French Language Blog

A visit to Monaco Posted by on May 22, 2018 in Culture, Music, Vocabulary

The Grand Prix de Monaco is this weekend (le 24 – 27 mai/May). It seemed like the occasion idéale (perfect opportunity) to talk about that tiny country nestled between France and Italy along la mer méditerranée (the Mediterranean Sea).

Monaco or Monte-Carlo

At just 2 square kilometers (or 485 acres), Monaco is the second-smallest country in the world (only Vatican City is smaller). The small size doesn’t stop it from being divided up into even smaller parts, or neighborhoods, of which Monte-Carlo, home to the famous Casino, is just one. Other neighborhoods include Fontvieille, which despite its name* is a newer neighborhood built entirely on land reclaimed from the sea, Moneghetti, The Condamine, and Monaco-Ville, which sits above the other parts of the city, and is home to the Prince’s Palace.

Even though Monaco is a separate (and independent) country, the 2015 census indicated that almost a third of the residents of Monaco are French (more even than actual Monegasques!). Until early 2000, it was even possible that Monaco might become French.

Meghan Markle wasn’t the first…

American actress to marry into royalty.

The Principality of Monaco has been ruled by the same family, the Grimaldis, for over 700 years. Like many modern royals,  the current crop of Grimaldis are equal parts celebrity and royal, perhaps not surprising since the current reigning prince, Prince Albert II, and his sisters (Princess Caroline and Princess Stéphanie), are the children of the late Prince Rainier III and American actress Grace Kelly.

Before 2002, if the reigning prince died without a legitimate heir, Monaco would have reverted to French rule. Newer agreements between France and Monaco have changed that… and Monaco has also updated the rules of succession such that the situation of there being no legitimate heir is much less likely.

A day at the races

Run since 1950, the Grand Prix de Monaco is considered  by many to be one of – if not the – world’s premier Formule 1 race. Topping speeds over 160 km (100 mph), drivers must complete 78 laps on a 3+km course (circuit in French) that runs right through the streets of Monaco!

While much of the language of Formula 1 comes from English, the following vocabulary (and rules) might help you if you should decide to watch this year’s race.

Drapeau blancWhite flag...a slow car on the course.
Drapeau jauneYellow flag...a danger ahead.
Drapeau vertGreen flag...the end of danger.
Drapeau rougeRed flag...a pause in the race.
Drapeau noirBlack flag...disqualification of a driver.
Drapeau à damierCheckered flag...the end of the race/the winner.

Comme un ouragonLike a hurricane

As I mentioned above, the current Grimaldis have a little celebrity in them. While they’re older now and more settled down, in the 80’s and 90’s they had their share of adventures… Including exploring a ‘career’ in song for Princess Stéphanie!

* Remember that vieille means old in French.

This weeks picture of the port of Monaco is from (CC0 license).

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About the Author: Tim Hildreth

Since my first trip to France at 16, I have been a passionate francophile. I love the language, food, music, art, people, and more that make France and la Francophonie in general such an amazing part of our global community. Having lived in France and studied the language and culture for over 35 years, it is my great pleasure to be able to share a little bit of my deep love with you through this blog.


  1. r forbes:

    Is pilote the French for driver?

    • Tim Hildreth:

      @r forbes ‘Pilote’ (n. masc) can indeed mean ‘driver’, esp. in the case of ‘un pilote de course’ (a race car driver). Like the English word ‘pilot’ it also means “airplane pilot” (‘pilote d’avion’) and can refer to a new or test project.