La Bretagne—Three Fingers on the West Coast
What raises three fingers and lives on the West Coast?
A land of green plains and round hats, a rock, a cape, a peninsula: Brittany.
A region with a long history and specific traditions… And even its own language. Today we’ll dive into the wonders of Breizh, la Bretagne!
Et toi ?
Have you ever been to Brittany?
Which region in your country is proud of its customs and flag?
Bonus Material: Download the Transcript
Salut c’est Géraldine, bienvenue sur Comme une Française TV, Sound French, even to the French!
What raises three fingers and lives on the West Coast ? La Bretagne !
It’s a land of rainy plains and round hats, sitting in the North-Western corner of the French hexagon. A peninsula of gorgeous landscapes, proud sailors, and ancient landmarks. A region with a long history and specific traditions. And its own flag. And even its own language! Let’s dive in.
1) La Bretagne : qu’est-ce que c’est ?
La Bretagne, qu’est-ce que c’est ? What is Brittany?
La Bretagne is the western peninsula of continental France. If you represent the French territory with a hexagonal shape, it would be in the North-Western corner. It’s the region with the three little fingers in the Atlantic ocean!
It’s technically une région, an official administrative region. More informally, it’s also an area with a strong historical and cultural identity.
Some of the main cities are Rennes, within the interior of the country, Lorient and Brest, with their Navy harbor by the sea, and also the historical and artistic city of Quimper.
Nearby, Nantes used to be Brittany’s capital; though nowadays the city isn’t officially part of the region, but they share some strong cultural ties anyway.
The main cultural pride of Brittany are ses racines celtiques, its celtics [“keltiks”] roots. In the late days of the Roman Empire, many Britons from the Britain Isles immigrated to the continent: and thus was born la petite Bretagne, little Britain in opposition to Great Britain, or simply la Bretagne, Brittany. Its inhabitants are called les Bretons / les Bretonnes.
The area is also sometimes called l’Armorique, or etymologically “the place near the sea.” Since, you know, there’s a lot of coasts there.
2) Le folklore breton
Le folklore breton, folklore from Brittany, draws from several sources.
The most famous of them are les légendes arthuriennes, the legends of King Arthur, of knights and wizards. As the story goes, Merlin died in la forêt de Brocéliande, which you can visit in Brittany.
Nowadays though, the most famous hero from the region is Astérix!
He’s been everywhere in the Roman Empire and beyond… and even in space in 1965, since he gave his name to the first French satellite!
His friend Obelix is a professional menhir-maker. Un menhir is an actual great standing stone, which you can find mostly in Western Europe. They were actually put there by people from before the Celts. And many of them still stand proud in the landscape of Brittany.
Finally the third most famous figure from Brittany’s mythology is… la bigoudène !
“La bigoudène” is both the name of this traditional high hat, and of the woman who is wearing it. It used to be very common in southern Brittany. Nowadays, women only wear la bigoudène for a few traditional celebrations. This hat, however, remains a powerful symbol for French celtic culture.
But among the traditions of la Bretagne, another one is still strong and popular…
3) Boire et manger
Bien boire et bien manger, to eat well and have good drinks!
La cuisine bretonne , cuisine from Brittany, is famous for being rich food. The most famous ingredient is le beurre salé, salted butter, used in place of le beurre doux, sweet butter.
Le Kouign-amann for instance, is a famous cake made out of butter, and also butter, with another touch of butter. It’s delicious but ça tient au corps, it’s a hearty dish. Various biscuits and cookies from Bretagne are very buttery.
Another local desert is le far breton, which looks a bit like a clafoutis but with prunes. But the main dish of Brittany is still la crêpe bretonne, with sugar, or la galette, with salt, both with various different ingredients added in the middle, from bacon to spinach to chocolate. It’s a popular food, and you’ll find une crêperie, a restaurant that serves crepes, in most French cities nowadays.
And maybe you’ll be lucky enough to taste les fraises de Plougastel, the famous strawberries from the small town of Plougastel, by the sea.
Bretons are famous drinkers, as well. Mostly wine, but there’s been an effort to import more of le cidre, cider, a much lighter alcoholic beverage, from Normandy close-by.
Ask around in Brittany and you’ll also find Breizh Cola, a local soda with fun marketing.
And you can do all this at a fest noz, a traditional party with local dances and celtic music. Brittany has an active music scene, from the traditional songs of Tri Yann to the modern style of Yann Tiersen, for example.
4) Le “patriotisme breton”
The culture and history of Brittany has led to a strong cultural identity, un patriotisme breton, breton patriotism.
It took off in the early XXth century, when oddly enough many poor people from the region emigrated to the capital, to look for menial jobs; and nowadays it’s estimated that a tenth of the Parisian population are breton.
Anyway, this cultural identity centers around a language, le breton. Le breton used to be spoken alongside le gallo , until both were almost wiped out by the more recent official French language. Nowadays, le breton is having a revival: local road signs are subtitled in the language, and there’s been a stronger effort from French culture and media to use the local dialect to maintain it as part of our French heritage.
That’s why you might see mentions of Breizh [“Breille’z”]: it’s the name of la Bretagne in breton. And that’s why their own Internet extension is : .bzh
Finally, a little less than a century ago, they also created a flag that proved very popular : le Gwenn-ha-Du, literally meaning the “Black and White”. And for some reason, you’ll see that flag somewhere in every sports event, festival or protests.
You’ll also get to see it fly proudly when you come and visit the region.
Just be sure to bring an umbrella, for the constant rain… But don’t ever mention it! Or you’ll hear this famous local proverb: En Bretagne il ne pleut que sur les cons, in Brittany it only rains down on idiots :)
Et toi ?
Have you ever been to Brittany? Which region in your country is proud of its customs and flag?
Tell me in the comments section, I want to hear from you!
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Bonus Material: Download the Transcript