An A-Z Dictionary of France


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


Photo top of page: François Mitterrand

Who is Marianne ?  And what is the MEDEF ?  And where exactly is the Midi ? Or who reads le Monde?  Answers to these and many other questions in this "M" section of the dictionary of France..

M 6 -  The sixth French TV channel; a commercial channel, M6 is more youth oriented, innovative and and cheeky than the main channels.

Macadam - Monthly magazine sold on the streets of French cities by the homeless (SDF) and unemployed. Vendors get to keep at least 1€ from the cover price of 2 €. The French equivalent of Britain's "Big Issue" or Germany's "Asphalt", Macadam is affiliated to the International Network of Street Papers.

Macron, Emmanuel. President of France since 2017. Born 1977, Emmanuel Macron came into the public eye when in 2014 he was appointed economic advisor to President François Hollande. At the start of his career Macron was a senior civil servant in the Inspectorate of Finances at the Ministry of the Economy. He then joined Rothschilds investment bank.  In 2012 he joined President Hollande's team of advisers, and later in 2014 was appointed to the post of Minister of the Economy in the first Valls administration.
  His profile as a former investment banker did not go down well with the left wing of Hollande's government, and nor did his liberalising economic policies. His economic reform package that came in in 2015, and is known as the Loi Macron, included rolling back restrictions on Sunday trading, opening up the intercity bus and coach market to private competition, and attacking restrictive practices in France's  regulated professions (legal professions, pharmacists, bailiffs etc.).
  In  2015 he founded his own political movement (not a party) called En Marche (perhaps best translated as Just do it) and subsequently announced that he was standing for the presidency as an anti-system independent in the 2017 Presidential elections.
   Initially seen as an outsider, Macron surged into the limelight as the potential frontrunner following the "Penelopegate" scandal that derailed the campaign of the previous frontrunner François Fillon. Fillon was accused of having given well paid but fictitious jobs to his wife Penelope over a period of eight years – an accusation that whether true or not was enough to seriously damage his claim to be a Mr. Clean in politics. With Fillon out of the way, Macron surged to victory, beating Marine Le Pen in the second round, to become, aged 39, the youngest French head of state since Napoleon.
   After a shortlived "honeymoon" Macron soon lost popularity as he struggled to introduce many much-needed reforms, covering public services, taxes, and the environment. His early economic reforms, including simplifying labour laws and benefits, earned him the wrath of the left and the nickname of being the President of the rich.  His popularity plumetted in late 2018 after reactiion to fuel tax increases led to the massive Gilets Jaunes (Yellow vests) protests; however he rode the crisis out with relative skill, organising a number of public consultations, and in 2019, as the protests dwindled, his popularity rose accordingly.
   On the international stage, Macron has established himself as a champion of the European cause, as well as of environmental issues, and has repeatedly called for conciliation and dialogue in the face of escalating tensions in the Middle East.

Madelin, Alain : Born 1946. Former minister, Alain Madelin was renowned as the most strident defender of economic liberalism in France, during the early 1990s, at a time when "liberalism" was still  the "L" word, even for many French conservatives. A right-wing activist during his student days, virulently anti-Socialist, Madelin later joined Giscard d'Estaing's centre-right UDF party. He held a number of ministerial portfolios, eventually being appointed Minister of Finance and the Economy by prime minister Edouard Balladur in 1995; Balladur however sacked him after three months, judging Madelin too liberal. In reality, Madelin was ahead of his times, and many of his economic ideas - aimed at freeing up the French economy - have since been put in place. In 1997, he became president of the Parti Républicain (PR), which he later renamed Démocratie Libérale (DL): in 2003 DL merged with the mainstream conservative UMP party. Madelin retired from politics in 2007.

Maghrébins: People from North Africa, notably from the former French colonies or protectorates of Algeria, Morrocco, and Tunisia. French national censuses do not include questions  about ethnicity, but it is estimated that about 5% of the population of modern Frence (some 3 million people) are partly or fully of Maghreban descent.

