An A-Z Dictionary of France

V - Z

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


  Photo: Velib bike hire in Paris   

What is the difference between  Verlan and  Vélib ? And what is a voie verte, what is "X", or a ZNIEFF ,  And who were the Yé-Yés ? Answers to these questions and plenty more on this U page of the dictionary of France..

Vacherin 1) A cheese, better known in France as Mont d'Or, though as Vacherin in French-speaking Switzerland. 2) A type of ice-cream cake.

Valls, Manuel .  Appointed Prime Minister of France by President Hollande in 2014.  The appointment of Valls as French PM was an exceptional event, as Valls is a naturalized French citizen.  Spanish by birth, and hailing from Catalonia, Valls came to France as a teenager, and took French nationality at the age of 20. He was by then already a member of the French Socialist Party. Appointed minister of the Interior in 2012, he was promoted to Prime Minister in 2014, to replace the unpopular Jean-Marc Ayrault.  
   Valls was noted, within the Socialist Party, as a no-nonsense hard-liner of the moderate left. For this reason he was much criticized as a "liberal" by the left wing of his own party, and by other parties on the French left. He has been described in many ways, including "a Sarkozy of the left" or even a "French Tony Blair" (for his determination to shake up and modernize the French Socialist Party).
    Yet like Hollande and many other French Socialist leaders of the past, Valls' political action was limited by a need to reconcile the very different wings of his electorate and his party.  
    In late 2016, Valls resigned as Prime Minister in order to prepare to run as a candidate for the investiture of the Socialist Party for the 2017 presidential election. Tipped as the front runner until the first round of the primary, he was surprisingly beaten by the candidate of the far-left Benoît Hamon. Subsequently, he returned to his native Barcelona where he formed a new party and stood for mayor.  His party took 6 out of 41 seats, and Valls then backed the anti-independentist candidate Ada Colau, who was eventually elected as mayor.

VDQS, Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure A quality lable given to certain wines, that do not qualify for the more prestigions Appellation contrôlée (AOC) status. See wines

Vedettariat : A "vedette" is a star, film-star or showbiz personality. Vedettariat is the world of showbiz or the world of "people", or the condition of being a showbiz personality.

Veld'hiv : Le Vélodrome d'Hiver - the former Winter cycling stadium that once stood near the Eiffel Tower in Paris.  It achieved notoriety in 1942 when the Nazis and used it as a gathering place for Jews who had been rounded up, prior to their transport to concentration camps. In July 1995, President Jacques Chirac made a historic speech, close to the monument marking the former Veld'hiv. In what has come to be known as Le discours du Veld'hiv, Chirac became the first French president to formally recognise France's guilt in the deportation of Jews while under Nazi occupation.

Velib : Self-service bike hire system operating in Paris and several other French cities. The system can be a very cheap way to get round Paris if used ‘correctly’ for short trips, or a very expensive system if bikes are not quickly returned.

Vendanges tardives. In the vineyards of Alsace, following the German tradition known as Spätauslese, certain grapes are left on the vine as long as possible, to increase their sugar content. The resulting wines are rich and fruity, and suitable for drinking as an aperitif.

Vendée Globe Challenge : the most high-profile of yacht-races organised in France, the Vendée Globe is a single-handed non-stop round-the-world yacht race, that takes place every four years. Participants set off from, and return to, the small port of Les Sables d'Olonne, in the Vendée, on France's Atlantic coast. The race is open to monohull yachts up to 60 ft. in length ("Open 60" class). French yachts make up the majority of participants in the race, and the Vendée Globe has always been won by a French yacht; however in 2001 24-year-old British yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur caused a sensation when she came in second, having diverted at one point to go to the assistance of another yacht that was in difficulty. The race starts in November, and yachts that complete the gruelling round-the-world journey arrive back in Les Sables d'Olonne in January or February. Thanks to continually progressing boat technology, the winning times have fallen dramatically since the race was first held in 1989-90. Titouan Lamazou, winner of the first Vendée Globe, completed the voyage in 109 days; Vincent Riou, winner in 2004-5, finished in 87 days; indeed, the first 8 competitors in the 2004-05 Vendee Globe beat Lamazou's winning time of 1990. Competitors in the 2008-2009 Vendée Globe set off from Les Sables d'Olonne on 9th November, straight into heavy seas in the Bay of Biscay.  The 2016-2017 Challenge was won by skipper Armel Le Cleac'h in record time, with Welshman Alex Thompson taking second place.

