An A-Z Dictionary of France


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


Photo above: the river Rhône at Tournon, south of Lyon

What is a ratatouille ? And why are the  régimes spéciaux increasingly controversial ? Here are the answers to these and other questions about French words or names beginning with R.

Radar, un : the expresion is most commonly used to refer to speed cameras on French roads. There are two types of radars, les radars fixes, stationary speed cameras, and les radars mobiles, which may be mobile, i.e. in police vehicles, or set up in a temporary location beside the road. The presence of stationary speed cameras is always indicated by a warning sign between a couple of hundred metres and a few kilometres before the device. There is no advance warning for mobile speed cameras. The multiplacation of speed cameras on French roads since the mid 1990s has led to a dramatic fall in the number of accidents and fatalities .  Radar was also the name of a chain of French hypermarkets in the 1980s.

Raffarin, Jean-Pierre (born 1948) Prime minister of France, 2002-2005, during the second Chirac presidency. Raffarin resigned in 2005 after the referendum in which French voters rejected the European constitution. Lacking the political determination of Sarkozy, he nevertheless managed to initiate some much-needed reforms, but was perceived as a hesitating prime minister.

Rainbow Warrior  -  Ship belonging to Greenpeace, that was blown up and sunk in 1985, in Auckland Harbour, New Zealand,  in a covert operation by the French  intelligence service. A Greenpeace photographer was killed in the operation. It was revealed many years later that this operation - which was described as an act of international terrorism - had been personally authorized by President Mitterrand. French involvement was suspected right from the start, as the Rainbow Warrior was scheduled to protest against French nuclear testing at Mururoa Atoll, in the southern Pacific.
However, initially, the French denied all involvement, until the true story was uncovered by a pair of investigative journalists fromBritain's Sunday Times newspaper.

Rance, barrage de la  / usine marémotrice de la  :  Pioneering project to create electricity from tidal power, the  Rance tidal power station was opened in 1967. The mouth of the River Rance, in northern Brittany, has  one of the greatest tidal variations anywhere in the world. The dam is 750 metres long, and its peak power output rating is 240 Mw. It accounts for 60% of the electricity produced in Brittany - but this figure is sure to fall fast with the development of more parcs éoliens (wind farms) in the area.

Rassemblement national - In English the National Rally or the National movement - The new name of what was formerly the "Front National" right-wing political party. See Front National.  In 2018 FN leader Marine Le Pen pledged to rebrand the Front National, founded by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, as a more inclusive but equally right-wing political force. The new movement's first test of strength came in the May 2019 European Parliamentary elections, where it narrowly achieved first place with 23% of the vote, one point ahead of President Macron's LREM party. The RN remains a populist movement of the far right, though it has abandoned the former FN policy of taking France out of the EU, pledging to reform the EU from within.

Ratatouille : classic vegetable dish from the south of France, consisting of a mix of tomatoes, courgettes (zucchini), aubergines (breadfruit) and onions, stewed together with herbs and olive oil, and usually served hot. However there is no precise recipe for ratatouille, and the contents can vary from place to place, even day to day.

Reblochon - A rich soft pressed cheese made in the Alps; it has quite a strong flavour, and a creamy texture.

Recteur - The chief executive of an Académie, or Local Education authority, in France.

Redevance  - this word most commonly refers to the annual TV licence fee paid in France. This is included with general local taxes, but households only pay the licence fee once (i.e. second homes and holiday cottages are exempt, unless the owners do not have a principal residence elsewhere in France).  More generally, redevance simply means money that is due,  a standard fee.

Réforme des retraites - The overhaul of the French pension system, a major financial reform that has been attempted, with only limited success, since the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy.  Demographic change means that France's generous state pension system, and also private pension schemes, are finding it increasingly difficult to balance the books. The state pension system, whereby those in work pay for the pensions of those that have retired, has become unsustainable as the ratio of working people to retired people keeps falling. Among the major bones of contention in any reform of the retirement system are the age at which people can retire, and the method of calculating their pension rights. Unions have fought hard to keep privileges such as the right to retire at 60 for some professions (or even at 55 in certain cases), but this has meant increasing pension contributions by those in work, and reduced pensions for retired people.
  In 2017 President Macron announced plans to reform the French retirement system from top to bottom, and this reform is likely to define the success or the failure of his presidency. Macron has vowed to put the state sector and the private sector on the same footing with regard to age of retirement and pension rights, including abolishing the notorious régimes spéciaux (see below). The planned reform meets with general approval from the French public, but is hotly contested by some unions, notably those whose members benefit from particularly advantageous pension schemes, for instant state railway employees.

