I have often wondered why French is (almost) unique in the Romance languages in using the guttural 'r' – in particular, the uvular fricative. Apart from Piedmontese / Piedmontese Italian (and even there it's far from universal), French seems to be the only Romance language that uses this sound, whilst many Germanic languages and dialects use it commonly. Occitan on the other hand did and even now does not use it, as far as I can tell, and many Southern French speakers still tend to employ the more traditional Latin alveolar sounds when speaking Standard French.
Now, I came across this curious map of the distribution of uvular rhotic usage in Western Europe, which shows a clear geographical cluster. Most surprisingly though, areas of common usage appear to cross significant linguistic boundaries (Romance-Germanic) quite freely!
(See Wikipedia for the key.)
Initially, I thought the guttural 'r' might have been an old Germanic feature that spread into French, even as far back as the Franks perhaps (which would certainly explain its greater prevalence in the north of the country), but there is apparently clear evidence (from Molière, no less) that as late as the 18th century in Paris, the alveolar trill was being used to pronounce 'r'. Hence I wonder, is this phonology truly a modern innovation? If so, where and precisely when did it originate? And how did it cross the linguistic barrier so that it permeated both Romance dialects and High German, Dutch, and the North Germanic languages so thoroughly? I presume that these phonologies are not independent, but perchance even this premise is wrong.