Magny Cours. French motor racing circuit, near Nevers in the Nièvre department, some 250 km south of Paris, formerly site of French Formula 1 Grand Prix races.

MAIF : large  insurance cooperative (friendly society), only open to active or retired employees of the French state education service. The MAIF was reputed to offer very competitive insurance rates; today it is particularly appreciated as an honest insurer and one which pays up quite fast when a claim is made.  Since 1988 the Maif has a subsidiary called Filia Maif which is open to anyone. The MAIF brands itself as a "militant insurer" based on values of solidarity and friendship, offering  an alternative to for-profit insurance companies run by large financial corporations. 

Maire : Mayor, the chief executive of a Commune, or municipality. Amont the many functions of  French mayors are that of officiating at marriages. Mayors are elected for a six-year term in office, by municipal councillors, following a municipal election. The person chosen is generally the leader of the "list" which gained the majority of seats on the council following the election.

Mairie:  Municipal offices, building housing the main administrative office or offices (depending on the size) of a commune or a town. Mairies are responsible for the management of local services and local administrative formalities, such as the registration of births, deaths and marriages. 

Maître de Conférences: tenured university lecturer or senior lecturer.

Maîtrise :  Old type of masters degree, generally obtained following the successful completion of four years of higher education. Following reform of the higher education system in France in the early 2000s, and adoption of the European "Bologna" system, the maîtrise was phased out, and replaced by a new five-year master's qualification, known as the "Master" (pronounced Mast-air). 

Mammouth : The original brand of French hypermarket.  The first Mammouth opened in 1969, the last one closed in 1996.

Manif, short for Manifestation. See Demonstration

Manifestation, see Demonstration

Marc: in its most widespread usage, marc is a high alcohol spirit produced from the residues left after fruit has been pressed to produce other drinks, such as wine or cider. The commonest form of marc is marc de raison, a strong clear spirit prodced from the post-fermentation of pressed grapes. Like Cognac and other digestifs, marc is traditionally drunk as a digestif at the end of a long meal. A small glass of marc is offened referred to as a "pousse-café".

Marchais, Georges : (1920 - 1997)  First secretary of the French Communist Party (PCF) from  1972 to 1994. Marchais was very much a mainstream politician in France; when he took over the party, it was the biggest political party of the left in rench politics, and attracted the votes of about 20% of the French electorate. In the ensuing years, the PCF was overtaken by the rise of the new Socialist Party, led by François Mitterrand,  and Marchais could do little or nothing to stop the decline. Though he admitted that the French Communist Party had been "stalinist" in its past, he did little to modernise it. A member of the French parliament from  1973 to 1997, and also MEP from 1979 to 1989 (See cumul des mandats), he was never a minister, in spite of the Communists' participation in the Left wing union (Union de la Gauche) government from 1982 to1984.

Marché libre:  On the stock exchange, French small caps market.

Marée noire: literally black tide. Expression used to describe marine or coastal oil spillages leading to serious pollution of the shoreline.

Marianne:  1. Marianne is to France what Britannia is to Britain, an allegorical female icon symbolic of the nation. The bust of Marianne, often capped with the revolutionary Phrygian bonnet, adorns many town halls and official buildings. Marianne is supposed to be the incarnation of the spirit of the French Revolution, which is still seen (rightly or wrongly) as being the defining moment in the development of the modern French nation.  The image of Marianne has featured almost permanently on French postage stamps (definitive issues), as well as on many coins. In recent years, top models and film stars have posed as models for official sculptures of Marianne. They include Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve, Laetitia Casta and Evelyne Thomas.

Marianne:    2.  The name of a weekly newsmagazine founded in 1997. Marianne presents itself as being a magazine of the "radical centre",  uncompromisingly opposed to both the left-wing "neo-gauchisme" and the right-wing "neo-libéralisme" (neoconservativism).

Marseillaise. La Marseillaise is the French national anthem. Written by a little known soldier-poet called Rouget de Lisle, it was originally, in 1792, a battle song for the French Rhine armies. It was adopted as national anthem on July 14th 1795.

