jeudi 10 mars 2011

The Departments of France

Les Départements de la France

I thought I'd do a somewhat interesting post about French life (because I know my recent posts have just been me rambling about some random nonsense)...

So, the other day, one of my friends (teacher at the school) told me that previously, all French students had to learn and memorise all the departments off by heart. Can you imagine? There are 95 alone on the mainland. You have to know where they are placed in the country and where they are in relation to one another and in which region (marked in navy blue) they are located in. I thought learning the 50 states of the USA was hard (not that I ever had to, I just thought it would be fun in my teenage days to learn/memorise them all as well as their capital cities because that kind of stuff is useful for trivia games ;) )

So, because it was such a tedious task and noone really cared that much about any department apart from their own, they stopped this practice. Now, most French people probably only know a handful or so.

For me, of course I know my own one (duh) and some of the surrounding ones and Paris (75) and that's about it.

What's interesting though, is that it sill plays an important role in peoples' lives. For example, it only occurred to me recently that it's common to:

1) add the number of your department in brackets on your CV when talking about the location of your previous jobs (so the employer knows where this non-descript town is located).
2) add the number of your department at the end of an email addresses or internet pseudonyms/login name.

Every time I saw '74' which is in my region, the Rhône-Alpes région, I assumed it was someone's year of birth! I mean it seemed logical and likely. It's not as if it was 34. For the people I know and people in Australia, it's common to put the year of birth as part of their email address/pseudo (if the name alone is already taken) but now I finally understand what the French do!

The 2-digit department number is also used in the beginning of the 5-digit postcode. For Paris (75) and Lyon (69) (and maybe some other big cities) the name of the arrondissement is also noted in the postcode. Eg 75001 for the 1st arrondissement of Paris and 69001 for the 1st arrondissement of Lyon.

The department number is also inscribed on a car licence plate (plaque minéralogique)


And check this out for more fun! ;)


I'm sure there are plenty of other uses for the department numbers that I haven't come across yet... It seems to have nothing to do with the phone numbers, though. I guess I'll find out more as time goes on!

More about the départements


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