Régimes spéciaux, les : Special privileged terms of retirement and pension rights for certain groups of employees, notably in the state sector. The most well-known and talked-about of the régimes spéciaux arre the pension terms for employees of the former state electricity company EDF, and of the French railways SNCF, where many employees have acquired the right to retire at 50 with a full pension. Furthermore, pensions in these régimes spéciaux are index-linked to wages in the company, not to inflation, and pensions are generally calculated on the basis of the final salary. In the private sector, pensions are calculated on the basis of average salary over the best 25 years..
   The régimes spéciaux, considered as acquis sociaux, have been achieved in the course of the years as a result of the strength of trade unions in these sectors. There is now consensus in France that they need to be reformed, and in 2019 President Macron made the suppression of these privileges one of the key measures in his reform of the French retirement system.

Région : the largest administrative subdivisions of France. Since the start of 2016, the number of regions in France has been reduced from 22 to 13  including the island of Corsica. There are four overseas regions, two (Guadeloupe and Martinique) in the Caribbean, one (Guyane) in south America, and one (La Réunion) in the Indian Ocean. Regions are made up of a very varying number of départements, or counties, and are generally smaller in the north than in the south. They vary in number of departments from 4 in Brittany to 12 each in the three big new combined regions of the south of France.

Regional languages: Though French remains the sole official language in French, regional authorities continue to lobby for official recognition of France’s main regional languages. A very diverse country, France has a large number of regional languages, many of them used extensively in daily life. The main regional languages are Occitanian (the language of the Midi), Alsatian, Corsican, Catalan, Basque and Flemish. According to an INSEE survey of 1999, 786,000 people in France speak Occitanian, 545,000 speak Alsatian, 295,000 speak Breton, 133,000 speak Corsican, and 80,000 speak Basque. However, the proportion of speakers of these languages is always far lower in younger generations, and their survival as daily living languages is not assured – whether or not these langauges acquire official status.
    In 2008, the French Congress ratified a change in the Constitution, accepting that regional languages are part of France’s heritage.

Régionales, élections :  elections  to designate councillors for French regional councils. Regional councils have existed since the Law of Decentralisation (devolution) in 1982. The first public elections to choose regional councillors took place in 1986. Regional elections take place every six years, the most recent having occurred in 2004.

Regionalisation : decentralisation, devolution of power frm the central government to regional and departmental authorities. The process has been ongoing since the Loi de Décentralisation passed in 1982.

Relevé d'identité bancaire : see RIB below.

Renault: one of France's and Europe's major motor manufacturers. The company is currently linked with the Japanese Nissan corporation, and owns the Roumanian car manufacturer Dacia. From the end of the Second World War, Renault was a state owned company, known as the Régie Renault. It was privatized in 1990.  

Renseignements généraux RG - The name of the former French domestic intelligence agency, merged with the former DST (Direction de la surveillance du territoire), a rival intelligence agency, in early 2008, to form the new Direction centrale du renseignement intérieur.

Rentrée, la - The start of September, when activity starts up in France after the summer break. Litterally "the return indoors (to work)". Originally applying to education - la rentrée des classes , i.e. back to school - the word is now attached to politics - la rentrée politique -  and to the workplace in general. In France, la rentrée is to all intents and purposes the start of the working year which runs from September to August - unlike the fiscal and calendar years which start on 1st January.