Martinique : French overseas department, situated in the Caribbean.

Massif Central : large area of uplands, covering central southern France from the Rhone to the western coastal plains. it includes most of the regions of the Auvergne and the Limousin, and parts of Rhone-Alpes, Aquitaine, Midi-Pyrénées, and Languedoc. Large parts of the Massif Central are sparsely populated, notably the Cantal, the Creuse, the Aveyron, and Lozère departments, and part of the Haute Loire. With just 15 inhabitants per km², the Lozère department, which includes the uplands of the Aubrac and part of the Causses, is the most sparsely populated department in metropolitan France. (► See more)

Master :  First postgraduate degree, awarded after five years of higher education. the Master replaced the Maîtrise (see above) following the LMD reform of higher education in the early 2000s

Maths-sup: See under Classes Préparatoires

Matignon, Hôtel de  : Official Paris residence of the French Prime Minister.  The word "Matignon" is often used, in the same way as "Downing Street" is used in Britain,  to designate the Prime Minister's office.

Mauroy, Pierre (born 1928). French socialist politician, Prime Minister from 1981 to 1984, at the start of the first Mitterrand presidency. A stalwart Socialist, Mauroy was Mitterrand's first prime minister, and led the government in the early years of the presidency, when policies were most left-wing, and included a programme of nationalisation (at a time when other nations were doing the reverse), a lowering of the retirement age, and the reduction of the working week to 39 hours. As well as playing a major role in the Socialist party from its creation in 1969, he was mayor of the city of Lille from 1973 to 2001, and also the city's Député, a classic example of cumul des mandats.

May 1st  : Le Premier Mai, La Journée du Travail - Labour Day, a public holiday in France, when trade unions traditionally organise parades through French towns and cities. 

May 8th  Le Huit Mai: VE Day. Anniversary of the signing of the Armistice at the end of World War II in europe. A public holiday in France.

Mazarine :   Mazarine Pingeot born 1974 -  A French writer, daughter of François Mitterrand.  In 1994, the magazine Paris Match revealed that President François Mitterrand had for 20 years hidden the fact that he had a daughter, through an extramarital liaison. The "Mazarine affair", which might have cause the downfall of senior politicians in many countries, cused little more than the raising of a few eyebrows in France.

Médecin conventionné :  Doctor approved by the French health service. Most doctors working in France are "conventionnés". See health care in France.

Médecin de garde :  Duty doctor, duty physician.  In most French towns, the doctor/s who is/are on call at nights and during the weekend, when most other doctors' surgeries are closed. See health care

Médecin, Jacques : (1928 - 1998) Long-serving mayor of Nice (1966-1990), and son of a previous mayor of the city. The Medecin family dominated politics in Nice for over half a century, like a family of local princes. His career came to a stuttering end in the late 1980s, following the first of a series of indictments for  improprieties in the management of local affairs, including corruption and  tax fraud. He fled to Uruguay in 1990, but was extradited in 1994, and spent two years in prison. On release, he returned to Uruguay, where he died two years later.

Médecins sans Frontières, MSF -  Doctors without borders - Major French medical  NGO, providing medical assistance worldwide, notably in times of  war and famine. Founded by Bernard Kouchner, who later became French Foreign Secretary.

MEDEF - Mouvement des Entreprises de France: The French Employers' organisation, which in 1998 replaced the earlier CNPF (Conseil National du Patronat Français). It is the French equivalent of Britain's CBI. Also referred to sometimes as le Patronat (litterally "the bosses"), the MEDEF is one of the partenaires sociaux, representing employers in discussions or negotiations with trade unions and/or the government.

Médiateur de la République: the French equivalent of the U.K’s Ombudsman, an independent arbitrator whose job is to solve conflicts between induviduals and the state. Individual citizens wishing to use the services of the Médiateur cannot apply directly, but must do so by first contacting their local M.P. (Député).

