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Americans Love France

The deadly attacks in and around Paris on Friday, reportedly committed by Islamic State terrorists, triggered an intense outpouring of grief worldwide: banner newspaper headlines, symbols of support on social media, tweeted statements of grief and solidarity from politicians and sports stars.

Attacks in France — including those in January on a satirical newspaper and a kosher supermarket — resonate around the world in part because the country and its capital are far better known and more culturally relevant globally than their population or economic or political significance would suggest.

France’s population, economic activity and political importance are in line with, or perhaps a touch behind, those of Germany and the U.K. in Europe. France has less than 1 percent of the world’s population and 13 percent of the European Union’s. Its GDP is 2.4 percent of the world’s economic activity1 and 15.3 percent of the EU’s. France’s political might is diluted in the EU, which grants all countries equal power in some areas no matter a country’s population, though France also wields international power through its permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Data can’t easily capture what makes France and Paris so special globally. France has had an enormous impact on culture, food and wine. People around the world dream of visiting Paris to see the Eiffel Tower or walk along the Seine, or of visiting chateaus, wineries and villages around the country. Those who don’t get to visit France often see the city in films or in the newspaper.

We can’t directly measure global attitudes toward Paris, France and French culture without some sort of global survey of people’s favorite city and country. A few indicators we do have, though, hint at the extent of Francophilia, globally and in the U.S.

One indicator is the number of articles about France in major U.S. newspapers, which dwarfs the count of articles about some countries that are much more populous. In the 12 months through October, France was the subject of nearly 5 percent of articles about countries other than the U.S., according to Nexis, just ahead of China and nearly three times the proportion that were about India.2

COUNTRY POPULATION MAJOR U.S. NEWSPAPER STORIES, 11/1/14 TO 10/31/15 SHARE OF NON-U.S. STORIES
Canada 36m 37,940 8.2%
U.K. 65 29,890 6.5
Germany 81 26,480 5.7
France 67 22,020 4.8
China 1,373 21,410 4.6
Iraq 36 17,090 3.7
Iran 79 13,370 2.9
Japan 127 12,260 2.7
Syria 23 12,260 2.7
Russia 146 12,060 2.6

Worldwide, no other country was visited by more international tourists than France was last year, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization.

bialik-feature-france-1

In Google search volume since 2004, Paris ranks behind New York City and London but ahead of many other major cities worldwide.3

Google Trends: Interest over time

Paris is also a favorite in Hollywood. Only New York and London have been the settings for more Academy Award best-picture nominees.4 Paris — the only non-Anglophonic city in the top five — beats Washington, D.C., and Hollywood’s home of Los Angeles.

bialik-feature-france-2

Nate Silver contributed research.

Footnotes

  1. Using 2014 or latest available data for each country and territory tracked by the World Bank.

  2. The data excludes duplicates, such as wire-service articles printed in many different newspapers.

  3. Google Trends allows for five search terms to be charted together. I also checked Baghdad, Beijing, Brussels, Buenos Aires, Chicago, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Jerusalem, Johannesburg, Lagos, Mecca, Melbourne, Montreal, Mumbai, Nairobi, Rio de Janeiro, San Francisco, Shanghai, Sydney, Tokyo, Toronto, and Washington, D.C., which all ranked below the five displayed here.

  4. I used the data compiled by my colleagues Walt Hickey and Nate Silver in 2014 and updated it with IMDb data on subsequent nominees.

Carl Bialik was FiveThirtyEight’s lead writer for news.

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