Verlan  : popular youth slang, or argot, formed by reversing the syllables of a word.  For example, problème in Verlan is blèmepro. Verlan is itself a reverse-syllable word, which becomes l'envers (meaning backwards) when turned round. Streetwise urban youth can sometimes converse fluently using verlan for many of the key words, making their argot incomprehensible to the non-initiatied.Versailles, Château de Magnificent royal château, built by Louis XIV, just to the south west of Paris.

Verts, les : the French Green  Party, founded in 1984 from the amalgamation of two ecology parties. The French Green Party has deputies in the National Assembly,  Eurodeputies (MEPs), and also a strong presence in local government in France, notably in towns or other authorities where the Greens are allied with the Socialists. As allies of the Socialists, the Greens even had two ministers in the  first Jospin government from 1997 to 2002, in particular the most prominent of their leaders, madame Dominique Voynet.
    The Greens came to prominence in the1990s, when "red-green" alliances with the Socialists in local politics and national politics led to the election of deputies, of a number of Green mayors, and to the appointment of a number of Greens as deputy mayors in many French cities, notably including Paris. After the 2008 municipal elections, the Greens officially controlled 42 municipalities in France; however, their place in the political landscape of France was weaker than it was a decade earlier, and with the environmental issue being seized by most of France's mainstream political parties, the party faced an uncertain future as a force in French politics. However, under the inspiration of Daniel Cohn Bendit, the French Greens surged back in the 2009 european elections, coming third, just a few thousand votes behind the socialist Party. In 2010 they became EELV - Europe Ecologie Les Verts. However fracture lines were growing between the movement's militant wing and its more pragmatic politicians.
  After joining the Socialist-Left government following a relatively good performance in the 2012 general elections, the Greens left the government after the appointment of Manuel Valls as prime minister. But tensions in the party were growing stronger all the time. In August 2015 the party's leaders in the Senate and the Assemblée Nationale left the party, claiming it had been taken over by the far left. Others followed.
   In the December 2015 regional elections, the Greens took just 6.8% of the vote, half the share the took in the same elections in 2010.

VIE - Volontariat International en Entreprise - a popular internship scheme, run by Ubifrance, the French foreign trade development agency, whereby graduates can obtain experience by volunteering to work abroad with French companies or with French trade missions in other countries, for between 6 months and 2 years.

Vigipirate, Plan :  The French homeland security alert system, first set up in 1978 by the government of Raymond Barre. The plan can be activated in the event of a serious risk of terrorist activity, or threat to national security. It has four levels, yellow, orange, red and scarlet. It was first activated in 1991; more recently it was activated at ‘red’ level in 2004 following the Madrid bombings, in 2005 after the London bombings, and 2005-6 when violence erupted in French suburbs. It is most perceptible by the presence of armed police and soldiers in sensitive locations, such as mainline railway stations, airports, or major institutional buildings.
   Since the terrorist attacks of 2015, the plan Vigipirate has been rolled out full time, with aremed police and military patrolling in sensitive and busy locations in Paris and other towns and cities.

Vignette auto : French road tax disc, obligatory for all motor vehicles from 1956 to 2001. In 2001, to the great joy of French motorists, the "vignette" was abolished. while it lasted, the cost of an annual vignette varied according to the horse-power of the vehicle.

Villepin, Dominique de : Born 1953. Conservative prime minister of France, 2005-2007.  A former career diplomat, Dominique de Villepin was asked by Jacques Chirac to form a government in 2005, in order to revive the flagging fortunes of France's conservatives resulting from the unpopularity of the Raffarin government. A flamboyant and aristocratic former diplomat, de Villepin had garnered considerable public support in France when, as French Foreign Secretary, he had addressed the UN assembly to roundly oppose the invasion of Iraq by US and coalition forces in 2003. However, his premiership was not the success that had been hoped for. Villepin was beset by problems and recriminations. The worst fiasco came with a 2006 plan to introduce special precarious job-contracts for young people (Contrats Premier Embauche), a plan which led to massive unrest, uniting students and labour, and an ignominious government climb-down. 