Médoc wines. The Médoc, the region south of the Gironde estuary to the north west of Bordeaux, is the home of many of France's most prestigious wines. Among the famous appellations produced in this area are Saint Estèphe, Margaux, Saint Julien and Pauillac. for more details  see Wines page.

Megret, Bruno - French right-wing politician, and MEP (1989 - 1999), who broke away from Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front party in 1998 to form his own MNR, Mouvement National Républicain, party. He retired from politics in  2008.

Menu du jour : the day's special menu in a resturant, usually offered at a discount rate compared to other comparable dishes.

Mercantour - One of France's six national parks, located in the high Alps, on the Italian border.

Méridienne verte - A millennium project to mark the "Paris meridian" - slightly different from the Greenwich meridian - by the planting of a line of trees, from Dunkerque on the North Sea to Prats de Mollho on the Spanish border.

Messmer, Pierre (1916 - 2007) : Prime minister of France 1972 - 1974 under President Pompidou. A historic figure of the Gaullist movement, and former colonial administrator, Messmer was de Gaulle's second-closest adviser. On the traditionalist wing of the Gaullist movement, he was Minister of the Armies at the time of the Algerian war of independence.

Metro, the Paris. First opened in 1900, the Paris Metro (or Métropolitain) is the city's subway system or underground railway system. Most of the network within central Paris is underground, though there are some aerial sections, notably on routes 2 and 6. It is linked with the city's suburban rapid transit system, the RER. The Paris Metro is Europe's second most-used urban subway system after the Moscow underground. Most routes use standard gauge steel rail tracks, though five of the routes operate with rubber-tyred rolling stock, running on concrete tracks. These are considerably quieter than the traditional trains used on other routes. The most recent route, line 14, opened in 1998 and known as the "Météor", uses driverless trains.

Metropolitan France Continental France, Corsica and smaller coastal islands.

MGEN : Mutuelle Générale de l'Education Nationale :  the  health insurance mutual, for employees of the state education system in France.

Michelin: One of France's older and biggest companies, a CAC 40 company, and the world's major tyre manufacturers (20% of the world market). Michelin is based in Clermont Ferrand (Auvergne), where it has a large research facility. Michelin has been responsible for many innovations in the history of the motor type, including the invention of  the radial tyre (standard on modern vehicles)  . Michelin also publish very popular maps of France and tourist guides. 

Midi : Litterally speaking, Midi means midday, but the word has come also to designate the south of France, i.e. the part over which the sun stands at midday, when seen from a northern perspective. As a spatial concept, the word Midi is very vague, and there is no specific point at which a traveller from the north enters the Midi. For some it is a small area, just including the Mediterranean coastal plain and its direct hinterland, a region characterised by mediterranean climate and vegetation. For others it is anywhere south of  the level of Valence, or even south of a line betwen Lyon and Bordeaux. The word is included in the name of the area called Midi Pyrénées (see below), which thus has a strong claim to be considered as part of the Midi. Alternatively, the Midi is perceived as equivalent to the historic area of Occitania , which is more extensive than the new region of Occitanie, set up in 2016, as it includes all the southern half of France where people spoke dialects of Occitanian French rather than dialects of the standard French of the Ile de France.

Midi Libre : Regional daily newspaper founded in 1944 in Montpellier, and distributed throughout the Languedoc region and the department of the Aveyron. Part of the Sud-Ouest news group since 2001. See longer article on Newspapers in France.

Midi-Pyrénées : was in terms of surface, the largest of France's administrative regions.  Covering eight departments, the Midi Pyrenees, capital Toulouse, stretches from the Pyrenees to the Massif Central. It is largely rural and agricultural. In 2016 it was merged with neighbouring Languedoc Roussillon to form the new region of Occitanie.

Millau. Town in the Aveyron department, on the river Tarn, and site of the new Viaduc de Millau on the A75 motorway.

Mimolette : A round cheese, made in the area of Lille in the north of France. Its orange colour is the result of the addition of natural coloring. The cheese was originally made as a French variation of the Dutch Edam cheese, to which it is very similar.

