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Life in the Ivory Coast during the War By Rebekah Bray
Où est-ce qu’on mange? By Rebekah Bray
Eating Out in Paris
By Rebekah Bray
Le Cinema: Going to the Movies in Paris By Rebekah Bray
Unlikely Allies: How a Merchant, a Playwright, and a Spy Saved the American Revolution By Marcel LaVergne, Ed.D.
Nocturnal Adventure in Paris: A French Teacher’s Panic Turns to Glee  By Lois A. Jarman 
French correspondence beyond the classroom walls By Channing Jones
Paris: La Police à Paris By Beckie Bray
Québec: Our Francophone Neighbor to the North By Marcel LaVergne Ed.D.
Paris: Vieux et Neuf By Beckie Bray
The Francophone World as Seen Through the Eyes of Poets of the French Language By Marcel LaVergne, Ed.D.
Le métro By Becky Bray
The French Writers of New England By Marcel LaVergne Ed.D.
French Writers of Louisiana By Marcel LaVergne Ed.D.
A Passion for France and French Culture - Why I Study French By Emily Loebelson
Black Writers of the French Language By Marcel LaVergne Ed.D.
Does du pain in French mean bread in English? Teaching Vocabulary in the Cultural Mode By Marcel LaVergne Ed.D.

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February 2011

Our frequent contributor Béckie Bray is currently living in the Ivory Coast. She sent this piece in January. The political situation was very unstable at the time. The situation might be different when we go to press. Please keep this in mind.

Life in the Ivory Coast during the War
By Béckie Bray


As Americans and as French teachers, we talk about colonization and its effects in Africa, in particular, the positive effects of Western government and schooling. Rarely, however, do we talk about the day to day life of living in a formerly-colonized country. Living in the north in Côte d’Ivoire right now, while the political situation is so tense, I am finding an interesting mix of modern and tradition, white (military, missionary, peace keepers) and black, (dormant) war and (forced) peace.

Here is a brief look into market life in the middle of our dual-president period.


I moved to the Ivory Coast a month before the first round of elections took place. Although Bouaké, the second largest city in the country, was not in its former glory before the largest market in western Africa burned down, it was still well stocked with produce, staple cooking and household items, imported clothes and electronics, local cloth, and some other imported products such as cheese, milk, cashews, powdered sugar, and insect spray.

ivorycoast3On the one hand, you would walk down a market street, talk with your particular onions and potatoes vendor to find out about his family and to get a good price. Then you would go into a supermarket, talk with the staff there about their families, bring your purchases to a computerized cash register, and check out. Of course, all of these transactions are done in cash and in francs. The only place plastic is accepted is at the ATM – if it works.

ivorycoast4The interesting change with the war is that shipments come less often and with fewer imports. I was trying to make a cheesecake the other day but kiri cheese (the closest to cream cheese) was unavailable. I went to every supermarket, chatted with the owners, and asked about their families and finally the cheese. “Kiri? You want to find that NOW in Bouaké?” they would respond, as if I knew that post-election meant no imports. Ironically, this week marks a potential éclat of war, yet the supermarkets just got a shipment and now have pudding from France! In Korhogo, the next largest town, one can find most things, from imported watermelons (from Mali) to local shea butter.

Of course, my experience here is unique as I am a white, female French teacher missionary. I am respected for the color of my skin, level of education, and French language skills, but I still do not fit in like a Djula woman may. Still, I have relationships with my vegetable ladies, my bouquaniste, the cashiers at the supermarkets, my photocopier, and the internet café manager. I joke with my tailor, ask my neighbor to help me put on my pagne (the cloth women wear as a skirt), and cook sauce arachide (peanut sauce). Daily, I live with the same anxiety about Gbagbo’s decision as the Ivoirians.

(Note: We hope to receive more news from Béckie in the Ivory Coast. Ed.)

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November 2010

Où est-ce qu’on mange?
Eating Out in Paris

By Rebekah Bray


When I was studying French and learning about French culture, I heard that everyone spends several hours over dinner at home with the family. When living in Paris, however, I discovered that there are variations. One can have three types of meals.

