An A-Z Dictionary of France


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


What does the word  l'hexagone often mean ? Who is Johnny Halliday ? Why would you not want to book a night in the hotel des impots ?  

And what happened on the huit mai ? Here are the answers to these and other questions about French words or names beginning with H.

Hachette : Publishing company, today, as Hachette Livre,  part of France’s biggest media and publishing group, the Lagardère group. Hachette is the largest, and one of the oldest, book publishers in France. The company was founded in 1824 and today publishes some of France’s best-known imprints, including Grasset, Hatier and Larousse. Hachette is also a major international publisher, and the second largest publisher in the UK, where it owns Chambers, Cassel, Hamlyn and a number of other publishers.

Hachette-Filipacchi Médias: The magazine, newspaper and audio-visual publishing branch of the Lagardère publishing empire. HFM publishes a significant number of France’s most popular magazines, including Elle, France Dimanche, Paris Match and Télé 7 Jours; it also owns two regional dailies in the south of France, Nice Matin and La Provence, as well as the photo agencies Gamma and Rapho.

Halliday, Johnny : 1943 - 2017.  Iconic French rocker, who first came to fame in the early sixties as the French answer to Elvis. Though  essentially a singer of  rock 'n' roll, Johnny  - real name Jean-Philippe Smet -  evolved like a chameleon through changing fashions and modes in music, remaining one of France's most popular singers through five decades. Born in Paris, he took his name Halliday from  an American second cousin who was a variety artist. Lee Halliday helped young Jean-Philippe, whom he called Johnny, onto the first rungs of the showbiz ladder, and also introduced him to the music of the young Elvis Presley, a rising sensation in the USA who was unknown at the time in France. There followed a career spanning more than half a century, during which Johnny was the face and the voice of rock 'n' roll in France. He officially announced his retirement in 2007, though was still doing the occasional concert and recording new material almost up until his death. He died in 2017, leaving a legal wrangle over his considerable estate, between his children and his fifth wife Laeticia

Halte-garderie : popular form of creche, providing day-care for infants until they can have a place at kindergarten (école maternelle).

Harkis, les : In France, the term Harki is used to define Moslem Algerians who, during the Algerian war of independence, fought with the French army against the independentists. At the end of the war in 1962, and although the French tried to stop their exodus, about 90,000 Harkis managed to escape to France. Many of the thousands who remained in Algeria were massacred. In France, the situation of the Harkis was for many years brushed under the carpet. Thousands of Harki families were accommodated for  years in internment camps and forestry camps, the most notorious of these being the Camp Joffre, near Perpignan. It was not until the 1990s that the French government began to officially recognise the injustices done to the Harkis; most recently, in 2007, President Sarkozy announced further measures in favour of Harki families, but stopped short of recognising any French responsibility for the fate suffered by Harkis after the war.

Haut fonctionnaire (see also Fonction Publique) : Senior civil servant, person occupying a senior post in the French public administration or in the corridors of power.

HEC : The Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales, a grande école located in Paris,  is France’s top business school. Founded in 1881, it is now (since 2008) part of a larger organisation called  "Paris Tech". HEC is run by the Paris Chamber of commerce (see CCI), and is reputed as one of the best business schools in the world, indeed classed top in the Financial Times European business schools league table in 2005, 2006 and 2007.
   HEC offers 380 places per year in its first year of study, and with almost 4,000 candidates per year is the Grande école with the most competitive entry. The degree course, which includes at least 20 weeks abroad, and an internship, lasts 3 years, meaning effectively that most students do not graduate until five years after their baccalaureate (2 years of prépa to prepare for entry, then 3 years of HEC once accepted). HEC also offers MBA qualifications.