Minitel A first generation computerised videotext system, the Minitel briefly put France into the position of world leader in videotext access. Launched in 1982, the Minitel system rapidly entered the majority of French households and offices thanks to a masterly government policy of offering the basic terminals free to all telephone subscribers. Several years before the Internet explosion, the Minitel offered French telephone subscribers free access to a range of information services, including national telephone directories; it also offered a number of pay-per-view services, receipts from which were designed to help pay back the investment in the system. However, the success of the Minitel was also instrumental in slowing down France's uptake of the Internet. While the government remained keen to protect and promote this French technological success in the face of competition from a foreign system, many Minitel service providers also had a good reason to defend the system too. Provision of information via the Minitel, charged by the second,  rapidly became seen as a lucrative activity (notably for the "Minitel rose" sites) - far more so than via Internet, where most general  information is provided free of charge to the viewer. This economic disincentive meant that many major French providers of Information, such as the SNCF, were reluctant to replace, or even complement, slow but profit-making  Minitel services by faster free Internet services - thus delaying French uptake of the Internet.
   Minitel services were completely phased out in 2011. 

Minitel Rose. Name given collectively to the large number of soft-porn or erotic minitel chatlines that blossomed in the 1990's

Mirage…..  The generic name of the most famous family of French jet fighter planes, manufactured by the Dassault Aviation company . The first production Mirages, the Mirage III, entered service in 1961 with the French Air Force; the latest variant, the Mirage 2000, first entered service in 1987. Numerous upgrades of the Mirage 2000 have since been developed for French and other air forces.

Mistral 1)  The most famous of the winds to blow over France, the Mistral is the north wind that regularly blows down the Rhone valley, south of Lyon, usually bringing cold weather with clear skies to Provence. The Mistral is usually due either to northwest winds coming in off the Atlantic, or cold winds coming over from Central Europe. See Climate and weather.

Mistral 2 ) Named after the wind, the luxurious express train that used to run daily from 1950 to 1982 between Paris and Nice. The train was first class only, had its own special rolling-stock, and included such sophistications as hostesses, a hardressing salon, and a secretarial service. The train was withdrawn in 1982, following the introduction of TGV services to Nice.

Mitterrand, François (adj. Mittérandiste) (1916 - 1996) :  Françoisz Mitterrand was the longest serving French president under the Fifth Republic. Mitterrand, a Socialist, served two full terms in office, from 1981 to 1995. He was also the oldest president of the Fifth republic, leaving the job at the age of 78. History will judge how successful Mitterrand was; adulated by his supporters, he was much maligned by his political opponents; but for the second period of both his terms, he was obliged to appoint a Prime Minister from the conservative opposition (leading to a state of "cohabitation" (q.v.)), following mid-term rejections of his socialist administrations. He will perhaps be remembered as an indecisive president; from 1981 to 1983, he oversaw left-wing policies, including the nationalisation of some banks and other major companies; but from 1983 onwards, this policy went into reverse, and from then on state companies were progressively privatized. He did much to free France from the tight constrictions of the Gaullist state, abolishing the death penalty and removing state control of the media; but he was party to a notorious act of international piracy, the sinking of the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in the harbour at Auckland, New Zealand, in which a Greenpeace activist was killed. 
   Reelected in 1988, he pledged to follow a policy that was neither too left, nor too right. Known as the "ni-ni" policy ("neither nor" policy), this was frequently interpreted as being tantamount to no policy at all, and led to a crushing defeat for the Socialists in the 1993 general elections, as France's economic situation declined.

Modèle français, le : The French socio-economic system, which for a long time was seen by the majority of people in France, of all political persuasions, as being more caring, more egalitarian, and preferable to the other major western socio-economic system, known to the French as le modèle anglo-saxon (and considered too libéral).. However, since the start of the 21st century, the shine has come off the concept of le modèle français, as a result of France's major social problems, including ethnic tensions (see les Banlieues) and unemployment, and economic problems. 

MoDem Mouvement Démocrate : Centrist social-democratic political party formed from the remains of the old UDF by former minister and presidential candidate François Bayrou, in 2007.