On-The-Go Option
First, there is an on-the-go option, which is really only acceptable in downtown. For example, you could grab a croissant from Brioche d’or, a muffin from Starbucks, panini or crepe from the street vender, or a falafel from the grec au coin (Greek on the corner, not to be confused with arabe au coin which means a tabac or 7-11). Quick and cheap, these easy eats are quite busy at all hours of the day. Some of these places also have tables where you can sit down in. It’s funny, upon reflection, this is the way McDonalds works in the States – you can either take your order to go or sit down, but in Paris it seems a little different.

A la Carte or Formule Option
A second option is a sit-down restaurant with à la carte or formule. Here, you sit down and order food, but sometimes there is a special deal if you want an appetizer, a dessert, and/or a drink. This is the most common way to eat and many people enjoy this type of affordable dining.

Menu Fixe Option
The final option is a menu fixe restaurant. There are a few of these, such as Les Papilles, which only offer one menu option. Usually wine is extra. Most of these restaurants and vendors in nicer weather have the option of people-watching patio seating as well as indoor tables.

There are a few exceptions. FLUNCH, a cafeteria style fast food, offers an á la carte price for salads, desserts, a main dish, and drinks. Once you pay for that, you find your seat, get a pitcher of water, and load up on the veggies. The trick of the restaurant is to only get a main dish, and then satisfy your hunger with the vegetables. There is an à volunté area of vegetables including green beans, tater tots, baked potatoes, carrots, mashed potatoes, French fries, and a daily special. These are refreshed every few minutes during rush hour. The idea is that people will eat many vegetables and be healthier than they would be if they just ordered steak frites (steak and fries). Of course, the clientele is hard to control, so some people just come and get a plate of vegetables without paying.

Finally, the abundance of little boulangeries and patisseries that also sell sandwiches must be mentioned. You can go in and purchase your bread and then walk a few stores down to the supermarket to get some ham and cheese for a little picnic. Everyone picnics in the plentiful parks of Paris; in fact, some supermarkets have a separate small section with sandwiches and drinks to take out along with little cartons of shredded carrots and salads with built-in forks.

Restaurant Hours
Also worth noting are the hours of restaurants. There are Greek to-go places, crepe stands, and panini vendors who are open all night in some of the night life centers of Paris including Chatelet-Les Halles, St. Michel, Bastille, and Place d’Italie. These places have long lines from midnight until four in the morning as they are the only places open. You may not be eating the best crepe in town, but when it is 2am and you are hopping from one bar to the next, 2E for a little sustenance is a great option.


No matter what the hour, there is food somewhere in Paris for almost any price. You may end up with a waiter who is not overly polite or a vendor who tries to charge you more than the price posted, but you will be sure to fill your stomach before stopping off somewhere for something sweet.

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June 2010

Le Cinema: Going to the Movies in Paris
By Rebekah Bray

movie theaterIn the U.S. there are all sorts of movie-goers. There are people who purchase tickets ahead of time on Fandango and those who wait until after the previews have begun to arrive at the theater, people who camp out for the premier night and people who are buying popcorn as the movie begins, people who slurp their drinks and text during the film, people who laugh at (in)appropriate moments and people who comment, people who stay through the credits and people who fall asleep. I’d like to think that I am a somewhat normal American when it comes to going to the movies, with a mix of getting there early and late, eating, and seeing the bloopers at the end of the movie.

But when I went to le cinema in Chatelet les Halles to see Robin des bois (VO), I was in for a surprise. Since we were in the area, we decided to purchase our tickets well before the movie started. Although I knew that Robin Hood was the movie I wanted to see, I wondered what else was showing, so I looked around while my friend, Jean-Marc, got the tickets. There are posters for each film posted, slightly larger than a legal size of paper, that are just publicity. To find out the length of the film, the actors, and the plot, there are computer printouts posted on a board in the middle of the waiting area to consult. After selecting a movie, you can either purchase your tickets from the desk or at the little kiosk machines, just like in the US.

