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French Guide to Bastille Day

Camille Chevalier-Karfis By Camille Chevalier-Karfis - updated on Jul 7, 2020
Bastille Day French Vocabulary

July the 14th is the French national day – it’s called “Bastille day” outside of France but never in France! “Le Quatorze Juillet” is a day of celebrating French culture. Numerous public events take place: military parades, city meals, dances, parties and many amazing fireworks. But what are French people really doing on that day?

1 – Bastille Day in French: le Quatorze Juillet

In France, if you talked about “le jour de la Bastille”, people would be dumbfounded. They may not even understand what you mean. In France, we never speak of “Bastille Day”. The name of France national day is either “la fête nationale” (national day) or “le quatorze juillet” (July 14th).

2 – Bastille Day French Vocabulary

  1. Le quatorze juillet – katorze jwee yeah
  2. La Fête Nationale – National day – watch out! We don’t say Bastille Day at all.
  3. Joyeux 14 juillet – have a good national day
  4. Bonne fête nationale – have a good national day
  5. Une parade, un défilé – a parade
  6. Un feu d’artifice – firework (often used in the plural)
  7. Un drapeau – a flag
  8. La Marseillaise – French national anthem
  9. Vive la France – Hurray for France
  10. Un bal populaire – a danse
  11. Un concert – a concert

3 – Bastille Day French Practice Video

Practice your French with this video – turn the CC on for French and English subtitles, and don’t forget to subscribe to FrenchToday’s on Youtube 🥳

4 – French Fireworks Vocabulary

  1. Un feu d’artifice – firework (often used in the plural)
  2. Une fusée – bottle rocket
  3. Une fontaine – a fountain
  4. Une chandelle romaine – Roman candle
  5. Un volcan – volcano
  6. Un mortier – mortar
  7. Une comète – a comet
  8. Un pétard – firecracker
  9. La poudre – powder
  10. La mèche – the wick
  11. Oh la belle rouge / bleue – what people shout during fireworks “oh the pretty red / blue…”
  12. Le bouquet final – the grand finale
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5 – How do you say: “What do you do on Bastille Day?” in French?

To ask a French friend what his plan is for Bastille day, ask:
– “qu’est-ce que tu fais pour le 14 juillet ?” (le katorz jwee yeah).
– What do you do on July 14th ?

6 – What Was La Bastille?

La Bastille was a medieval fort and the former main jail of Paris. During the French revolution, on July 14th 1789, it was taken by the revolutionary troops and became the symbol of the French revolution. It remains the day we celebrate as the symbol of the people’s revolution.

bastille

7 – Bastille Day French Parades

Of course, there are many military parades on Bastille Day all over France.

When I was little, we lived in Paris. One day, I saw many huge military planes fly over our apartment building. I was so scared! I had totally forgotten it was Bastille Day!

8 – Bastille Day Military Parade French Practice

And now, let’s practice our French a little :-)

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Un grand défilé militaire est organisé à Paris sur les Champs Elysées. Le défilé militaire à Paris a eu lieu chaque année depuis 1880, sauf pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale. C’est un grand spectacle auquel assistent des milliers de gens.

A huge military parade is organised in Paris on les Champs Elysées. The Paris military parade has been taking place since 1880, except during WW2. It’s a huge show which thousands of people attend. 

Des hommes et des femmes de différentes unités, y compris les cadets des écoles militaires, la marine française et la Légion étrangère française, participent à la parade. Le défilé se termine par la brigade de pompiers de Paris.

Men and women from different units, including military school cadets, the French sea force, the foreign legion take part in the parade. The parade finishes with the Paris fire brigade.

Des avions militaires survolent le parcours du défilé lors de la parade. Le président français ouvre le défilé et passe en revue les troupes.

Military planes fly over the parade course. The French president opens the parade and inspects the troops. 

9 – Our Secret Spot to Paris’ Fireworks

At night fall, all the major cities of France, and even the smaller villages, send out fireworks.

There is of course traditionally an amazing firework in Paris, around 10h30, by the Eiffel Tower. Should you decide to attend, you won’t be the only one… About a million Parisians show up… Here are your options:

A. Camp out on le Champs de Mars all day

You are hardcore and arrive on the Champs de Mars or Trocadéro around 10AM with your picnic blanket, several baguettes, a bunch of close friends/family and 2-3 bottles of wine…per person (Remember that you can drink in public in France :-)

Then you proceed on either having the best picnic day of your life or spend 12 hours guarding your precious spot against 900,000 Parisians trying to outsmart you…

B. The Sacré-Coeur View of the Bastille Day Fireworks

You are softcore and arrive at La Basilique du Sacré Coeur in Montmartre around 6PM with a jacket, one sandwich and… 1 bottle of wine per person.

