An A-Z Dictionary of France


  The About-France.com thematic guide to France   - French institutions, society, travel and tourism.


What is an Enarque ? What happened to a ship called the Erika ? Is an EURL a type of aristocrat, or a type of firm?  And what were the Accords d'Evian ? Look no further, here are the answers to these and other questions about French words or names beginning with E

E  111  former European health card, used by European Union citizens for health cover in France and other EU countries. E111 has now been replaced by the EHIC card.

Eau d'Evian, see Evian below

Ecole des Mines - A "grande école", one of France's  prestigious engineering schools, founded by King Louis XVI in 1783; originally specialising in mines, it today trains experts in various fields of civil engineering. Its full name is the École Nationale Supérieure des Mines de Paris . See Higher Education in France 

Ecole Maternelle - Kindergarten: France has a strong tradition of pre-school education, and Ecoles Maternelles are open to pupils from the ages of 2 to 6 (the start of compulsory education). About a third of French children start going to kindergarten at the age of 2, and almost all children attend ecole maternelle between the ages of 3 and 6.

Ecole Normale - Name formerly given to teacher training colleges in France; their main purpose was the training of future primary school teachers (instituteurs). Today future teachers are trained in IUFM - Institut Universitaire de Formation des Maîtres.

Ecole Normale d'Administration, see ENA.

Ecole Normale Supérieure : Top French "grande école" in the field of arts and letters and sciences. See Higher Education in France 

Ecole Primaire or Ecole Elémenatire : Primary school, for the education of pupils between the ages of 6 and 11. There are five classes. In some small rural primary schools, teachers may still take several classes together. For further details see Primary & secondary education in France.

EDF - Electricité de France, the leading French power company. Formerly a nationalised utility, EDF is now a public company, in which the French government is the major shareholder. EDF has expanded its activities into many European countries, including Britain, though was very reluctant to give up its monopoly over the electricity distribution market in France. EDF is the second largest energy company in the world in terms of stock-market capitalization. In France, over 85% of the electricity produced by EDF comes from nuclear power generation.

Education nationale : the French state education system, and the largest employer in France. Teachers and administrative staff with tenured jobs in the state education system are classed as fonctionnaires, or civil servants. Counting tenured employees and those with short-term contracts (contractuels), the EN has some 1.1 million employees, including about 850,000 teachers. The Education Nationale is administered centrally by the MEN (Ministère de l’Education Nationale), and on a regional basis through Académies, each one presided over by a Recteur.

EELV : Europe Ecologie Les Verts. Political movement / party that emerged between 2008 and 2010 when the Green Party expanded to form an alliance including other militant environmental groups thatwere until then outside politics. See   Les Verts

Eglise Catholique: France is often described as a “Catholic" country; but this description is not technically true. Since 1905, there has been a strict separation of church and state in France, and France is officially a secular (laïc) republic. See laïcité. Nevertheless, Catholicism remains the main religion of France to this day. In 1999, slightly over half the French population claimed to be Catholic, though only about 12% of the population are churchgoers.
    There are 15 archbishoprics in the French Catholic church, plus the Catholic archdioceses of Strasbourg and Metz, which for historic reasons are directly dependent on the Vatican. Since the revolution, church buildings have belonged to the nation, and to this day their upkeep is the responsibility of local authorities. For more information see Religion in France

Eglise Réformée de France : the main French protestant church, of Calvinist inspiration. The ERF isclosely associated with the other main Protestant church in France, the Lutheran  EELF, Eglise Evangélique Luthérienne de France (French Lutheran Evangelical Church) which is particularly present in the area of Montbéliard, a Protestant stronghold in eastern France.

EHPAD :  Residence for elderly people in need of care. Care home with medically trained staff. EHPADs can be run by local authorities or public bodies, private companies or non-profit associations. The cost of accommodation  is paid by the family, and may be subsidised for those with insufficient resources. In 2019 43% of EHPADS were in the public sector, and the total number of people being cared for was just under 600,000.  With the ageing of the population in France, the number of places available is expected to increase to over a million by 2050.

