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10 phrases you will definitely hear during the French presidential election

From political controversies to technical devices, here are 10 words or phrases you will definitely hear as France prepares for its 2022 presidential elections.

French President Emmanuel Macron addresses journalists at the Elysée Palace.
French President Emmanuel Macron addresses journalists at the Elysée Palace. (Photo by Michel Euler / POOL / AFP)


Elysée, pronounced “Elle-ee-zay”, is used to reference the Elysée Palace – the residency of the French president since 1848. 

It is used as shorthand for talking about the French executive branch more generally – in the same way that people talk about decisions coming from the White House or Downing Street. 

Kärcher – power wash

Valérie Pécresse, a right-wing candidate for France’s The Republicans party, has taken a tough line on crime so far during this presidential campaign. 

This has best been captured by the phrase: Il faut ressortir le kärcher – we need to get the power hose out.

READ MORE French presidential runner Pécresse to ‘power wash’ crime-hit areas

Pécresse was using a metaphor, first employed by former Interior Minister and President Nicolas Sarkozy back in 2005. The implication is that if elected, she will “power wash” the crime-ridden suburbs of French cities. 

A Kärcher, pronounced “car-share”, is a German company that manufactures power washers. 


French President Emmanuel Macron stirred controversy with an interview that he gave to Le Parisien newspaper in January, with the phrase: Les non-vaccinés, j’ai très envie de les emmerder – I really want to piss off the unvaccinated. 

The word emmerder, pronounced “eh-merd-eh” can also be translated as “bother”, “annoy”, “hassle”, “raise hell” – and is considered very rude. 

Macron was criticised for his use of coarse language – although many French politicians before him have also used inappropriate language while in office

READ ALSO Granny-hugging to crowd-bathing: Essential vocabulary for a French election

Primaire – primary

A primaire, pronounced “pree-mare”, translates to English as “primary” – a process by which political parties select their candidate to run for the presidency. 

France’s Ecologist Party (EELV) and Socialist Party both held primaries in 2021, but the drawn out battle to become candidate for The Republicans drew the most media attention, with Valérie Pécresse seeing off other hopeful’s like the EU’s former chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier. 

Parrainages – signatures of support/sponsorship

Parrainages, pronounced “pah-rain-arj”, are signatures of support that presidential candidates in France must collect if their names are to appear on the ballot on the day of the vote. 

To officially stand as a presidential candidate, you need to collect at least 500 signatures from elected officials like councillors, mayors, MPs and senators. These signatures must be drawn from at least 30 different départements, with no more than 50 signatures coming from the same one.

READ MORE Could a French electoral rule stop Zemmour from running for president?

Potential candidates have up until March 4th to collect the required signatures and submit proof to the Constitutional Council.

Quinquennat – Five year term

Quinquennat, pronounced “can-ken-ah”, is the name of the five-year terms served by French presidents. 

Five-year mandates were introduced for the first time for the 2002 presidential election, following a constitutional referendum two years earlier. Prior to this, French presidents served seven-year terms, known as septennats

La fin du quinquennat approche –  the end of the presidential term is approaching

Scrutin – ballot/vote/election 

Scrutin, pronounced “scroo-tan”, is a word used to describe “the vote”.

Le jour du scrutin – the day of the vote. 

Sondage – poll

Sondage, pronounced “son-dahj”, is generally used to mean “opinion poll”. 

They are frequently used in French media coverage of elections and provide a guide as to which issues are important for voters and which candidates are the most popular. 

READ MORE How reliable are French opinion polls?

They should however be taken with a pinch of salt. Experts note that a number of variables can influence the result of a poll, including timing, phrasing, whether it is conducted online or in-person and the make-up of the sample. 

Taux de participation – Voter participation/Voter turnout

Taux de participation, pronounced “toh de participah-sion”, literally means “rate of participation”. 

In an electoral context, this is used to describe the voter turnout – the percentage of the voting age population who cast their vote during an election. 

The first round of the French presidential election of 2017 saw 77.8 percent of the eligible population cast their ballot. This figure was highest among those over 70-years-old, of whom 88 percent voted and lowest among the 18-24 age group, of whom only 71 percent voted. The likelihood of voting was highest among the wealthy, the well-educated and the rural population. The second round saw a turnout of 74.6 percent. 

The voter turnout tends to be significantly lower in legislative, municipal and EU parliament elections in France. 

The opposite of a taux de participation is a taux d’abstention – abstention rate. 

Tour – voting round

In French presidential elections, there are two rounds of voting. These rounds are referred to as tours, pronounced “tore”. 

In the first round, the electorate can cast their vote for any of the official candidates.  