Républicains, les . Known until 2015 as the UMP, Les Républicains are  the main traditional conservative political party in France. Initially founded as the Union pour une Majorité Présidentielle, to support the candidacy of Jacques chirac in the 2002 presidential election, the name was later changed to Union pour un Mouvement Populaire. In 2004, Nicolas Sarkozy was elected chairman of the party, a position from which he was able to launch his successful bid for the presidency. See Political Parties in France .  After his successful presidential bid, Sarkozy relinquished his role as president of the UMP. Following a fractious period under the leadership of secretary general, Jean-François Copé, the UMP was renamed Les Républicains after Sarkozy took over again following his defeat by François Hollande in the 2012 presidential election.  With Hollande's government  plumbing depths of unpopularity in the polls, it looked as though les Républicains were on a roll to surge to victory in the 2017 elections, both presidential and parliamentary; but that was not to be. Républicain presidential hopefull François Fillon was the ustoppable front-runner until becoming enmeshed in scandal following revelations that he had abused his political positions and contacts to secure handsomly paid but  fictitious work for his wife, and lavishly paid student internships for his children. Fillon refused to bow out of the presidential race, and a significant proportion of Républicain party members continued to support him even when the former front-runner plunged out of favour with the electorate. The elections for which nine months previously the Républicains had seemed the unstoppable winners, turned into a disaster, as Emmanuel Macron and his new centre party LREM stormed to victory.
  Following their drubbing in the polls and the loss of the majority of their parliamentary seats, the Républicains regrouped under the leadership of the controversial right-wing party grandee Laurent Wauquiez,  who succeeded in alienating even more voters. In an electoral alliance with the centre-right "les Centristes",the Républicains lost 12 of their 20 seats in the European parliamentary elections of 2019.

RER - Réseau Express Régional : the fast cross-city underground rail network that is a vital element in the Paris public transport system. The first two main routes in the system were opened progressively in the 1960s and 1970s. Today the RER has five lines. The building of the RER was a great achievement, giving Parisian commuters a limited-stop cross-city underground rapid-transit network that Londoners can only dream of.

Restaurants du Coeur, Les  (Restos du coeur) : Food distribution charity, handing out food packages and hot meals to the needy. The organisation was set up in 1985 under the inspiration of the popular comedian Coluche (q.v.), and has since then developed to become one of the biggest charities in France. The organisation is made up of  a national charity backed by 113 local organisations. In  2006-07, the Restos du coeur  mobilized over 50,000 volunteers,  distributed over 81 million meals,  provided overnight shelter for 7500 people, as well as running a number of smaller social aid programmes.

Réunion, La :  French  overseas department (DOM) in the Indian ocean

RFF , Réseau Ferré de France : the public agency that owns and manages the rail network in France, created in 1997  the then national railway company, SNCF, was split into two divisions. SNCF is now just the train operator. See map of the French rail network

RFO (Réseau France Outre-mer) : the state regional television channel covering France's overseas departments and territories.

Rhône : 1) One of the major rivers in France, and the largest French river flowing into the Mediterranean. The Rhône rises in the canton of Valais, in the Swiss Alps, and flows through Lake Geneva, and the city of Geneva itself, before entering France just south west of the city. It then zigzags in a westerly direction through the Bugey area of France, as far as the city of Lyon. At Lyon, where the river is met by its biggest tributary, the Saône, it turns due south, and flows down to the Mediterranean. The mouth of the Rhone is a delta in the area of the Camargue, a short distance to the west of Marseilles.  The Total length of the Rhone is 813 km. just over 500 miles. The river is navigable - with canals in places - from the Mediterranean as far as Lyon, and is a major shipping route. However the river flows relatively fast through the steep valley to the south of Lyon, and navigation is not always easy, notably when the river is in spate. The lower valley of the Rhône is a famed wine producing area, with a number of AOC vineyards, most notably the vineyards of Côtes du Rhone 

Rhône : 2) The name of the French department, no. 69, whose capital is Lyon, the second city in France, population 1.8 million.

Rhône Alpes:  Region of France, lying mostly between the Rhone and the Italian border, but also extending to the west of the Rhône. Capital Lyon. Second city Grenoble. It is one of the more propserous regions in France.

RIB - Relevé d'identité bancaire : a document provided for customers by all banks, and indicating details of a bank account, in a standard format. Creditors frequently request a RIB before making a transfer in favour of a beneficiary. Most RIBs these days also indicate IBAN (International Bank Account Number) details as well.

RMA: Revenu Minimum d’Activité. French version of a Workfare policy, introduced by the Raffarin government in 2004, whereby someone who was previously a long-term unemployed can continue to obtain benefit after taking up part-time employment. The system has been replaced by a new system called RSA, Revenu de Solidarité Active.