We got to the movie early, which was a good thing because it was packed. People were cutting in line (sliding in on the side), then in order to pass into the screening room itself, we had to file one by one. Sadly, though, people did not realize how small the door was and many people were squished in, two at a time. We finally got into the theater about 15 minutes before the movie began, and there was nothing on the screen. In fact, only two trailers / advertisements played before the movie began. Normally, if you get to the film 20 minutes ahead of time in the US, there are ads until the previews begin. popcorn

Finally, the movie began. No one spoke once the movie came on. I knew that most people would be watching the subtitles (which have jokes in different places), so I tried to keep my eye on them while I watched the movie in English; Version Originale (VO) means that there are subtitles because rarely are films dubbed anymore. As a semi-frequent movie-goer, I know when to laugh out loud, when to keep it to myself, when to gasp, sigh, and recoil in surprise or fear. I followed the conventional rules for each of these, but in the packed theater, I was the only one who moved or made a noise except for one joke about sex that was well translated in the subtitles. There were several places where I thought laughing was appropriate (if you’ve seen the movie, the time when Marion and Robin are discussing her husband, a knight, and their wedding night), but no one else made any noises.

When the movie was over, some people stood up but no one left the theater until most of the credits were over. I asked Jean-Marc if this experience of not talking and moving was normal.

He replied, « Ici, on n’a pas la droit de parler: on te casse la gueule si tu fais ça. » (Here, you don’t have the right to talk – they would kill you.). Because I did not believe what he said, I insisted that we attend a different cinema for an independent film. The only difference in this smaller theater was that the room that we were to see the movie in at 9 pm had a movie in there that ended at 8:55 and we weren’t allowed in until 9.

So, be careful not to talk or move, no matter what happens in the theater!

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March 2010

Unlikely Allies:
How a Merchant, a Playwright, and a Spy Saved the American Revolution

By Marcel LaVergne, Ed.D.

Editor’s Note: Ordinarily a book review would be posted in The Culture Club Library but I found this subject so very intriguing that I decided to feature it here in the Speaker’s Corner. Many thanks to Marcel LaVergne for his inspiring review.

You will find both an English and a French version of the review. If you are a teacher of French, you may print out the French version and use it in your classroom. Please attribute the source. 

Unlikely Allies: How a Merchant, a Playwright, and a Spy Saved the American Revolution
Paul, Joel Richard
Riverhead Books

English version 

When speaking of France’s role in achieving our success in the American Revolution, everyone knows the contribution of Benjamin Franklin, the Marquis de LaFayette, and Rochambeau.  However, how many know the part played by Silas Deane, merchant from Connecticut, Pierre-Augustin Beaumarchais, author of The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro, and the Chevalier d’Eon, recipient of the Croix de St. Louis for his bravery during the Seven Years War between France and England? According to Joel Richard Paul, if not for those three unknowns, the American Revolution may have never happened.  They are truly the real heroes of that war.  

This book attempts to set the record straight on France’s decision to get involved in this conflict between England and the future United States of America.  According to Laval University, 

    L'insurrection américaine fut particulièrement bien accueillie en France, surtout auprès de l'aristocratie et la bourgeoisie. Les nouvelles étaient lues et commentés, et en général la rébellion était perçue comme le combat de l'«esprit des Lumières» face à la «tyrannie britannique». C'est alors que la France, désireuse de prendre sa revanche sur la Grande-Bretagne qui lui avait infligé la défaite de 1763, décida, après de longues tergiversations et sous l'impulsion du ministre des Affaires étrangères, le compte de Vergennes (1774-1781), d'aider les insurgés. ( 

The fact is that Vergennes was able to convince Louis XVI because of the relentless perseverance and efforts of Deane and Beaumarchais.  Paul describes in great detail the link that exists between the Chevalier d’Eon, Beaumarchais, and Deane. Each played a unique role in this intrigue that finished by convincing Louis XVI to risk war with England and to send weapons, troops, and ships to America.  It’s a tale of loyalty, jealousy, espionage, and treason.  The following happened only because of them: 

    Elle commença en 1776 par livrer clandestinement des armes, mais l'aide déterminante se concrétisa par l'envoi de soldats, de navires de guerre et d'importantes sommes d'argent, sans compter les renforts navals (123 vaisseaux de la Marine royale au total) et de quelque 35 000 hommes (au total), ce qui fera pencher la balance en faveur des Américains.( 

The military aid contributed directly to our victory at Saratoga in October 1777 against General Burgoyne, which most consider the turning point of the war.  

