Think the French are Europe's most cultured? Think again.

When it comes to attending cultural and theater events, the Brits and Swedes beat the French hands down, according to a new poll.

By , Staff writer

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    People look at an exhibition in the History Museum of Marseille, southern France, in September. Despite living in a cultural capital of Europe, the French are trailing their peers in northern Europe and Britain in terms of attending the arts and cultural sites.
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With a preschooler at home, I don't get out much. I get out to a lot of parks, but art openings or the theater? Unfortunately, never.

Still, to be new in Paris, with some of the world's best museums, designer clothes shops, and gallery exhibitions all around me, at least I can partake in a buzzing cultural vibe.

Except that according to a new Eurobarometer study, the French aren't producing much of a vibe – at least not getting out much more than the EU average, and much less than their peers in northern Europe or Britain.

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In fact, for all of the rivalry in Europe between London and Paris as the hubs of culture, both would do well to be looking at Stockholm instead.

Despite being home to world-famed museums like the Louvre or Musee D'Orsay, only 39 percent of the French visited a museum in the last year, compared to 52 percent in the UK. In Sweden, 76 percent have. The EU average: 37 percent.

Only 21 percent of the French had gone to the theater, compared to 39 percent of Britons in the past year. Overall in the EU, 28 percent had.

The French did beat out the British on attending ballet, dance, or opera, with 25 percent having gone to one of those events in the last year. Only 22 percent in the UK had, compared to 18 percent of EU residents on average. Again, Sweden tops the ranking at 34 percent.

One of the cultural parts of life I can regularly participate in in Paris is the library scene, at which I have not stopped marveling. Mine is always packed, with Parisians settling in on a chilly afternoon or evening for a read. But apparently only 33 percent of French have visited a public library in the last year, compared to 47 percent in Britain and 74 percent in Sweden.

The Eurobarometer survey concludes that the northern European countries of Sweden (the overall winner), Denmark, and the Netherlands stand out with the highest levels of cultural engagement, while it's generally lowest in southern Europe.

The last such Eurobarometer survey was released in 2007, prior to the European sovereign debt crisis. The idea was to see what impact personal economics is having on the arts.

As the report notes, “A comparison with the 2007 survey shows that, across the EU, there has been a decline in participation in the majority of activities asked about, which may reflect an overall reduction in the amount of money or time EU citizens spend on cultural activities since the economic crisis began.”

But most respondents, when asked why they don't partake in the arts, cite lack of time or interest – showing that there is more at play than mere economics.

Curious about how my American compatriots stack up, I looked for similar data in the US. And although one must compare data across studies with a grain of salt, according to the National Endowment for the Arts 2012 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, we Americans are way behind the least culturally engaged in Europe, with 5.6 percent of Americans attending a dance event (excluding ballet) in a year span, 2.7 percent attending the ballet, and 8.3 percent attending the theater. When including all arts performances, concerts, plays, etc. 33.3 percent of US adults had partaken in one such event in a 12-month period. 

That may go some way to explain why I'm picking up such a cultural vibe in France – even if it's not as intense as it would be in the homeland of Shakespeare, or better yet, of Ingmar Bergman.

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