Is France behind when it comes to the internet?

Here’s a question posed by a French-English newspaper on Twitter. I saw it and instantly felt obliged to rant a little. I love France, but I do sometimes wish there was a little more internet usage around here.

> Is France behind when it comes to the internet? Do you find it frustrating trying to find information online?

Hell yes!

Take for instance my local public library. A thorough look at the Mairie website and tourism website will tell you where the library is and the opening times. In fact, the Mairie has several different pages with slightly different information about the library. None of these pages mention that the library has a website. In fact, when I signed up at the library they didn’t tell me there was a website either.

But there is one. A quick search of Google tells me that the library has a blog! It’s outdated and discusses recent renovations. From there I find the actual library website. There’s no URL, it’s just an IP address. The library website is actually fairly useful – I can search the database and reserve books with it. I don’t know if these reservations worked or not, since there was never any email or SMS sent to me to say that the books were ready for me, though. In fact, given that the staff didn’t tell me there was a website I’m starting to wonder if they know it’s there. *sigh*

And yes, generally French businesses and clubs have awful websites, no SEO, very little information and generally point you back to a phone number you need to call before you can get more information. And since the websites are all out of date, you can bet that phone number is entirely useless (plus, phone numbers are evil nightmares to people new to the language).

My husband wanted to start a tech support wiki to help his customers and colleagues to sort out problems with equipment, but he couldn’t even convince the other staff members to warm to the idea.

Oh, and don’t get me started on Tourism Offices creating Facebook profiles in order to get with the times. You’re not a person – Make a page or a group!


On the flip side, there are a couple of websites doing really well. LeMouv, for instance has radio streaming, a Facebook page, podcasts and all sorts. Larger businesses often have decent websites and there are a few great government websites. But, the good websites are far from the norm – there could easily be plenty more and no-one would complain.

I’ve had the France-and-the-internet chat with a few people now. Here’s some thoughts I’ve heard:

  • According to a French kid, there’s too much English on the internet – she wants more French. This could be the main reason younger French people aren’t very interested in the internet. She’s all excited when she gets online, then she finds out most things she wants to do are all in English. And since she doesn’t know how to use a computer very well, it all gets too hard. TV is easier because it’s all verbal and there’s an army of translators ensuring she can hear it in a language she understands.
  • One Aussie guy I spoke to says he thinks the schools should be teaching computer literacy from an early age. Apparently, assignments are still expected to be handwritten, so the kids don’t get practise using a computer even for assignments. I feel sure that this probably isn’t the case in all schools – surely some have moved to computers now?
  • Most French people I know use the internet at work and will stay half an hour late in order to send personal email (from their work email account, because they don’t have a personal one). It seems that in France, internet access just isn’t something most people feel they need at home.
  • Geeks, young people, English-speakers, expats, freelancers, small business owners and people who work from home all seem to have internet access and use it regularly.
  • Plenty of French people over 40 don’t have internet access at all and just don’t want it.
  • Most English people I know in France have broadband and couldn’t possibly live without it.
  • Most ISPs in France find the bureaucracy is just too damn difficult to give you internet access.

Personally, I think most kids have taught themselves pretty quickly, because there’s definitely plenty of French under-30s on Facebook. Generally, to me, internet usage in France feels like it did in Australia in the late 90s. Some people understand the internet and are using it in the best way they know how. Others just haven’t caught on. There are black holes of information.  The problem though is that those that do understand the internet in France are now 20 years ahead of the rest. It’s time to get the others to catch up!

What we need to do (this probably isn’t just for French people, but for all non-English speakers):

  • Get more French people to create stuff online.
  • Try to convince more people to add translations (or at least translator buttons) to their sites.
  • Teach more non-English speakers generally about Google Translate, so they can use the English pages they find.
  • Teach SEO skills to more non-English speakers so that things can be found!
  • Make websites more intuitive and less dependent on text found in pictures (which don’t get translated).
  • Ensure kids get computer training, either at school, in clubs or at home.

So people, are we up for helping non-English speakers get the most out of the internet? It needs to be done!

11 thoughts on “Is France behind when it comes to the internet?

  1. Rasmenia

    Saw this headline on Twitter & it caught my attention. Rather, it caught me by surprise.

    I’m an American. My husband is French & began learning to use computers in school at a much earlier age than I did in the states. He’s a web developer. Most of the French people that I’ve met since moving to France who are in my age group are geeks & are very proficient with computers.

    I haven’t met a single person here who does not have an Internet connection – ranging from kids to people in their 60’s & even their 90’s. That’s not even mentioning the connection speeds in France, which are fast enough to impress some of my geeky American friends.

    I guess I’m just surprised, as in the 5 years I’ve lived here, I’ve never heard a single mention of this from anyone.


    1. smange Post author

      Are you in a city? I’m in the SW countryside.. maybe it’s different here.

      Good to hear that it’s not like this everywhere though!

      1. Zecko

        Yes it is different in Paris (I’m in SW too).

        Otherwise, I don’t agree with teacing use of Google Translate, it’s pretty bad for the real beginners and will confuse them, in order to use GT you already need some english skill, and must understand GT is far from perfection.
        A good alternative i recently found is Linguee. http://www.linguee.fr/

  2. Pingback: Internet for non-English speakers « Net Savoir

  3. Jacques


    I guess the situation is different in big towns as I also think that France isn’t so backwards even compared with the US. What is true is that France was late, due to the existence in France of the Minitel some years ago and I was really upset about this in those days, but it has changed very fast thanks to the competition between ISPs. Maybe too fast, some people couldn’t follow!
    Now with regards to the language, perhaps technologies like the translation tools included into the Google Chrome browser can help. I can’t tell cause my English is too good and I rarely use them (maybe for German occasionally).
    Finally, I agree that city websites are usually poor. But generally speaking I’d say that the web quality is so variable. Good sites are quite rare. Like good books, good movies, etc!

  4. Heidi

    This post caught my eye and I have ot say that I completely agree. After completing my schooling in Australia, I spent a year living, and studying in at ‘lycee’. I was shocked at the backwardness of their level of technology use. Throughout high school, computer use and digital submissoin of assignments, whereas in France, students are frowned upon for this, and are expected to handwrite everything!

    Don’t get me wrong, I love this country, but the youth has a little bit of catching up to do in the ‘technology’ department!

  5. frenchimmersion

    It’s interesting isn’t it that the idea for internet (minitel) put France as a forerunner and now they are a behind. I am city based and everyone seems to be online and totally capable. However I agree that companies, as a rule, just do not set up websites for themselves. I am an architect and i’m astonished at how many architectural companies dont have a web site despite being a ‘graphic industry’ and using computer design daily. What I think hasn’t registered is the advertising and marketing potential of the internet. i was shocked that city friends hadn’t heard of major companies like Amazon. I would definitely say that France is about 10 years behind the UK.
    There is so much ion your blog that gives food for thought. Will enjoy dipping in!

  6. pvaustralien

    I’ll second most of that. Business websites are few, outdated and lack a lot of useful interaction. Government/municipal websites tend to lead you on a never ending loop. Most small business websites are stuck in the 90’s, style wise (animated GIFs anyone?). I have spent considerable time in Normandy, Loire, Paris and Languedoc. Surprisingly the fasted internet we have had has been in the poorest and most remote region – Languedoc. It would be almost impossible for us to live here without decent internet access.


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