By recruiting the young LaFayette, Deane is directly responsible for the fact that 

    …Benjamin Franklin annonçait au Congrès américain l'arrivée du marquis Gilbert de La Fayette en ces termes: «Le marquis de La Fayette, gentilhomme français de grands entourages de famille et de grande fortune, est parti pour l'Amérique sur un vaisseau à lui, afin de servir dans nos armées.» Mais les Américains n'avaient que faire d'un marquis, au surplus républicain et déclaré hors-la-loi par la cour de France, et il devint simplement «Lafayette». Celui-ci apprit l'anglais, bien qu'il ne réussit jamais à le maîtriser parfaitement. Grâce à l'appui indéfectible de George Washington, le jeune aristocrate français, alors âgé de 19 ans, obtiendra le grade de «major-général dans l'armée des États-Unis» et il se couvrira de gloire.

Four years later, in October 1781, Lord Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown to an American army commanded by LaFayette, Lincoln, and Steuben and French troops under Rochambeau.  

Unfortunately, Deane, Beaumarchais, and d’Eon never received the praise and the recognition that they so richly deserved.  On the contrary, the three suffered exile, scorn, and poverty before dying completely abandoned.  

I recommend this book to all French teachers who would like to explain the important role that France played during our revolution and who would like to satisfy the Connections Strand of the Foreign Languages National Framework.  

Version française 

En parlant du rôle que la France a joué pour assurer le succès de la Guerre de l’Indépendance américaine contre l’Angleterre, tout le monde connaît la contribution de Benjamin Franklin, du Marquis de LaFayette, et du maréchal de Rochambeau.  Mais qui connaît la part jouée par Silas Deane, marchand du Connecticut, de Pierre-Augustin Beaumarchais, auteur du Barbier de Séville et du Mariage de Figaro, et du Chevalier d’Eon, récipient de la Croix de St. Louis pour sa vaillance dans la Guerre de Sept Ans entre La France et l’Angleterre?  D’après Joel Richard Paul, sans ces trois inconnus, il se peut très bien que la révolution américaine n’aurait jamais eu lieu.  Ce sont véritablement les trois grands héros de la Révolution américaine.   

Ce livre corrige une lacune historique et explique comment la France a décidé d’entrer dans le conflit entre la Bretagne et les futurs Etats-Unis d’ Amérique.  D’après l’université Laval 

    L'insurrection américaine fut particulièrement bien accueillie en France, surtout auprès de l'aristocratie et la bourgeoisie. Les nouvelles étaient lues et commentés, et en général la rébellion était perçue comme le combat de l'«esprit des Lumières» face à la «tyrannie britannique». C'est alors que la France, désireuse de prendre sa revanche sur la Grande-Bretagne qui lui avait infligé la défaite de 1763, décida, après de longues tergiversations et sous l'impulsion du ministre des Affaires étrangères, le compte de Vergennes (1774-1781), d'aider les insurgés. ( 

En réalité, Vergennes a pu convaincre Louis XVI à cause de la persévérance assidue et du travail de Deane et de Beaumarchais.  Paul décrit en grand détail le lien qui existe entre le Chevalier d’Eon, Beaumarchais, et Deane.  Chacun a joué un rôle singulier dans cette intrigue qui a fini par persuader Louis XVI de risquer une guerre avec l’Angleterre et d’envoyer des armes, des soldats, et des bateaux vers l’Amérique.  C’est une histoire de loyauté, de jalousie, d’espionnage, et de trahison. Ce n’était que par leur intermédiaire que le suivant a pu se réaliser:

    Elle commença en 1776 par livrer clandestinement des armes, mais l'aide déterminante se concrétisa par l'envoi de soldats, de navires de guerre et d'importantes sommes d'argent, sans compter les renforts navals (123 vaisseaux de la Marine royale au total) et de quelque 35 000 hommes (au total), ce qui fera pencher la balance en faveur des Américains.( 

Cette aide militaire a contribué  directement à notre victoire à Saratoga en October 1777 contre le général Burgoyne.  Tous les historiens insistent que cette victoire a été le point tournant du conflict.  

