Bastille Day, la Fete National in Paris


Bastille Day is TODAY!

As a true francophile, you want to celebrate it as it deserves. But if you’re in France and you ask your French friends what they’re doing for “le jour de la Bastille”, you might be disappointed by their question: “C’est QUOI le jour de la Bastille?”. When you explain, they’ll say “I’m not doing anything special”. “WHAT?! But it’s your National Day! You’re not celebrating?” Why so? Because Bastille Day doesn’t exist the way you think it does in France.

1. “Le jour de la Bastille” doesn’t exist in France.

We call it “le 14 juillet”! The expression “Bastille Day” only exists abroad. Also, between you and me, don’t wish someone a “happy Bastille Day” or “joyeux 14 juillet” as it doesn’t make sense here in France. It is a celebration similar to Independance Day. 

2. What to do on Bastille Day in Paris?

Le 14 juillet is a “jour férié” (bank holiday) and, if it happens during the week, French people like to take extra days off to do “le pont” (litterally “the bridge”). “Faire le pont” means to take days off between a week-end and a bank holiday.

French people don’t do anything special, unlike at Christmas or New Year, or even Easter. And obviously we don’t dress up in berets and marinières. We don’t even put flags everywhere. Sometimes, especially in the evening, we enjoy the official celebrations. Speaking of which… 

3. Official celebrations.

Even if French people don’t do anything special on Bastille Day, it IS “ la Fête Nationale”. So there are official celebrations. The president invites foreign dignitaries from all over the world to take part in the ceremonies. In Paris, and in other big French cities, there’s “un défilé” (military parade) in the morning. If you’re in one of these cities, it’s a great idea to go and watch it.

Tip: If you’re in or around Paris, check out the streets the parade will follow – you can watch it from there. However, don’t be surprised if you only see very few Parisians; they mostly watch it on TV.

What you can see from many places is the “patrouille de France” (French flotilla). The plane will draw “bleu blanc rouge” lines in the sky over the Arc de Triomphe. At night, there’s the “bal du 14 juillet” (ball) sometimes called “le bal de pompiers” when organised by the firemen. Le bal du 14 juillet is followed by a big “feu d’artifice” (firework display). 

Why not dance with one of these cute firemen? 

In small cities and villages, the ball and fireworks may happen on the 13th in order to avoid competition with the big cities. If you’re in France on Bastille Day, don’t follow the French practice of doing nothing special. Enjoy the military parade, go to the ball and watch the fireworks. It’s worth it and it’s a great celebration of French history. And in Paris, it’s a once a year opportunity to see the Champs Elysées empty!

Tell me (in French if you can!) one anecdote you have about the 14 juillet celebrations you’ve been to, in your country or in France. It’s great to exchange stories and tips with the gg2p community on Facebook!

BIO : Géraldine is the founder of Comme une Française. She is a French language and lifestyle expert who is 29 years old, and helps expat women integrate in France. Through her blog and programs, she gives self-confidence and guidance to thousands of women keen to make the most of their new life.