Eiffel Tower, see Tour Eiffel

Elitism : In spite of the national commitment to the principles of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, France remains marked by traditions of elitism that are ingrained in the very fibre of society. The French Revolution was supposed to have done away with privileges and elites, and usher in an age of greater equality; in the event, it – and subsequent upheavals – changed the nature of the elites in France, without making a great impact on the underlying system. Indeed, the notion of ‘republican elites’ is one that was fundamental in the shaping of post-Revolutionary France.
    In terms of local power, the role of local notables – important figures –  remains strong. Notables frequently fulfil multiple roles in local administration and structures, sometimes combining these with elected positions on a regional or national scale, giving them and their close supporters a considerable degree of power. (See Cumul des mandats). They are frequently referred to as les elites locales. The process of devolution in France, set in motion in 1982, has had the effect of strengthening the power base of local elites.
    The French education system, while offering a good quality non-selective education to all children at lower levels, is increasingly elitist towards the top, particularly when it comes to preparing for higher education. Many classes préparatoires, particularly those preparing students for entrance to the top institutions of higher education, called Grandes Ecoles,  are very selective, and the selection process – and for that matter the system itself – often disfavours students from humble or poorer backgrounds. The Grandes Ecoles themselves, tailor-made to the needs of the nation, train the future leaders and decision makers in specific fields of the public or private sector, producing very close networks of former students, that make the British concept of the “old-boy network" seem rather informal.
     Places in the top grandes écoles and some other institutions are highly sought after, as graduates from these schools are seen in France as a sort of caste, membership of which is highly recommended, if not essential, for anyone wanting to reach the top. The classic example of this is the ENA, Ecole Normale d’Administration, the Grande Ecole designed to train top civil servants and future political leaders. In the corridors of French power, many if not most of the top positions are occupied by Enarques , graduates of the ENA. In 1967, Jean-Pierre Chevènement – himself an Enarque, and later to be Minister of the Interior under François Mitterrand – coined the word Enarchie, to define the French system of state elites.
   As for business elites, a 2006 review in the Economist observed that they “often seem to owe more allegiance to the group from which they are drawn than to the international corporations they work for."

Elysée, Palais de l':  Paris, official residence of the President of France, located on the Rue du Faubourg St.Honoré, near the Champs Elysées. Most of the weekly Cabinet meetings are held in this presidential palace, and it is from the presiential office that French presidents tend to make televised broadcasts to the nation. The annual presidential Garden Party is held in the gardens of the Elysée Palace on Bastille Day.

Emmaüs, les Communautés d', : Associations for the reinsertion of long-term unemployed and social misfits, founded by Abbé Pierre, the Emmaüs Communities specialise in the collection and treatment of second-hand paraphernalia. Emmaüs centres will take almost anything, and either recycle it or else sell it; the centres are popular with bargain hunters and people looking for furniture and bric-à-brac at knockdown prices.

Emmental:  a popular type of pressed cheese, made mainly in the east of France, in the Franche Comté and Lorraine regions.  Very recognisable on account of the big round holes, Emmental is not an appellation contrôlée cheese.

ENA, the Ecole Normale d'Administration, one of France's top "grandes écoles". Founded in 1945, the ENA was set up as a school, open to all, for the training of uncoming generations of  hauts fonctionnaires (top civil servants) to run France's public sector. However the school also trains future leaders of industry, and many top French politicians, including four presidents,  are alumni of the school. Originally located in Paris, the ENA is now in Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace. The network of graduates, known as Enarques, is one of the cosiest and most influential old-boy (and old-girl) networks in France.
   In 2019, responding to years of criticism that the ENA has outlived its function and is now perceived as an instrument for the benefit of the elite, President Macron, himself an alumnus,  pledged to abolish it. No date has been set.

Enarque, Graduate of the Ecole Normale d'Administration. See ENA.

Engie  : Until 2015 known as GDF-Suez, Engie is the world’s third largest energy company, founded in 2008 from the merger of GDF and Suez. With a 35.7% stake, the French state is the largest single shareholder in the company. The company employs almost 200,000 people, almost half of them in France. It is the largest purchaser and distributor of gas in Europe. GDF-Suez is a CAC 40 company.

ENS : See Ecole Normale Supérieure

Eoliennes : Wind turbines, see Parc Eolien.

Epoisses Soft cheese, made in northwest Burgundy

Equipe, l'  France's leading daily sports newspaper, and one of the biggest-selling dailies in France.

Erignac, Claude, 1937-1998. Fench senior civil servant assassinated by Corsican nationalists in 1998. As prefect of the Corsica region, Erignac represented, for Corsican nationalists, a symbol of French colonial power. He was gunned down by Corsican extremists in Ajaccio one evening in February 1998, and is the most high-ranking victim of nationalist violence on the island. After a controversial investigation and trial, a group of nationalists were found guilty of murdering Erignac. One of the accused, Yvan Colonna, claimed his innocence, and went into hiding for four years, before being recaptured and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2009.

Erika  Name of the Italian-managed Maltese-registered tanker, on charter to the French oil company Total-Fina-Elf, that ran aground and sank off the Brittany coast in 1999, causing one of France's largest oil spills and environmental disasters.  At least 150,000 birds died as a result of the spillage of heavy oil, that affected beaches from the Charente to the Finistère.

Espace, The original European "monospace" vehicle, first produced in 1984 by Renault. The initial concept for the Espace was actually conceived  in the Rootes/Chrysler design facility in Coventry, England; this facility was associated with Chrysler's French subsidiary, Matra-Simca. When Chrysler sold their UK operations to Peugeot, the latter were not interested in the monospace project, so Matra teamed up with Renault, who eventually went ahead with the  project and launched what has since become one of the company's flagship models.

ESSEC : École supérieure des sciences économiques et commerciales . One of France's  world-class business schools, the ESSEC is based in Cergy Pontoise, in the suburbs of Paris. It has a branch in Singapore. Entry to ESSEC is highly selective. The school ranked 5th in the Financial Times world ranking of executive business schools for 2019

Est Républicain, l'  the main daily newspaper in  central  eastern France, published in Nancy, in Lorraine.