En recrutant le jeune LaFayette, Deane est le seul responsable du fait que  

    …Benjamin Franklin annonçait au Congrès américain l'arrivée du marquis Gilbert de La Fayette en ces termes: «Le marquis de La Fayette, gentilhomme français de grands entourages de famille et de grande fortune, est parti pour l'Amérique sur un vaisseau à lui, afin de servir dans nos armées.» Mais les Américains n'avaient que faire d'un marquis, au surplus républicain et déclaré hors-la-loi par la cour de France, et il devint simplement «Lafayette». Celui-ci apprit l'anglais, bien qu'il ne réussit jamais à le maîtriser parfaitement. Grâce à l'appui indéfectible de George Washington, le jeune aristocrate français, alors âgé de 19 ans, obtiendra le grade de «major-général dans l'armée des États-Unis» et il se couvrira de gloire.

Quatre ans plus tard, en octobre 1781, Lord Cornwallis a été défait à Yorktown par une armée américaine commandée par Lafayette, Lincoln, et Steuben et des troupes françaises sous le commandement de Rochambeau.  

Malheureusement Deane, Beaumarchais, et d’Eon n’ont jamais reçu les accolades méritées pour leur contribution à la cause de notre indépendance.  Au contraire, les trois ont souffert l’exil, le dédain, et la pauvreté et sont morts abandonnés par tous. 

Je recommande ce livre à tous les professeurs de français qui désirent expliquer le rôle important qu'a joué la France lors de notre révolution et qui désirent satisfaire le Connections Strand des Foreign Languages National Standards.

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From January 2010
Nocturnal Adventure in Paris:
A French Teacher’s Panic Turns to Glee 

By Lois A. Jarman 

loisLois Jarman is a foreign language educator in Frederick County, Maryland.  We appreciate her sending in this article for publication in the Culture Club’s Speaker’s Corner. We always welcome contributions from teachers in the trenches. 
I was recently winding up a ten-day trip to Ireland, the UK, and France with some of my students.  We were a group of sixteen and were spending our last evening of the trip in Paris.  We had ascended the Eiffel Tower, cruised the river Seine on a tour boat and were dining outside at a wonderful café in the Place de Tertre at Montmartre.  We had just finished our crèpes with whipped cream and were sipping diabolo fraise.  It was a glorious night and my students were relishing the experience of the French café and outdoor dining.  Our waiter was quite jovial and patient as my students used their imperfect French to order and to make polite conversation with him.  It was indeed pleasant. 

Eventually, I signaled to the waiter that we would like to pay the bill.  We collected the necessary monies and left the café.  As we stood in the square, my dear friend, one of the trip chaperones, said, “Isn’t the last train back to the hotel at 12:45?”  I looked at my watch which read 12:20 and then, in a panicked tone, I yelled, “Run!”  Our descent down the hill was at lightning speed.  In all my visits to Montmartre, I had never moved on those stairs that quickly.  We ran down the street to the metro station. Fortunately, we all had previously purchased our train tickets, so we moved rapidly through the turnstiles.  My entire group of sixteen jumped onto the first train that arrived at the station. It was not long before we realized that we were heading in the wrong direction.  “Off at the next stop,” I bellowed.   

The next stop was the Gare du Nord, but it was already 12:50am, and I knew that we had missed our train.  Trying not to let my students see my panic, I pretended to be calm as I led them to the door of the station and out to a group of gendarmes gathered near a van in front of the train station.  I explained to them that I had carelessly missed the last RER train to Noisy Le Grand and that I needed to get my students back to our hotel.  The policemen conferred and then agreed that our best bet was the bus.  They politely pointed me in the direction of the nearest bus stop and off we headed.  It was now well after 1 a.m., and I was walking through the streets of Paris, in the dark, with my bewildered group.  I played the “I have everything under control” role convincingly …for a while.   