You’ve basically gained back 8 hours of your life but traded it with seeing the fireworks from more than 4.5 km (2.8 miles) away.

You’ll still have to fight for a decent spot but it’ll be a great experience too (although relatively very quiet since you will not hear any of the explosions).

(Note, in both A & B, you’ll have to fight your way back home in le métro with 1 to 2 million other “very disciplined” Parisians so think about that part too :-)

C. Our Secret to get a Great View on the Paris’ Fireworks

You are like Camille and I who do not have the courage nor stamina to wait in one spot for more than 17 minutes.

So you listen to your sister-in-law who has lived all her life in Paris telling you, in that very Parisian smart-ass tone: “Tu sais, dans ‘Montparnasse’, il y a le mot ‘Mont’ (in the word “Montparnasse”, there is the word “Mount” or “hill”)”…

You then proceed on strolling to the Montparnasse neighborhood, more precisely the corner of Boulevard Vaugirard and Boulevard Pasteur (map) and find a place for dinner (looking for something different, we chose an Italian place and ate a more than correct prosciutto and arugula pizza).

After dinner and less than 20 minutes before the firework starts, you casually walk around a little to look for a spot.

The best thing about Boulevard Pasteur is that the street is very straight and goes downhill so no matter where on the street you stand (between Place de Catalogne and Métro Pasteur), you’ll have a very decent view of the Eiffel Tower’s top 2 thirds.

Now, don’t get me wrong, you will not feel like you landed on a deserted island or in a French supermarket on Sunday afternoon!

However, you’ll only be dealing with 4 to 5 thousand people…That is a lot more manageable even for yours truly.  And since you’ll also be less than 2 km away from the action, you’ll get to hear the explosions too which definitely adds to the fun.

Seeing the fireworks in Paris this way was truly amazing considering the small amount of time we had to wait around.

10 – What do French People do on Bastille Day?

Let’s practice our French a bit more here:

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Cette année 2020, avec la crise sanitaire, je ne sais pas vraiment ce qui va se passer ! Mais voici ce que les Français font typiquement pour la fête nationale.

This year 2020 with the sanitary crisis, I don’t really know what’s going to happen! But here is what the French typically do for Bastille Day.

Le 14 juillet, les Français regardent souvent la parade à la télévision le matin, et puis après se retrouvent pour un déjeuner entre amis ou en famille, peut être un barbecue ou un pique-nique au bord de l’eau ou dans un parc de la ville. Si vous allez au restaurant, il vaut mieux réserver ce jour-là ! Certaines villes organisent des repas communautaires.

On Bastille day, the French often watch the parade on TV in the morning, and then they meet up for a dinner among friends or family, maybe even a barbecue or a picnic by the water or in a city park. If you go to a restaurant, you better book on that day! Some cities organize city meals.

Le soir, les Français vont voir un feu d’artifice et vont après danser au “bal populaire” qui est très souvent organisé par les villages. Les Français aiment bien danser ! Les villages organisent aussi quelquefois des compétitions de boules, des jeux pour les enfants, quand il n’y a pas de fête foraine dans les environ !

In the evening, the French watch fireworks and then go dancing in a “popular ball” which is often organized by villages. French people love to dance! Villages also sometimes organize French bowling competitions, games for children, when there are no fun fairs around!

À Paris, il y a un grand concert sur le Champs-de-Mars : Bob Sinclar, l’orchestre national de France, Johnny Holiday… Les Parisiens y vont très nombreux…

In Paris, there is a huge concert on the Champs-de-Mars (under the Eiffel Tower): Bob Sinclar, The French national orchestra, Johnny Holiday… French people attend in mass.

11 – Everything is Closed in France on Bastille Day

Bastille day is a national holiday in France so of course, postal offices, museums, banks and most shops are closed.

Restaurants and coffees outside of the most touristic areas may be closed as well. However, bakeries and some Parisian shops, as well as shops in airports and train stations or alongside the major roads may be open.

Schedules of public transportation may also vary.

In major cities (Paris in particular), major roads will be closed for parades and other events. Depending on the size of the city, this can be a major inconvenience during several days: I invite you to read Olivier’s article “think twice about visiting Paris around Bastille Day“!

12 – Look for Special Bastille Day Celebrations in Your Local Newspapers or Your Town’s Website

Even if you don’t live in France, there is probably something organized for Bastille day not too far from you: it may be something official that you’ll find in your town’s newspaper or website, or something done privately by a French school, restaurant or shop… So open your eyes and ask around.

Joyeux 14 juillet à tous!

Main picture copyright Yann Caradec

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