Hersant, Robert : (1920 - 1996)  Hersant was the greatest press baron, or newspaper magnate, in France in the second half of the twentieth century. During the Second World War, Hersant collaborated openly with the Nazis and with the Vichy Régime, a collaboration for which he was condemned post war to ten years' national indignity. However, following the 1952 amnesty, he launched into a career both as a press baron and as a politician. At the peak of its expansion, Hersant's press empire controlled 38% of France's national press, and 26% of the regional press; among the flagship titles owned by Hersant were the daily Le Figaro, and the daily evening newspaper France Soir, two of France's best-selling newspapers. Although he was first elected to the French parliament as a socialist, Hersant went on to sit as a centrist conservative in Valéry Giscard d'Estaing's centre right UDF party.

Héxagone, l' . The Hexagon, a name frequently used to describe continental France, normally including Corsica. The name stems from the vaguely hexagonal shape of France. Consequently, the adjective héxagonal is sometimes used with the meaning of French.

Hollande, François : born 1954.  President of France (2012 - 2017) Candidate of the French Socialist Party for the 2012 presidential election, he ousted incumbent president Nicolas Sarkozy in a closely fought runoff..
   A graduate of HEC business school and of the ENA school of administration,  Hollande worked at the Cour des Comptes before becoming elected as a député for the Corrèze - the same department as Jacques Chirac - in 1988.  In 1997 he was elected first secretary of the Socialist Party, a most he held until 2008. At the time he was considered as rather a soft-liner, the rather dull partner of Ségolène Royale, by whom he has four children.
    However since Hollande and Royale split up, and Hollande was ousted from the leadership of the Socialist party, he staged a considerable comeback, building an image as a serious candidate with whom the French economy would be in safe hands. 
     As president, he promised to be a "normal" man, but the normality soon came back to haunt him. Unable to fulfil his election pledges of a drastic cut in unemployment (it rose continually during the first half of his term) and a rapid cut in France's budget deficit (he failed to meet EU deficit reduction targets), Hollande saw his popularity ratings slump to an all-time low for a president of the French Fifth Republic.  In order to try and turn round the situation, in 2014 Hollande (just like Mitterrand in his first term) made a major policy U-turn, ousting left wingers and bringing in a centre-left government under a new prime minister, Spanish-born Manuel Valls. The ensuing economic packages put forward to try and bring French industry out of the doldrums were decried by the far-left of his own party as "ultra liberal", and by the conservative opposition as "half measures", and Hollande's popularity ratings continued to fall. By early 2015 had an approval rating of under 20%.
    This shot up briefly on account of his good handling of events surrounding the terrorist attacks in Paris in early January. But with France's economic situation showing only limited signs of stabilisation, the president's popularity sank back down again. In the departmental elections of March 2015, the Socialists lost almost half of the French departments they previously governed.
  In 2016, his popularity remaining low, Hollande decided not to run for reelection in the 2017 presidential election, faced with almost certain defeat. For the second round, he openly supported Emmanuel Macron in the runoff against Marine LePen.

Hors gabarit :  The hors gabarit sign, sometimes seen on French roads, means that the road - or some structure along it - is closed to vehicles exceeding normal height or width. Hors gabarit litterally means "exceeding the dimensions".

Hôtel de Ville : Town hall, the official building in a French town, in which ceremonial duties are carried out; this is often distinct from the Mairie, which houses municipal offices and services.

Hôtel des Impôts:  Tax office

Hue, Robert  leader of the French Communist Party (PCF) from 1994 to 2002. During his time in office, the PCF lost some 40% of its membership, in spite of Hue's attempts to modernise the party. But the decline was more due to changing times than to Hue's leadership.

Huit mai : The 8th May 1945, known as VE Day in the UK, was the day on which Nazi Germany capitulated, bring to an end the Second World War in Europe. It is a public holiday in France.

Humanité, l'  A daily newspaper, founded by jean Jaurès in 1904. From 1920 to 1994, it was the official newspaper of the French Communist Party (PCF); today, it remains very close to the PCF.. At the peak of its popularity, the paper sold 400,000 copies a day; today, the figure is a little over 50,000.

Hypokhâgne: See under Khâgne and Classes Préparatoires


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 François Hollande,   President from 2012 to 2017

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