By the time we made it to the bus stop, our Tour Director had called me on my cell from the hotel, concerned that we had not returned.  He proceeded to tell me that the safest option for our return was to go back to the Gare du Nord and herd together four taxis.  He estimated that the cost would be around fifty euros per car.  I had not a centime on my person as I had spent the last of my cash at Montmartre.  I turned sheepishly to my students and asked if they would be willing to pitch in whatever they had managed not to spend on the last night of our trip and that I would need to find an ATM to get the balance.  Fortunately, one of the students had plenty of cash remaining, so we rushed back to the train station to search for our cabs. students

As luck would have it, there were four cabs parked directly in front of the train station.  I proceeded to bargain with the cabbies for a price.  We agreed on what I thought was an outrageous price but by this time it was already past 2 am, and I was desperate.  We piled into the vehicles, one adult and three students in each.  And we were off.   
The reality of the situation hit me hard once we were en route and I started to cry.  The cabbie asked me what was wrong and why I was crying.  I told him that I had let my students down and that I had put their safety in jeopardy and that I felt awful.  He told me to stop crying, that he could not stand to see a woman cry. Then he proceeded to tell me that we were perfectly safe and on our way back to the hotel.  To stress our safety, he continued by telling me not to worry because he had a gun.  The gasps of the students were audible.  As the cabbie reached between the two front seats to retrieve his gun, I thought to myself, “Can this possibly get any worse?” 

‘Hysterical’ does not begin to describe my laughter and that of the students in the rear seat, when our dear French cabbie pulled up a bright yellow and blue “gun.”  He showed it to me with a “no worries” grin across his face.  Just then, we came to a red light and stopped.  The second cab, carrying my dear friend and three other students, pulled up right next to us.  With the windows down, the two cabbies began to converse.  Then our cabbie raised his weapon and “shot” his colleague.  The brightly colored gun was indeed a water gun.  The roar of laughter shook both vehicles.  

Then the cabbies started a chorus of “course, course.”  When the light changed, we were off, racing through the streets of Paris at roughly 2:30 in the morning.  The students were laughing hysterically.  And so were the cabbies and, much to my surprise, I was, too.  The streets of Paris were deserted.  It was the pre-dawn hours of Bastille Day.  And two wild cabbies were racing through the streets, making an American teacher and her students feel, well…safe.  I had no doubt that these two crazy Frenchmen would deliver us to our hotel, safely…and in record time, I might add.   

We were back at the hotel well before three in the morning.  Our Tour Director was waiting outside the hotel for us when the mad cabbies turned the corner into the hotel drive.  Photos were taken with our new friends and we said our good-byes.  I turned to apologize to my students for the disaster I had caused because I had carelessly lost track of time. 

“That was the most awesome cab ride,” they exclaimed.  “What a great way to end our trip.”  And they were off to their rooms, giggling and recounting the event, without hearing my apology.   

And so, in twenty years, when my students will recall with fondness their trip to Europe in 2009 with Mrs. Jarman, my guess is that all they will remember is the cab ride…and all the laughter. 

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From November 2009
French correspondence beyond the classroom walls
By Channing Jones

Channing is a student at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School in Atlanta, Georgia. She wrote about her experience participating in a student exchange between her school and the Lycée Louis Bertrand in Briey, France. Many thanks to her French teacher Gerard Gatoux for sending this article to the Culture Club.

Channing at schoolThere she stood, clad in a pair of black leather boots and those tight-fitting jeans you’ll often find when flipping across the pages of Vogue. Wisps of her waving mocha locks spewed over the top of her matching leather jacket; the misty rain outside began to smudge away at the eyeliner under her lids. She and her friends began unloading their suitcases off the athletic buses, while a veil of silence fell over the crowd. I stood at the back of the group. Watching and waiting for her. When our eyes finally met and a rush of excitement propelled our feet toward one another, our brief cheek-to-cheek kiss silently involuntarily spoke the language of two countries meeting in sudden embrace. Salut, mon amie. Welcome, friend. Amélie Andrea Testa, my French pen pal correspondent, had finally arrived in the U.S., accompanied by nine other students from the surrounding regions near Lorraine. After two years of corresponding, they were finally here to stay with ten Southern families at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School for twelve days.

