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?
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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
- Le quatorze juillet – katorze jwee yeah
- La Fête Nationale – National day – watch out! We don’t say Bastille Day at all.
- Joyeux 14 juillet – have a good national day
- Bonne fête nationale – have a good national day
- Une parade, un défilé – a parade
- Un feu d’artifice – firework (often used in the plural)
- Un drapeau – a flag
- La Marseillaise – French national anthem
- Vive la France – Hurray for France
- Un bal populaire – a danse
- Un concert – a concert
3 – French Fireworks Vocabulary
- Un feu d’artifice – firework (often used in the plural)
- Une fusée – bottle rocket
- Une fontaine – a fountain
- Une chandelle romaine – Roman candle
- Un volcan – volcano
- Un mortier – mortar
- Une comète – a comet
- Un pétard – firecracker
- La poudre – powder
- La mèche – the wick
- Oh la belle rouge / bleue – what people shout during fireworks “oh the pretty red / blue…”
- Le bouquet final – the grand finale
4 – 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 ?
5 – 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.
6 – Bastille Day French Parades
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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!
7 – Bastille Day Military Parade French Practice
And now, let’s practice our French a little :-)
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.
8 – Bastille Day French Fireworks
At night fall, all the major cities of France, and even the smaller villages, send out fireworks. French people love it and shout out : “oh la belle rouge !” “oh, la belle verte” (oh the pretty blue one, oh the pretty green one) !
There is of course 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 – follow Olivier’s tips to the secret spot to watch the Paris fireworks.
9 – What do French People do on Bastille Day?
Let’s practice our French a bit more here:
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.
10 – 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“!
11 – 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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