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Why do English speakers call it Bastille Day?


I hope that you and yours are well.

Here we celebrated 14th July, AKA Fete Nationale or as English speakers call it – Bastille Day.

“Why” said Bread Man “Do you call it Bastille Day, le jour de la Bastille?”

He was at my gate with yet another tempting cake. A few weeks ago I had to go to a family wedding which prompted me to diet on account of the fact I couldn’t get my go-to wedding outfit done up! I told Bread Man I was going on holiday for a month as I knew he’d be upset if I told him the truth – that I needed to cut out the calories from his baguettes, pastries and cakes. When I ‘got back’, Bread Man left our bread in the usual place, on top of the gate post in a bag (as we were out) and with it were two macaron cakes in a box. Three layers of nutty macarons with a sweet cream filling. Absolutely irresistible. It was a gift he said as he was “so ‘appy you are back.”

Mark, my other half, says we really ought to stop the bread deliveries as we just can’t say no to cake, and of course, all the weight I lost has returned to its rightful place rather rapidly. But I have reached an age and a stage in my life when I think that to be happy is best. And Bread Man makes me happy!

Parlez vous Bastille?

Anyway I couldn’t give Bread Man an answer as to why we call it Bastille Day rather than Fete Nationale or Quatorze Juillet like the French do. But I did get a history lesson from him. 14th July isn’t just about the storming of the Bastille which kickstarted the French Revolution in 1789. For the French it’s also about what happened the year after – again on 14 July, when a one-off national holiday was declared known as the Fete de la Fédération. A mass gathered in Paris to attend a military parade led by the Marquis de Lafyette, and the King and Queen swore an oath of loyalty to the nation.

When it was agreed almost 100 years later to have an annual public holiday to commemorate the French Revolution in some way, various dates and reasons were highlighted – for instance someone suggested 28 January would be good as that was the day that Louis XVI was beheaded in 1793. But in the end they went for July 14 – the date of two major events. However it was never clear which was the exact one that was being celebrated!

“Clearly we English speakers are more excited by one of the choices” I said.

“Whatever” said Bread Man who watches a lot of American TV shows with his daughter to learn English, he’s picked up some of the nuances and even the accent. “For me it’s about the bread, a symbol of equality thanks to the French Revolution” and he handed over my baguette, and two strawberry tarts with a wink and said “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” as he hopped back into his van to drop off Madame Bernadette’s bread – she was getting increasingy impatient at the bottom of our hill calling ‘coucou’ (French for cooee) and waving to get his attention.

Rest assured, Bread Man is going nowhere as far as I’m concerned!

Bisous from roasty toasty France,

Janine Marsh is Author of My Good Life in France: In Pursuit of the Rural Dream,  My Four Seasons in France: A Year of the Good Life and Toujours la France: Living the Dream in Rural France (April 2022) all available as ebook, print & audio, on Amazon everywhere & all good bookshops online.

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