RMC Radio Monte Carlo  -  in the age of state monoploies over broadcasting,  French listeners could tune into a number of stations that were not under government control because they were broadcast from just outside France. For listeners in the south of France, RMC was the most popular such station. Today it remains one of the main private radio stations in France.

RMI  : Revenu minimum d'insertion : Pronounced Air-em-ee. Welfare benefit paid to those, aged over 25, who have no right to any other source of income (no unemployment benefit). In 2007, there were about 1.3 million recipients of this benefit in France. In January 2008, it was worth 448 Euros a month for a single person. The RMI was replaced in July 2009 by the RSA.

Rocard, Michel (1930 - 2016) : Prime Minister of France from 1988 to 1991, in the second Mitterrand presidency. A Protestant socialist, Rocard founded the Parti Socialiste Unifié in 1960, and stood for the presidency in 1969. Later he joined the Socialist Party, and after François Mitterrand was reelected to the presidency for a second term, he appointed Rocard as Prime Minister. Rocard represented a moderate socio-liberal tendency in the Socialist Party.

Roland Garros:  the most famous French tennis club, located in Paris. The Roland Garros tournament,  held at the end of May / start of June, is the French Open. It is one of the world's four Grand-Slam tennis tournaments, withWimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open. The tennis stadium is named after Roland Garros, a pioneering French aviator who died in 1918.

Roquefort the most famous of France's many blue cheeses is a Mediterranean classic, a blue cheese made from sheep's milk. The village of Roquefort sur Soulzon is situated on the edge of the Causse du Larzac, a few miles south west of Millau in the Aveyron department. Historically, Roquefort was made from the milk of the sheep that grazed on the barren Causses; but nowadays, a lot of the milk used to produce the cheese is shipped in from other parts, as far away as Corsica. Nonetheless, to benefit from the geo-specific label, Roquefort cheese has to be made and matured in the traditional region.….. (see Cheeses)

Royalistes: either supporters of the monarchy, or supporters of the socialist Ségolène Royal - depending on the circumstances.

Royal , Ségolène. Socialist politician , former députée and former minister, until 2014 Présidente of the Poitou-Charentes regional council. Ségolène Royal was the unsuccessful Socialist candidate in the 2007 French presidential election, that was won by Nicolas Sarkozy. She obtained 47% of the vote in the runoff. In 2007, she briefly managed to reunite a large part of the factious Socialist party behind her candidacy, but failed to keep up the momentum after defeat. In 2008, she was beaten by Martine Aubry in the leadership contest for the Socialist Party. Only a handful of votes separated the two contestants, and there was a recount. Many of  Royal's supporters refused to accept the final verdict, and accusations of ballot rigging continued to be made well into 2009.
   The former partner of François Hollande, she was drafted into his second government in 2014 to serve as Environment and Energy secretary.

RPR -  Rassemblement pour la République;  in the times of Jacques Chirac, the name of the mainstream conservative (Gaullist) party, previously known as the UDR ,subsequently renamed the UMP and since 2015 as Les Républicains (see above)

RSA : Revenu de solidarité Active. Introduced experimentally in 34 Departments in 2007, RSA is a type of workfare programme designed to encourage people on low incomes back to work, by allowing the cumulation of pay and benefits, to ensure that they are better off when working than they would be if out of work. The idea is strongly supported by President Sarkozy, and the system was generalized throughout France in June 2009. However, the project has caused tension among French conservatives, on account of the proposal to finance the measure through an additional tax of 1.1% on unearned income.

RTL: Radio Télévision Luxembourg. In the age of state monoploies over broadcasting,  French listeners could tune into a number of stations that were not under government control because they were broadcast from just outside France. For listeners north eastern France, RTL was one of two popular stations; though thanks to the power of its transmitter in Luxembourg, RTL could actually be picked almost throughout the country. Today it is the most popular radio station in France.

RTT : Réduction du Temps de Travail: With the introduction of the 35-hour working week in 2000, most employees found themselves with a shortened working week. In many cases, employers preferred to keep more or less the same working hours as they had applied previously, but allow employees to build up extra days of holiday by accumulation of the excess hours worked. These days are known as journées RTT. The system is now being phased out, as many employers are increasing the working week following the Sarkozy government's liberalisation policy


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Ingredients of a ratatouille
R is for Ratatouille - a very popular dish in southern France

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