French Acronyms

Since the world is going to end on December 21st this year, I had better get blogging. You hadn’t heard? But I told you back in January. The only place that will escape the cataclysm is Bugarach in the Pyrénées – but it’s already full up. To take your minds off the disappointment, I decided to delve into the recondite world of French acronyms. Here’s what I found.

You can’t live in France without butting up against acronyms (sigles) at every turn. I’m probably taking a flyer saying this but I am sure they are more of an integral part of French life than they are in the UK. I think this is because French titles are so long that it’s just easier to abbreviate them in this way. But it’s not easy for we foreigners to get our heads around them.

Grapple with French administration and you’ll find that acronyms are one of their stealthiest secret weapons. For example, you might have to deal with CPAM (caisse primaire d’assurance maladie), URSSAF (Union pour le recouvrement des cotisations de la sécurité sociale et des allocations famiales – social security) or CCAS (Centre communal d’action sociale – social assistance). Not to mention all the abbreviated administrative processes that they manage.

You can’t have a bank account without fathoming the acronyms. The easiest way to pay a utilities bill is to complete the tear-off TIP (titre interbancaire de paiement) at the bottom. But if it’s the first time, you also have to send a RIB (rélevé d’identité bancaire), which includes all your bank account details. And don’t forget to make sure you have enough money in your DAV (dépot à vue – current account).

Want to leave the car at home? Let SNCF (société nationale des chemins de fer français) take the strain. This will enable you to avoid a P-V (procès-verbal – parking ticket) if you park illegally. You might be able to get a TGV (train à grande vitesse – high-speed train) to your destination. If you commute between central Paris and the suburbs, the train will belong to the RER network (Réseau express régional). Or you could hop on your VTT (vélo tout terrain – mountain bike) instead.

If you have a job you might not earn more than the SMIC (salaire minimum interprofessionnel de croissance – minimum wage). Your job might be for a fixed duration – CDD (contrat à durée déterminée) – or for an indefinite duration – CDI (contrat à durée indeterminée).

If you have the vote in France, you have a wide range of political parties to choose from, including the PCF (Parti communiste de France), the LO (Lutte ouvrière), the PS (Parti socialiste), the former UDF (Union pour la démocratie française – now helpfully known as MoDem), the UMP (Union pour un mouvement populaire) and the FN (Front National) – and that’s just a selection.

Not keen on getting married? How about a PACS instead (Pacte civil de solidarité – civil partnership)? There’s now even a verb, se pacser, which means to go through the process of getting PACSed.

Depending on your point of view you might be either flattered or insulted if someone describes you as BCBG (bon chic bon genre – a yuppy, itself an acronym). You would certainly be affronted to be called BOF (beurre, oeufs, fromage), although it’s unlikely these days. This acronym started life to designate sellers of dairy products. During World War II it was used to describe someone who profited from the black market.

I wonder if INSEE (Institut National de la Statistique et des Études Économiques – national statistics office) keeps statistics on how many acronyms there are in France?

Let me end with one of my personal favourites: SPANC (service public d’assainissement public). Nothing to do with S&M, they regulate non-mains drainage and inspect your fosse septique.

NDLR (note de la rédaction – editor’s note) – don’t take any of this too seriously, SVP.

Copyright © 2012 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved


  1. Yes, there seem to be oodles of them and we can see why. The French are extraordinarily long-winded. One that we all know which seems not to carry any weight these days is RSVP! I can’t fathom out why so many people simply don’t. Is it because they’re blind (don’t see it on the invite), are waiting to see if a better offer comes up, forget or are just plain rude. Very odd! Hope you’re ready for the Shift!


    • Titles of French organisations are incredibly long so they have to have acronyms. RSVP carries no weight at all these days it seems. We don’t even bother specifying it anymore but just hope people won’t turn up when they haven’t indicated whether they will or not.


    • Given current events, I think it’s probably perdu already. Actually, a good game would be to come up with alternative names to go with the acronyms. I’ll give that some thought.


  2. It can take quite a while to work out what some acronyms are. They’re so ingrained into French life that even websites only use the acronym and not the full title occasionally! There are plenty to be found in educationa and agriculture too, where we have a lot of dealings. Very perplexing but an interesting part of French life. Here’s a list of some of them:
    Good job I’m fitting my blog hop in on the 12th. I’d forgotten about the world ending. Darn, why did I bother doing the Christmas shopping and baking…!


    • When you talk to French friends, they use them too and assume you know what they stand for. In some ways that’s quite flattering but I always ask otherwise I might trip up later. Thanks for the link. I also found a long list of them but didn’t make a note of the website. Hope you are making the most of your time before 21st Dec.


  3. This was a great post. It’s true France seems to love its acronyms. I feel like each country has its own acronyms which everybody knows what they stand for.

    I mean my native country is basically an acronym… USA!


  4. Vanessa, this led me to your January post – and what a superb post that was! For some reason I was unable to comment there. Reminded me of 1975, when I spent the entire year panicking that the world was going to end because of some article I’d read in Life Magazine. Oh well, if I have only a couple of weeks left, at least I’ve seen a bit of the world since 1975.


    • Thanks,Paola. Because I was getting a lot of spam on old posts I had to close comments on those over a certain age. A pity. The world has been forecast to end countless times but it will probably happen when we don’t expect it.


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