For the past three semesters, AP and Honors French students at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School in Sandy Springs have been eagerly communicating with their newly acquired pen pals via written letters and even chatting over the ever-popular internet webcams. French native and teacher at HIES, Gerard Gatoux had been preparing for the arrival of these French students to the U.S. for quite some time. Having taken numerous trips to several countries including Spain, Italy, Switzerland, England, Mexico, Costa Rica, and France, Gatoux knows there has never been a dull sojourn since he began taking students with him in 1976.

“Sometimes we [the students and I] just go stay in a hotel. Sometimes we stay with the families of people in different areas. I really love it when my students are able to live with a host, though, because they get a real sense of the culture and can familiarize themselves with a language other than their own,” added Gatoux.

“What I think was so great about this experience was that both groups of teens quickly began to recognize that even though we live an ocean apart, we have way more similarities than we realized. And this same lesson can be applied when establishing correspondence with people in countries across the world. It was really eye-opening,” says Sarah Hamill, a Junior and Honors French student at Holy Innocents’.

With the hopes of quenching their thirst for American tourist sites, Gatoux’s students rode buses with their pen pals to visit the Aquarium, CNN center, World of Coca Cola, and the MLK Center. A sea of blinding flashes reflected onto the never-ending glass walls of the Aquarium, as students marveled over the 30-ft whale sharks that have become a popular attraction in the Atlanta metro area. The World of Coca Cola provided students with a taste testing session of 64 Coke products from around the world, while the MLK Center’s striking historic images left lasting impressions on many students from France.
Channing at school
“All in all, everything was really wonderful. But my favorite place of all that we visited was definitely the CNN center,” recalled French student Mélanie Gasparrini. “I loved seeing the way an American news station manages its information. I was really impressed by the fact that the news is constantly playing into the day and into the night.”

Tourist destinations and American fast food chains pervaded the daily schedules of the French and American students, but the learning continued to take place within the classroom during the ten-day period. Holy Innocents’ teacher, Gerard Gatoux, and the French teacher Madame Faye-Gallatinni, who traveled with her students from Lycée Louis Bertrand, held sessions of open discussion with all of the students during class time. The intention was to identify and break down the stereotypes of French and American people, hopefully to create a more accurate understanding and depiction of everyday life in these countries. It is the “only step toward peace,” something Faye emphasized during one of her co-teaching days with Gatoux. Some of the more bizarre rumors left students giggling with embarrassment, while others had classmates questioning the roots of unflattering stereotypes.

“We came into this expecting our pen pals to improve the quality of their language and get a feel for the culture. They were here to learn about us, when I feel as though we’re the ones who, in turn, learned so much about them. It was so much greater to have them visit us in person because there's quite a difference between talking to someone via an internet webcam versus the real deal. We got a chance to become really acquainted with each other and to abolish and false perceptions we may have had about each other. We had the opportunity to make true friendships,” says Junior at Holy Innocents’ and Honors French student, Katelyn Dramis.

Ten days pass quickly, as Amélie Andréa Testa, my heartwarmingly shy fashionista from Homecourt France, and I did learn. Approaching the departure buses, I was forced to reminisce over the short-lived yet momentous experience. An eerie silence of a language barrier that once shrouded the walls within my home had now become peaceful stillness. The series of quizzical glances from miscommunications in conversation had morphed into smiles and fits of laughter and an unexpressed understanding of one another. But the slamming of a creaking bus door jolted my thoughts and I was brought back to the realization that our French friends were bidding us farewell. The blushing and brown-eyed young woman with whom I had shared common knowledge and sit-down Southern meals embraced me with her version of an American hug. Tears streamed down faces of both boys and girls in the program. Camera flashes erupted onto the scene.

Channing with friend“If I only had one more day to spend here in the U.S., I would spend it with all of these wonderful people I met on this vacation. I would spend my entire day with them because they have all been so welcoming. I truly am not ready to leave here,” stated a teary-eyed student from Lycée Louis Bertrand, Cédric Corzani.

Mr. Gerard Gatoux and his students hope to travel to France in March of 2010. He wishes to continue his work of emphasizing the importance of promoting global communication—inside the hearts and minds of his students and out of the confines of classroom walls.

