What’s Going On? Le tricolore est très beau. Et très francais. Évidemment.
Sure, But What’s Really Going On? Easily one of the most recognizable flags in the world, the French tricolor has inspired countless other flags (we’ve already seen Cuba, Cote d’Ivorie, Costa Rica, Chad, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Belgium, and Andorra…and we’re only in the F’s!). In use since 1790*, there’s some dispute on what the colors mean/symbolize. But general consensus is that the red and blue are associated with the city of Paris and, more importantly, with the Parisian militia during the French Revolution. White is an “ancient French color” and its addition to the red and blue served to “nationalize” the flag during the revolution. White was also associated with the French royalty, which took a bit of a beating during the Revolution.
What’s Good About It? Pretty much everyone knows this is the French flag. Yes, there are a lot of tricolors out there and yes, there are a lot of red-white-blue flags out there, but oddly, the flag of France manages to stand out.
What’s Bad About It? Rien.
What Does Our Dumb World Say About It? The outer thirds can be detached in case of emergency surrendering. (And that, dear friends, is my favorite joke in Our Dumb World.)
*More like, 1790ish because from 1790-1794, this was the flag used:
Did you catch it? That’s right — the red and blue are swapped. (Why? Je ne sais pas.)
And while we’re on the subject of super-subtle variations, can you tell what’s different about the following:
Depending on your computer monitor (or, more likely, your cellphone) the blue is much darker in the above flag (in fact, it’s referred to as “dark blue” whereas the blue in the flag at the beginning of this post is known as “reflex blue”). Which blue is correct is a bit of a mystery, as both colors are used. National buildings tend to fly the dark blue version but the reflex blue version is seen just as much. (Maybe they’re just older flags?) I personally like the darker version. It has a certain je ne sais quoi.
Okay one more variation:
This one should be obvious. The color bands are not equal widths. (For all the math nerds out there, the proportions are [reflex] blue 30, white 33, and red 37.) This flag is currently used as the French ensign, most commonly flown from ships to identify them as French. The reasoning behind the shifted proportions is that when the flag is flapping in the wind from a pole, the unequal proportions actually appear more equal. Weird but true. (Another reason given is that the increased amount of red makes the flag more visible at sea, as blue and white tend to blend into the sea/sky. Go figure.)
I should note that I am part French and an avowed Francophile. (My avatar is a picture of me taken at a cafe in Paris.) So with help from the great BBC quiz/panel show QI (I’m also an Anglophile), let’s clear up the following:
The ‘cheese-eating surrender monkeys’ tag immortalized by Homer Simpson, has contributed to a general sense of the French as cowardly losers. But the French have arguably the best military record in Europe. According to historian Niall Ferguson, of the 125 major European wars fought since 1495, the French have fought in 50, more than both Austria (47) and England (43). And they achieved an impressive overall batting average: out of a total of 168 battles fought since 387 BCE, they have won 109, lost 49 and drawn 10.
Vive la France, bitches.