Monde, Le . The leading French quality daily national newpaper, filling in France a role occupied in the UK by the Times and the Guardian . Politically left of centre, it is a newspaper of informed discussion and debate on current affairs, economics, politics and social issues, and is the newpaper of the Establishment, the "paper of reference", read by large numbers of decisiion makers, notably in the civil service. It is published in Paris, and comes out every evening. Monde de l'éducation : Education supplement of the daily newspaper Le Monde; the nearest French equivalent to the Times Educational Supplement.

Monde Diplomatique, le . Monthly supplement of Le Monde, devoted to critical analysis of political and economic issues. Though read by people of all shades of opinion in the French establishment and higher echelons of public service, le Monde Diplomatique, the paper, which defines itself as a "paper of opinion", is distinctly anti-neoliberal, and as such a firm critic of unbridled economic liberalism and consumerism. The paper is published worldwide, in 71 editions and 27 languages, and is seen to represent a certain French view, refusing subservience to the hegemony of American though and policy in the fields of social and economic affairs.

Monoprix -  Long-established chain of city-centre supermarkets / department stores, present in most French cities and large towns. the chain currently belongs to the Casino retail group,.

Mont Blanc, tunnel du : Road tunnel under Mont Blanc, in the French alps, linking France and Italy. The tunnel is a vital transalpine link, and was opened in 1965. In 1999, it was closed following a major fire, in which 56 people lost their lives. It has since reopened, following major improvements to safety systems

Mont Blanc. Mountain in the French Alps, near Chamonix. The highest peak in France and in Western Europe, altitude 4807 metres. The Mont Blanc range has the distinction of being home to the only real glacier in Western Europe, the Mer de Glace. The peak of Mont Blanc is on the Franco-Italian border ….(See also Mont Blanc, tunnel du)

Mont Saint Michel  - One of France's major tourist sites, and a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Mont St. Michel is a medieval abbey perched on a rock jutting up in the middle of the sand flats and shallow water of a large bay on the north coast of France, between Normandy and Brittany.

Mont d'Or : One of the famous cheeses of the Franche Comté region, Mont d'Or, also known as Vacherin, is a cheese that was traditionally only available in winter and spring.  See under Cheeses.

Montagne, La - Regional newspaper covering the Massif Central area of central southern France. Published in Clermont Ferrand.

Montmartre - small hill in the north of Paris, site of the Sacré Coeur basilica, and narrow streets reputed as the capital's artists' quarter.

Montparnasse, Gare - One of the main  railway termini in Paris, serving much of central western France. the Gare Montparnasse is the Paris terminus for all western TGV lines. See rail travel in France

Morvan : northern spur of the Central Massif, between the Loire and the Seine, in the region of Burgundy. Highest point, le Haut Folin (901 metres). The Morvan is a Regional Natural Park (Parc naturel Régional, q.v.).

Mouvement pour la France - MPF : Right-wing political party, considered rather more respectable than the Front National . Though defending many of the same values as the FN, the RPF recuses the term 'nationalist', preferring 'souverainiste' - or 'sovereignist'. The MPF derives an aura of respectability from its leader, Philippe de Villiers, the aristocratic and popular President of the General Council of the Vendée department, formerly a member of the UDF party, and a minister in the second Chirac government. Thanks to various electoral alliances, and to its popularity in the Vendée region,  the MPF has been able to maintain a presence in national and European parliaments, currently having two Députés in the National Assembly. The MPF is a very conservative party standing for traditional Christian values; though Eurosceptic, it does not call for France's withdrawal from the EU.

Municipales, élections.  Local elections taking place every six years, to elect a mayor and municipal council for each of France's 36,000 communes

Munster - A fairly strong rind-washed soft cheese from the Vosges mountains in Eastern France. Munster is definitely not a cheese for those who do not like strong tasting varieties. More details under Cheeses.

Mutuelle:  Mutual society, cooperative, particularly in the field of insurance, banking or health cover.


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