The two top scoring candidates from this first round then face off in a second round, with the highest scoring candidate winning the presidency. 

If any of these candidates wins an absolute majority in the first round of the election (more than 50 percent of the vote) then there is no need for a second round – this is however extremely unlikely.

The first round of the 2022 election will be held on April 10th and the second round on April 24th. 

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Whistles to condoms: French election candidates branch out into merchandise

For those truly invested in the French presidential race, simply casting a vote might not be enough - instead there is a wide range of branded merchandise from the candidates. Here is our pick of the strangest offerings.

Whistles to condoms: French election candidates branch out into merchandise

The parties all have their ranges and other unofficial sellers have also been cashing in, with the result that you can now buy a wide range of French election momentos, from socks and T-shirts to frisbees and condoms.

Here is our pick of some of the weirder pieces of 2022 election memorabilia:

Faites Zemmour pas la guerre t-shirt

Eric Zemmour’s team are selling t-shirts emblazoned with the words Faites Zemmour pas la guerre

This is a play on words with the expression Faites l’amour pas la guerre (“Make love not war”). 

Considering that the far-right candidate has vowed to increase the defence budget to €70 billion by 2030 and further develop France’s nuclear arsenal, the text is somewhat ironic. 

There’s also the fact that French investigative website Mediapart has reported on eight woman testifying to having suffered inappropriate behaviour and sexual assault by Zemmour between 1999-2019.

Zemmour began a romantic relationship with his chief campaign adviser, Sarah Knafo, in 2021 – despite being married. 

Le Pen whistle

Marine Le Pen, another far right challenger to the incumbent Emmanuel Macron also has a wide range of bizarre merchandise. 

On her party’s website, you can buy Rassemblement National-branded pétanque balls, bluetooth headphones and coffee cups. 

You can also purchase a 2022 calendar full of pictures of Marine Le Pen (not saucy ones) and an alert whistle inscribed with the words Français Reveillez-vous (Wake up France). 

Candidate-themed socks 

A store called Chaussettes et Compagnie, based in Lille, has capitalised on selling socks with pictures of the candidates printed above the ankle. 

A pair costs €13 and you are able to choose between masked and unmasked candidates. 

“Socks, like the vote, are useful,” reads the company website. 

“The disenchantment of the French with politics is growing. It is time to make it less anxiety-provoking and lighter.” 

Taubira jackets 

Christiane Taubira, a former French Justice Minister, failed to collect enough signatures of support to even make it onto the ballot paper, withdrawing her candidacy in early March.

This was bad news for tailors in the West African country of Ivory Coast, who had clearly poured considerable effort into making suit jackets, trousers and face masks in support of the would-be candidate. 

Historic prints of Anne Hidalgo’s grand statement

The left-wing French newspaper Libération is selling archived copies of its February 4th issue for €5. 

Anne Hidalgo who is competing in the race as the socialist party claims to be the “legitimate candidate” to represent the left on the front page of the paper. 

The French left is catastrophically divided as the first round approaches and Hidalgo is polling at about 2 percent – behind other left-wing figures like Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Yannick Jadot and even the Communist candidate Fabien Roussel. 

Hidalgo’s claim to be the legitimate candidate to unite the left is looking increasingly farcical. 

High end 

The Elysée Palace, where French Presidents live, has its own boutique

The goods it currently sells are largely banal symbols of French culture – Elysée-branded bags, Elysée tea, Elysée candles and wide variety of other home goods. 

But a fair chunk of the stock represents an hommage to Macron. You can buy posters of the President for €9.90 or a stuffed toy version of the president’s dog (Nemo) for €99. 

There are also T-shirts featuring Macron’s famous silhouette from his celebration of France’s 2018 Football World Cup win or some of the President’s trademark phrases like poudre de perlimpinpin.

It is unlikely that the site will offer goods with some of his other quips like when he said he wanted to emmerder the unvaccinated or described his fellow countrymen as fainéants (lazy),  gens qui ne sont rien (nobodies), or Gaulois réfractaires (Gauls who are resistant to change).

One week after Macron first launched the Elysée store in 2018, a parody site called Enlysée boutique was set up, selling goods that poke fun at the President. 

Fight for the right to party

Finally, no round up of strange French electoral mementos would be complete without mentioning the communist frisbee sold by Fabien Roussel. 

For just €5 plus €3 postage you can buy one of these plastic disks with the candidate’s campaign slogan, Le défi des Jours Heureux (“the challenge of happy days”), written on it. Roussel’s campaign is also selling earrings, lighters and condoms.

The revolution sounds like it is going to be a party.