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RELIGION

Reader Question: Can I wear a hijab or headscarf while visiting France?

Foreign media often refer to France as having a 'hijab ban' - while this is not the case, there are some restrictions around wearing the Muslim headscarf in France. We look at what this means for visitors.

Reader Question: Can I wear a hijab or headscarf while visiting France?
Members of the pro-burkini association « Alliance Citoyenne » in 2022 (Photo by JEFF PACHOUD / AFP)

Question: We would love to come to France for a family holiday, but we are Muslim and several members of the family wear the hijab. Is it true that this is banned in France?

In August, the French government banned pupils or teachers from wearing abayas – a loose-fitting modest dress usually worn by Muslim women – in public schools,  

The government argued that the garment constitutes a symbol of religion, and therefore contradicts France’s strict principle of state secularism. The rule was an extension to existing rules around secularism (laïcité) which do not allow the wearing of hijabs in French schools.

While there are rules in place around the wearing of any types of religious garment – from a hijab to a kippah to a crucifix – most of them do not affect visitors to the country.

Ban

In 2010, France brought in a complete ban on clothing that includes full-face coverings such as the burkha or niqab – these cannot be worn in any public space and you risk a €150 fine for doing so. One source of confusion for foreigners is the French word voile (veil) which is sometimes used interchangeably to talk about both burkhas and hijabs. Technically, the correct term for a full-face covering in French would be a voile intégral.

There is also a ban on wearing the full-body swimsuit known as the burkini in municipal swimming pools – it is allowed on the beach (after France’s state council overturned bans imposed by some local authorities) and in private pools.

As for sport, France’s Constitutional Council said in a June ruling that French sporting federations can choose to impose dress requirements on players in competitions and sporting events “to guarantee the smooth running of matches without any clashes or confrontations”.

As such, it upheld a rule by the French Football Federation (FFF) against wearing “any sign or clothing clearly showing political, philosophical, religious or union affiliation” during play. This therefore bans players from wearing the hijab when taking part in a game on FFF-owned pitches, but it does not cover spectators. 

Federations for other sports, such as rugby, have opted against a ban. Female rugby players can wear a hijab during matches “provided it does not constitute a danger to the wearer or other players.” Handball and judo also permit the wearing of hijabs, and the French Tennis Federation simply requires that “clothing compatible with the practice of the sport” be worn.

Competitors at the Paris Olympics in 2024 will be allowed to wear a hijab to compete, as will spectators.

No ban

On the other hand, there is no general ban when it comes to hijabs, headscarves or abayas.

This means that a foreigner visiting France can be assured that they are permitted to wear their hijab (or their abaya) while walking down a street, touring a museum, taking public transportation or any other activity in the public space.

The rules around wearing religious clothing like large Christian crosses, the Sikh turban or kippas, really only apply to government buildings and public employees – so are unlikely to affect visitors.

For example, public schools are considered government buildings, and as such students and teachers cannot wear overt signs of religion. That’s also the reason why schools do not have religious assemblies, and at Christmas do not perform nativity plays or display a crib.

That being said, a person visiting a French school would be permitted to wear a hijab, since they are not a pupil or a teacher.

Likewise although public employees in buildings like the préfecture would not be allowed to wear a hijab while they are at work (although they are free to do so in their own time) visitors to these buildings are not affected. 

The hijab ban does not cover universities. 

Why?  

If all this sounds a little confusing, it might help to look at the philosophy behind the rules.

The background is the French principle of laïcité – or state secularism. It is the idea that everyone in France has the freedom to worship as they choose – but the state itself remains strictly neutral and does not take part in any religious practices.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What does laïcité (secularism) really mean in France?

Because the state must be neutral, public officials – as representatives of the state – cannot wear religious signs. This means that a police officer, préfecture or firefighter, for example, would not be allowed to wear a hijab while at work. What they wear in their own time is entirely their personal choice, as of course is their religion. 

Even though France’s government does not keep track of race or religion, private studies estimate that there were at least 5.7 million French Muslim people as of 2022, making up approximately eight percent of the country’s total population. 

Of that population, plenty of women choose to wear the hijab regularly. A recent study by Insee found that over a quarter (26 percent) of Muslim women aged 18 to 49 in France reported wearing a headscarf.

That being said, it is more common to see women wearing hijabs and headscarves in larger cities, such as Paris or Toulouse than in rural France or small towns.

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FRANCE EXPLAINED

July 14th: What to expect from France’s Fête nationale this year

From military parades to fireworks and the arrival of the Olympic torch in Paris, here is what to expect on Bastille Day, or July 14th, this year.

July 14th: What to expect from France's Fête nationale this year

July 14th is the Fête nationale in France, often known as Bastille Day in the anglophone world, which marks the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille in 1789 – the event that symbolises the beginning of the French revolution. 