Villiers, Philippe de  Right-wing nationalist politician, leader of the sovereignist Mouvement pour la France (Movement for France) party. An aristocrat from the Vendée department of western France, de Villiers was for six years (1987-1993) a député (member of parliament) for Valéry Giscard d'Estaing's centre-right UDF party. He was briefly Secretary of State for communication under Jacques Chirac. Since 1997, he has sat as an independent ("non-inscrit") member of parliament for Vendée.  De Villiers benefits from very strong popular support in his fief of Vendée, and is regularly returned with huge majorities – which is quite surprising for a politician of the far right. However it is as leader of the MPF and as for his action as a local politician that he has really made his mark.
    It was in the 1977 that he first created the "Cinéscénie" son et lumière historical reenactment spectacle at le Puy du Fou, a castle in Vendée; since then, he has transformed the site into one of the biggest tourist attractions in France, with the addition of a permanent historical theme park. In 1988 he was elected leader of the Vendée county council (Président du conséil général), a position that he has held ever since.
    Thanks to his aristocratic catholic family background, and his personal charisma, de Villiers has managed to achieve a status as the acceptable face of right-wing nationalism, quite different from that of the other right-wing leaders in France, such as Jean Marie Le Pen of the National Front. In spite of a number of brushes with the law following various pronouncements on Islam and immigration, de Villiers remains popular. His strident participation in the debate over the European Constitution was certainly a factor that contributed to French voters' rejection of the project in the 2005 referendum. However, when competing on a national stage, de Villiers' real position as a marginal figure in French politics is more apparent. As a candidate in the 2007 Presidential Election, he scored  just 2.2% of the vote, and even in his Vendée heartland, only 11.3% of voters chose him in the first round.

Vin d'honneur : celebratory glass of wine, accompanied by canapés and nibbles, offered by a local council or by the organisers or sponsors of an event to a visiting group or to participants.

Vin de Pays : A quality label given to wines that have neither an Appellation Contrôlée nor a VDQS label. Vins de Pays are wines produced in a specific geographic area.

Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure , see VDQS

Vin Jaune. An expensive apéritif wine not unlike Amontillado sherry, made exclusively from the Savagnin grape variety in the Jura vineyards. The most prestigious appellation for Vin Jaune is Château Chalon. This wine is made from late harvested grapes, and then left to mature in casks for at least six years.

Virement: a bank transfer (virement bancaire) or postal bank transfer (virement postal). Firms and administrations owing money to suppliers or reimbursement to customers may wish to make payment by virement; for this they will ask for details of the beneficiary's bank account, which must be provided in the form of a RIB, or relevé d'identité bancaire.

Vivendi  One of the world's major communications and entertainment companies,  notably owner of SFR telecommunications, and the international company Universal Music Group (UMG), one of the world's four biggest distributors of music. vivendi is quoted on the Paris stock exchange, and is a CAC 40  company

Voici : The second-biggest selling of France’s weekly ‘people’ magazines, Voici is published by Prisma Presse. It is a glossy magazine featuring the lives of the stars and other famous people in the news.

Voie verte : dedicated and surfaced trail for cycles and - depending on the surface - rollerblades and wheelchairs. A small part of the planned extensive national network is now in place. See cycling in France.

Voile, port de la : La Voile, as a  issue in modern France, refers to the Muslim veil, or hijab.  The question began to become an issue in the late 1980s and early 1990's, when increasing numbers of girls from Muslim families began turning up at school wearing Islamic headscarves. France's state education system is founded on strict principles of laïcité (secularism), but the 1904 law on laïcité did not address the question of the wearing of Islamic headscarves. Consequently, school principals were dealing with the issue on an ad hoc basis, and with contradictory jusgements, some tolerating the veil, others banning it from school. The situation became untenable, and  in March 2004, Parliament passed a law banning the wearing of 'ostentation signs of religion' in schools, including Islamic veils, the Jewish kippa and large crosses. Since then, the controversy has died down, and there has been a fall in the number of pupils trying to come to school wearing forbidden items.

Volcans d'Auvergne, Parc des - One of the major Parcs Naturels Régionaux (Regional Nature Parks) in France, located in the Auvergne region of central southern France, and including a vast area of extinct volcanic uplands.

Volvic, eau de  One of the most popular French mineral waters, and a great export success, Volvic natural mineral water comes from springs in the village of Volvic, in the Parc des Volcans regional park (see above) in the Auvergne, north of Clermont Ferrand. The brand now belongs to  Danone, one of France's largest companies. In 2016, the 15 bottling lines were able to produce up to 7 million bottles a day.

Voynet, Dominique (Madame) :  former leader of the French Green Party (see above, les Verts), and minister of the environment in the 1997 Socialist government of Lionel Jospin.

VSD : relatively popular pictorial news, leisure and general interest magazine, published each Wednesday. The letters VSD stand for Vendredi, Samedi, Dimanche, or ‘Friday, Saturday, Sunday’, denoting that this is a magasine for light entertainment over the weekend.

Vulcania - Volcanic theme park, located in the Parc des volcans (see above) , in the Auvergne region of southern France. The park was the brainchild of Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, former President of France, and former chairman of the Auvergne regional council. It includes an Imax cinema and 3D fimls on the subjects of volcanoes, earthquakes and earth forces.


