of occupancy in the Vietnamese territory. Before the Vietnamese independence movement, French was the language of the Vietnamese elite. It served as a working language in the nation. Following independence, there was a rapid decrease in the French language because of resentful sentiment towards the French colonial rule.  However, there was a fairly large resurgence in the French language soon after, resulting from the Tây Bồi pidgin dialect


The Tây Bồi pidgin dialect formed in Vietnam for the Vietnamese working class to speak with the French elite, particularly when they worked as housemaids or servants. The language mixes with the French grammar rules to create a different form of French more accustomed to the traditional rules of the Vietnamese people. At this point, the pidgin dialect drew heavily from Chinese grammar rules. Often, it was a change in word order or the type of speech used. Another massive influence on pidgin was the use of pidgin by uneducated workers. This may have led to the use of non-traditional parts of speech in sentences.



Laos is home to the second-largest group of French speakers in Asia, attributed to its seclusion in the early 20th century. Following decolonization, Laos secluded itself from much of the world, taking a fairly cautious approach to entering the global stage. But French did not experience a massive rebuttal in Laos as it did in the other Southeast Asian countries. In fact, after coming out of its secluded period, Laos built strong relationships with countries like France and Canada, cementing it in the French cultural family. The French obviously influenced the capital of Laos, Vientiane. Besides the bustling streets with cafés on every corner, the city’s architecture reflects older French architecture and development. The medicinal and legal services in Laos are often conducted in French, while English makes up the financial and trade sectors. 



Laos is home to the most unchanged form of French, remaining fairly modern and unchanged from International French. Some words from the traditional language, Lao, have been traded between the languages, but those are minimal. All this exchange is limited to the topics of traditional culture, foods, flora, and fauna. This creates an interesting subset of the dialect to specifically refer to traditions, allowing the people of Laos to preserve their culture in their language. Often, Laos French simplifies some words to generalize things. One example is the word rue, which strictly refers to a road in French. In Laos, however, any street or avenue is referred to as une rue. 


Cambodia has the smallest proportion of French speakers in all of Southeast Asia. This is due to a few factors, including their cultural reforms following independence movements against the French. Since the late 20th century, Cambodian has been the official language of Cambodia. But French predates that by at least a century, arriving in the 1800s. Yet, it is in Cambodia where French has been altered the most by neighboring languages. While no widely known pidgins arose, as they did in Vietnam, Cambodia altered their dialect of French by combining words, phrases, and sentence structures from several neighboring areas. Most prominently, Cambodian French mixes International French, Cantonese Chinese, and Teochew Chinese. This use of Chinese languages occurred mostly in the Chinese interaction with Cambodia during the heights of its communist rule. 



Despite the efforts of Cambodia to rid themselves of the French language and culture, invasions from Vietnam reintroduced them to it in 1993. Despite this, the Cambodians remain critics of France and the French language. Education is the largest sector in which they practiced French in Cambodia. Many consider universities, particularly in Phnom Penh, to be the place where French’s legacy lives in Cambodia. Phnom Penh is indeed the largest French-speaking city in Cambodia, and as one of the largest cities in Cambodia at large, it holds many universities. French is also a global language; its uses provide important avenues for communication worldwide. Tourism is also a major industry that uses French, as French natives and other French-speaking citizens around the world flock to Cambodia for their luxurious beaches.


Another avenue for French is media, much like in Vietnam. Although there is only one newspaper in French throughout the entire country, it is widely known and read. The Cambodge Soir is an evening newspaper that recaps Cambodian events in French. A second newspaper, Cambodge Nouveau, went out of business in 2010 due to a variety of reasons, including decreased readership. Much like in Vietnam, most media is often presented with French options, or with French subtitles to access a wider audience. Cambodia, and Southeast Asia at large, has had a difficult and tumultuous relationship with the French language, but they have made efforts in every country to keep their own history alive. Because of this, each has made efforts to preserve the French language, while holding their own unique dialect. This diversity is a true celebration of the wide array of countries that speak French. À bientôt!