The French words you need to understand France’s cost of living crisis

Households in France, as elsewhere around the world, are feeling the economic squeeze right now as prices rise, but wages don’t. The Local has put together a vocabulary list to help you understand the cost of living crisis:

The French words you need to understand France's cost of living crisis
(Photo: Miguel Medina / AFP)

Despite the efforts of the French government to keep a lid on certain costs – notably by capping fuel prices and energy bills, there’s no denying that weekly spending is taking a hit.

Here are a few of the phrases that you’ll hear bandied about at the moment, from pouvoir d’achat to anti-gaspi…

READ ALSO OPINION: France cannot afford to keep shielding consumers from energy price rises

Pouvoir d’achat – pronounced poo-vwah dasha – purchasing power. What you can buy with the hard-earned money in your bank account, and how far your monthly income goes. Used to call for government action on the cost of living, and rail against any efforts seen as “not going far enough”.

Coût de la vie – pronounced coo de la vee – cost of living. Self explanatory, really. 

Crise énergétique – pronounced creez enner-jhet-eek – energy crisis. French consumers have, so far, been pretty well protected from high prices on the international energy market caused by the war in Ukraine. Current protections are set to end next year.

READ ALSO EXPLAINED: What your French energy bills will look like in 2023

Bouclier tarifaire – pronounced boo-klee-ay tari-fair – tarif shield. What’s protecting consumers in France from all those energy price rises. A super image concocted by a clever government speech writer.

READ ALSO 10 ways EU countries plan to cut your energy bills and avoid blackouts this winter

Chèque énergie – pronounced sheck ener-jhee – energy cheque. A payment made by the government to some 12million households in France to help offset at least part of the rising cost of energy.

Les factures – pronounced lay fac-ture – bills. As in electricity, gas.

Augmentations des prix – pronounced org-men-tas-eon day pree – price increases. You might see this phrase when French media discuss the rising cost of food, energy and much more. Some synonyms for this phrase that you might also see in the French press are ‘grimpe‘ – which means to climb, ‘hausse‘ which means increase or rise, or ‘flambée‘ which means an ‘explosion in prices.’

Les plus modestes – pronounced ley ploo mod-est – the least well-off [households in France], who are most likely to find it hardest to cope with unfettered rising prices. You may also see the phrase ‘les classes moyennes‘ in conversations about low to medium income families.

Foyers – pronounced foy-ey – a family home.

Fournisseurs – pronounced four-nee-sirs – these are ‘suppliers’ or ‘providers.’ In the context of the cost of living crisis, you will likely see people talking about energy providers, such as EDF, the mostly state-owned utility company.

Sobriété énergétique – pronounced so-brie-ett-ay enner-jhet-eek – energy sobriety. Despite the bouclier and the energy cheque, businesses and individuals have been warned to ease up on their energy use as France seeks to cut consumption by 10 percent.

READ ALSO ‘Slower lifts’: What ski resorts in France will do to save energy this winter

This is known as energy sobriety, careful, abstemious living, involving simple measures such as turning the lights off and the thermostat down.

READ ALSO Heating homes: What are the rules on fires and log burners in France?

All French local authorities are required to produce as the government works on a nationwide strategy for sobriété enérgetique.

READ ALSO Paris to scale back monument lighting to cut energy use

Anti-gaspillage (or anti-gaspi) – pronounced anti gaspy-arj  – anti-waste. A long-time environmental concern that has financial implications and is being reused in the current economic situation to reference how much food is bought then wasted. You may have seen the big anti-gaspi signs at supermarkets in sections where produce close to its use-by date is sold-off at a discount.

READ ALSO How France’s new anti-waste laws will affect you

Renoncer – pronounced re-non-say – to give up, or cut out. As in people giving up going on vacation to save money.

Paiement fractionné – pronounced pay-mon frac-sion-ay – split payments, or payment in instalments for goods and services.

Dépenses automatiques – pronounced day-ponce auto-mat-eek – “automatic” expenses. Baked-in monthly or weekly expenses that every household has to consider, and cannot easily reduce, such as rent, water and energy … and more modern “necessities” including internet and mobile phone subscriptions.

Geste – pronounced jhest – literally translates as gesture or action. But it stands for something more concrete than the symbolic “gesture” in the English language. It’s a behaviour, or habit – an action – that can be adopted to cut costs, or save energy.

READ ALSO French Word of the Day: Geste

Épicerie Solidaire – pronounced eh-pee-seree solid-air – Solidarity shop. Not a food bank, but qualifying households can buy food and drink at about 10 percent of their retail price. There’s a limit on how much you can spend, and only households in acute straitened times can use them.

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French natural gas reserves full ahead of winter

France's natural gas reserves have reached full capacity, a regulator said Wednesday, warning that consumers should still reduce energy use as Europe prepares for a winter mostly shorn of Russian supplies.

French natural gas reserves full ahead of winter

France becomes the third EU nation after Belgium and Portugal to maximise its reserves, well ahead of a government deadline set for November.

Across the EU, gas reserves stand at an average level of 89 percent.

Countries have spent the months since Russia’s February 24 attack on Ukraine scrambling for alternative sources of fuel, including imports of liquid natural gas (LNG).

“The campaign to refill gas storage for winter 2022-23 is complete, with storage more than 99 percent full,” the Energy Regulation Commission (CRE) said in a statement.

READ ALSO French electricity firms offer bonuses for cutting back this winter

With 130 terawatt-hours (TWh) of gas in stock, higher than the average seen in recent years, France’s supply amounts to around two-thirds of winter consumption by small- to medium-sized businesses and households, the CRE said.

But the body also urged a “massive collective effort to reduce our energy consumption” as supplies could still run tight depending on the winter weather, saying companies, government, local authorities and members of the public must all contribute.

“To prepare for possible tense situations in the coming months, reasonable use of the reserves as well as an effort to limit consumption… seem necessary beginning immediately,” gas storage firms Storengy and Terega agreed in a joint statement.

Most of France’s gas reserves are stored in natural underground spaces such as aquifers dotted around the country.

Russia cut off deliveries of natural gas to France — which has strongly backed sanctions and military aid to Ukraine over Moscow’s invasion of its neighbour – from September 1.

Paris is expected on Thursday to present its “energy sobriety plan” aimed at slashing consumption by 10 percent in two years.

READ ALSO French minister advises: ‘Wear a turtleneck sweater this winter’

Looking to the coming months, Storengy and Terega said that the country’s gas supply could remain “balanced overall” in an “average winter” – although there was “little room for manoeuvre”.

But a severe or lasting cold snap could leave supply short of demand by around five percent, forcing measures to cut usage.