Est, Gare de l'  Paris mailine railway terminus, serving cental eastern France. Since 2008, and the opening of the TGV de l'est, the Gare de l'Est has become the fourth Paris mailine rail terminus offering TGV services. See rail travel in France.

Estafette : The iconic French delivery van, produced by Renault from 1959 to 1980.

EURL - Entreprise Unipersonnelle à Responsabilité Limitée : type of French microcompany, a limited liability company formed by a single person,  allowing an individual to benefit from a simple corporate structure without the complexities of creating a full company.

EUROPE 1  Popular private commerical radio station, currently specialising in news and talk. Originally set up in 1955 as a private radio broadcasting from the Saarland (Germany), at a time when broadcasting in France was a state monopoly,  the station was soon brought under indirect government control when the Sofirad company took a controlling stake; but Europe 1 retained a degree of editorial independence that the official state broadcasters did not have.  Today Europe 1 is again a private broadcaster, now controlled by the Lagardère group.  In 2007, its pop music partner station Europe 2 was renamed Virgin Radio, under a franchise agreement with the Virgin group.

Eurostar  International high-speed train, running between London and Paris, and London and Brussels.

Evian, Accords d'  Agreement, signed in 1962, putting an end to the Algerian war. The agreement , signed between the French government and the Algerian National Liberation Front, led to Algerian independence, while giving France the right to maintain a certain strategic presence in the country for 15 years.  France's withdrawal from Algeria, after 130 years of colonial domination, was the subject of bitter argument in France, and France narrowly escaped falling into civil war over the issue. The Algerian crisis lasted from 1954 to 1962, and  led in 1958 to the collapse of the Fourth Republic, and the establishment of the Fifth Republic under General de Gaulle. It was de Gaulle who masterminded the package that achieved consensus at the Evian talks. Evian is a town in the French region of Rhone-Alpes, standing on the French shores of lake Geneva. 

Evian, Eau d’: Evian mineral water, reputed to have been filtered for centuries beneath the Alps, is the leading mineral water in France, and the world’s leading export product in its field. Evian water has been bottled since 1826. The Evian bottling company is today part of the Danone group.

Express, l' Weekly independent French newsmagazine, founded in 1953 by  Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber and Françoise Giroud, on the model of the American Time magazine. Originally a centre-left magazine, l'Express moved to the centre right in the early 1980's. Many prominent French journalists and writers have at times been involved with L'Express; they include Jean Paul Sartre, Raymond Aron and Christine Ockrent.

Extremism : While extremist and populist parties have flourished in the twenty-first century in many developed nations, France has long been a country with a surprising level of tolerance of extremism. For instance, until the rise of the Socialists in the 1970s, the Communist Party was the major party of the left in France. After its popularity faded in the 1980s and 1990s, many French voters moved their sympathies to other parties at the extremes of the political spectrum, left-wing parties on the left, and the surging Front National on the right. In the first round of the 2002 Presidential elections, virtually a third of all votes cast went to an extremist candidate, on a turnout of 71% of the electorate. Almost 20% of votes went to the  Front National or ex-FN candidates, and 13.81% was split among four trotskyist or communist candidates. While this can be seen in part as a form of protest vote, or lack of confidence in mainstream political parties, it also illustrates the degree to which France remains a polarised society. 
     In the first round of the 2015 Regional elections, the FN took 27.73% of the vote, more than any other party.
     Extremism has long historic roots in France, going back to absolutism and the collaboration of the Vichy régime on the one hand, and the excesses of the French Revolution on the other.  
    Although the French Revolution degenerated into the vicious blood-letting of la Terreur (1792-1794) with its state-sponsored assassinations and all the trappings of a modern fascist state, the Revolution remains the founding event of modern France, and support for mass protest and street violence, born out of memories of the barricades of 1798,  remains stong to this day, a factor that has allowed parties of the far left and the far right to acquire credibility and popular support more easily than in most other democratic states. 
   However the success of extremist parties in 21st century France can also be attributed to the fact that mainstream political parties on the left and on the right have done their bit to strenghten their credibility. Conservative parties have a long history of assimilating centre-left and socialist parties with the Communists and other far-left parties, while the Socialists have persistently sought to make political capital by portraying the mainstream conservative parties as the natural bedfellows of the far right. The paradoxical result was  to give credence and respectability to extremist parties and leaders such as Jean Marie Le Pen of the National Front, or Arlette Laguiller of Lutte Ouvrière.
     Furthermore, in their keenness to demonstrate even-handedness, French television stations and the media have persistently given coverage to charismatic politicians of the left and the right, turning people such as Le Pen, Laguiller or more recently Olivier Besancenot, and the new generations of Le Pens, into popular chat-show guests.


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E is for Eglise catholique - the Catholic church

E is for Eau d'Evian - Evian water


E is for Eurostar

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