Provincial vs Provençal January 12 2014

Almost every day someone gets to our web site by Googling (or Binging) “french provincial tablecloth” or even "french provencial tablecloth". So we decided it was high time to write a blog post about province versus Provence, provincial versus Provençal. Hang onto your hats – this promises to be our most complicated blog post yet…

In French, the word province can mean an administrative division within a country (such as the Canadian province of Québec), but it can also mean “any place in France that is outside of Paris”. For example, when a Parisian says that someone is “from province” it is culturally and attitudinally (is that a word?) equivalent to a New Yorker saying that someone is “not from The City”. In French, as in English, the word “provincial” can mean “from the country” but is also sometimes used to mean “unsophisticated”.

Modern France does not have provinces. It has régions and départements. Today Provence is a somewhat loosely defined area in southern France that corresponds roughly (though not exactly) to the official administrative région of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.

So Provence is not a province, but it once was a province - of ancient Rome. In fact it was the first territorial conquest of the Roman Empire outside the Italian peninsula and was called Provincia (“the province”), Provincia Nostra (“our province”) or Provincia Romana (“the Roman province”) by the ancient Romans, and it's from this linguistic history that its modern name, Provence, is derived.

The word Provençal basically means something that comes (literally or figuratively) from Provence. The term Provençal is also used to refer to the dialect of the Occitan language that was widely spoken in Provence until the early 20th century (and is still spoken there, though much less extensively, today).

So, frankly, when we see that someone is searching for a “French provincial tablecloth” or “French provincial table linens” we’re not really sure if they are looking for a “French country style tablecloth” or a “French Provençal tablecloth”. We suspect it’s more often the latter. What do you think?