There are many ways to celebrate, including fireworks displays, traditional parades and the highly popular bals de pompiers, where French firefighters host parties in their station houses.

Normally, July 14th is a public holiday, meaning most workers get a day off, but as it falls on a Sunday this year, there will not be an extra day away from work. 

This year the event comes just a few weeks ahead of the Olympic Games, and it also coincides with the final match of the Euro 2024 tournament, which will take place at 9pm.

Here is what to expect for the 2024 Fête nationale;

Parades

Most towns and cities across France have some sort of event on July 14th.

In Paris, there is a large military parade, with the President in attendance, to mark the event. Normally, this takes place along the Champs-Élysées, but this year it has been moved to Avenue Foch (which runs from the Arc de Triomphe toward the Bois de Vincennes) due to the Olympic Games preparation.

It will take place in the morning of Sunday, July 14th at 9.20am, and it will run until close to noon.

This year, the event will have two themes – the Olympics and the Armed Forces. There will also be a recognition of the 80th anniversary of the Liberation of France. 

As part of the parade, there will also be a flypast with 23 helicopters and 45 planes involved. The first will take place at 10.30am.

Olympic Torch arrival

July 14th will also mark the arrival of the Olympic torch in Paris. It will start off at about 12.50pm from the Champs-Elysées traffic circle.

Afterwards, it will visit several landmarks across the city, including the Luxembourg Gardens, the Île de la Cité, and the Louvre before arriving at the Hôtel de Ville. 

You can see the full schedule on the town hall’s website here.

READ MORE: MAP: Where will the Olympic torch visit on its journey through France?

Fireworks

It’s traditional for towns and cities across France to put on fireworks displays either on the night itself or on July 13th – these happen even in quite small towns so check your local mairie’s website or Facebook page for details.

In Paris, the famous Bastille Day fireworks will still happen at the Eiffel Tower, but there will be no viewing area at the Champ de Mars or Trocadéro this year, as they are undergoing preparations for the Olympic Games.

You can watch the fireworks from different locations in the city or on television on France 2. They will go from 11pm to 11.35pm.

Concert

If you are visiting the capital, there will be a ‘Concert de Paris’ with choir music and an orchestra. This time it will take place at the square in front of the Hôtel de Ville, located in the 4th arrondissement.

According to Radio France, the concert will be free with no need for a reservation.

Many other French towns and cities will be holding concerts too.

Bals de pompier

French firefighters traditionally open up their stations to visitors on the evening July 14th, but this year most will do so on July 13th instead (owing to the fact that July 14th is on a Sunday), and they host the famous bals des pompiers (firemen’s balls).

Some of these events are family-friendly and laid back, while others – especially in Paris and Marseille – are a little more raunchy where les pompiers show off their famously well-honed physiques to an appreciative audience.

Euro final 

Sunday also marks the conclusion of the Euro 2024 football tournament, although since France got knocked out in the semis this won’t be as big an event in France as it might have been. The match kicks off at 9pm and is showing on French free to air channel TF1.

READ MORE: How to watch the Euro 2024 semi-finals on TV in France

Traffic and weather

According to La Chaîne Météo, the weekend could see mixed weather across France, with a possible cold drop, showers and unseasonably low temperatures on Saturday.

As for Sunday, forecasters say that the weather may be unstable in the north and east of the country, with a risk of rain and chilly temperatures. In the south and the west, they expect a return to calmer, drier weather. 

Maximum temperatures may range from 17C in north-east France to 28C near the Mediterranean. Overall, they are expected to stay about 1-2C below seasonal norms.

When it comes to traffic, the most congestion will occur on Saturday.

On Friday, though there will be some slowdowns across the country, and traffic will be most heavy for departures in the upper north-west, with Bison Futé predicting that zone will be ‘red’ for ‘heavy traffic’.

Bison Futé predictions for Friday

On Saturday, departures across the north-west and into parts of central and south-eastern France will also see red-level heavy traffic, with the rest of the country expected to experience moderately more traffic than usual.

Bison Futé predictions for Saturday

As for Sunday, the roads will be mostly clear, with some slowdowns in the Paris area for departures and returns, as well as parts of eastern France for departures.

Bison Futé predictions for Sunday

Closures and operating hours

As the Fête Nationale falls on a Sunday this year, several places will already be closed, such as banks and government offices. Shops may also have reduced opening hours.

Larger chains such as supermarkets, especially in the cities, may be open for part of the day, but may have different or limited opening hours. Bars, cafés, restaurants and tourist attractions should be open as normal.

Politics

Historically, it is not uncommon for the French president to make a speech on July 14th – however France is in a turbulent period right now, so whether Emmanuel Macron will make a speech or not remains to be seen.

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