Wallis and Fatuna  French overseas territory, with a population of about 15,000,  located in the middle of the Pacific, between Hawaii and New Zealand. These Islands have the status of French Overseas Collectivity (Collectivité d'Outre-Mer), meaning that they are generally autonomous and make their own laws. Until 2003, Wallis & Fatuna was classed as a TOM, or Territoire d'Outre-Mer.

Wallonie : The French-speaking part of Belgium. People from this part of Belgium are known as les Wallons.

X, Y, Z

X : Nickname for the Ecole Polytechnique de Paris, one of the most prestigious of France’s Grandes Ecoles. See Polytechnique

Yé-Yés : name given to pop musicians and the pop music generation. The expression was first coined in the 1960s, and derives from the words "Yeah, yeah, yeah" in the Beatles' first big French hit, She loves you, which launched Beatlemania and the pop music craze on France.

Zemmour, Eric.  Far-right journalist, writer and television personality, Eric Zemour was in 2020 one of France's best known media personalities. He is compared to Nigel Farage in the UK or Donald Trump in the USA. Zemmour holds extremely controversial views on immigration, nationality and other causes dear to the right wing. Born in 1958 into an immigrant family of Berber-Jewish descent, he graduated from the prestigious Sciences-Po school before embarking on a career in the media. He has written prizewinning books and has been an anchor on mainstream television shows. Zemmour's avowed aim is to unite the far right and the mainstream right in French politics under a single banner; however, if he were to do so, this would be likely to push moderate right voters into the centre ground, leaving many new right candidates in a largely unelectable position due to France's two-stage voting system.
   In autumn 2021, speculation was rife that Zemmour would stand as a candidate in the 2022 Presidential election, potentially splitting the far-right vote to the detriment of Marine Le Pen. A Zemmour candidacy is also seen as having the potential, by splitting the far-right vote, of pushing Marine Le Pen into third place in the 2022 election, thus leaving Emmanuel Macron to face a traditional left or mainstream right candidate in the runoff; and although Macron is still expected to win, the outcome of the French 2022 Presidential election would seem to be less of a foregone conclusion than if Marine Le Pen were once again the rival in the runoff.

Zénith de Paris,  Le  The most prestigious concert hall in Paris for variety and rock concerts, and also for large political meetings. With a capacity of over 6000 places, le Zénith de Paris is also one of the biggest venues in Paris.  Opened in 1984, le Zénith was designed only as a temporary structure, pending the building of another hall close by. But having proved immensely popular, it has remained in place ever since. Indeed, its success has led to the building of other large venues also named "le Zénith" in a number of provincial capitals, notably Clermont Ferrand, Montpellier, Nantes and Strasbourg.

Zidane, Zinédine. Footballer, captain of the victorious French team in the 1998 world cup, staged in France. Zidane became something of a national hero after France's victories in the World Cup and the European cup that followed. Born into an immigrant family in a poor quarter of Marseille, Zidane, through his success and captaincy of the national squad, served as an ideal role model for France's hundreds of thousands of "beurs"  , and as a very visible rebuttal of the racist ideology of the Front National.

ZNIEFF - Zone Naturelle d'Intérêt Ecologique Floristique et Faunistique - A natural environment which is of particular interest on acount of its flora and/or fauna, the French equivalent of a UK SSSI (Site of Spectial Scientific Interest).

ZPS, Zone de protection spéciale : special protection zone, an official classification designating sensitive areas for wildlife.

ZUP - Zone à Urbaniser en Priorité: largescale public housing projects (grands ensembles) set up in France between 1959 and 1967, to cater for the rapidly increasing urban population. By the 1990s, the term ZUP had come to be used in the sense of problem estates or sink estates, though this was by no means always the case. While some ZUP, such as le Val-Fourré in the north-west suburbs of Paris, or les Minguettes, a development of 9200 apartments in the suburbs of Lyon, were truly problem estates, others had less problems. Many of the worst ZUPs have been partly or largely demolished and are in the process of renovation as more people-friendly environments.


Return to Dictionary of France - index    

Return to About-France.com   

 Return to the letter A

Something missing? If you cannot find a word, phrase or name that you believe we ought to have included in this Dictionary of France, please contact About-France.com. Dictionary editors will consider your request, and if appropriate include a definition of the missing term at the next update.

To contact this website, use our get in touch form

Map of France
Improve your French...
Check out the About-France.com
Online French Grammar
Free, full , clear explanations and lots of examples

La Baguette

Copyright notice:

Website and text © About-France.com 2003 - 2021  except where otherwise indicated.


About-France.com does not collect personal data. We use cookies to enable audience statistics, social media and a few ads. If you are OK with this, click or else request more information.