“Just merely on a personal level, “ comments Chris Durst, Upper School Principal at Holy Innocents’, “allowing these kids to spend time with students from another country was such a great experience for all of them. These students got to form lasting friendships with people that will continue to grow after this hosting experience. It was just so fun for them all.”

All of the students of Gerard Gatoux and Madame Faye look forward to future years of correspondence. To the students of HI and Lycée Louis Bertrand, spending time with each other was none other this: très essentiel.

Shown here: Students Amelia Testa (left), and Channing Jones (right)

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September 2009
Paris: La Police à Paris
By Beckie BrayFrench Police

Beckie Bray travels often to Paris and, while there, she is a keen observer of the local culture. In this article, her third in a series of four, she focuses on the reassuring presence of the police in Paris.

Quand j'ai commencé mon voyage à Paris seule, j'avais un peu peur de la nuit. On peut parler avec n'importe qui aux cafés le jour, mais la nuit c’est différent. Je connais Paris, mais ça ne veut pas dire que j’allais toujours éviter le danger. Il y a toujours des histoires tristes des dames qui n'étaient pas sages et qui ont souffert. Je suis énergique et parce qu’ un de mes buts était de parler avec des parisiens, je me suis laissée un peu ouverte au danger. Paris, une ville diverse, est plein de gens directs et carrés. Mais, parce que j'avais navigué les jours et les nuits à DC et à Boston, alors j'avais confiance que je ne serais pas stupide en faisant des bêtises.

Paris la nuit est ravissante.  Les gens sont super sympa. Le Pont Lazare est ouvert, les monuments sont illuminés, et la police est en force. Une nuit, j'ai décidé de faire nuit blanche pour prendre des photos de Paris et découvrir  la ville d'amour et de lumières.
Je me promenais sur la Rive Gauche dans le Quartier Latin jusqu'aux Champs-Élysées. Devant moi, il y avait cinq jeunes: une femme qui était en train de se fâcher contre un homme, deux amis de la femme, et un ami de l'homme. Il m'a semblé qu'un des amis de la femme tenait un homme. Quand je me suis approchée, le volume de leurs voix s'augmentait et j'avais un peu peur que quelque chose se développe.  Il y avait six mètres entre moi et eux et je me suis demandé quoi faire: attendre, passer vite, ou traverser la rue. A ce moment-là, une voiture s'est arrêtée sur la rue et la fenêtre s’est baissée. Un gendarme a demandé ce qui se passait et la femme a dit "rien". Alors, la police est sortie de la voiture et ils ont parlé avec l'homme en le tenant loin de la dame. Puis, les amis ont fait pareil avec la dame et un gendarme l'a suivie un kilomètre pour être sûr que rien ne se passerait de plus.

J'ai suivi la rue plus loin que le Pont Lazare et j'ai vu trois bateaux qui arrivaient à un  seul endroit. J'ai remarqué six jeunes, un qui était déshabillé! Puis, de l'eau est sorti un autre mec qui avait nagé dans la Seine – quelle horreur! La police est sortie du bateau et l’a emmené aux quais. Il ne parlait pas français, alors la police lui a expliqué que ce n'était pas bon pour la santé de se jeter dans la Seine. À ce moment-là, j'ai voulu quitter la scène, alors je ne sais pas s'ils ont amené le nageur à l’Hôtel-Dieu pour le donner au médecin avant de le juger.

J'étais près des Champs-Élysées. Donc j'ai traversé un pont et j’ai marché sur la Rue de Rivoli. Quand je suis arrivée sur les Champs, j'ai vu la sécurité en force près des boîtes de nuit et les marchés ouverts. Il y avait un mec qui essayait d'entrer dans la boulangerie où j'étais en train d'acheter une boisson. Immédiatement, la sécurité lui a demandé s'il voulait quelque chose. L'homme a dit "non", et la sécurité est restée là pour être sûre qu'il n'entrerait pas. Je n’étais pas inquiète parce que la sécurité était là, travaillante.

Alors, j'étais contente et je n’étais jamais énervée quand j’étais à Paris la nuit. Soit sur les quais, dans les boîtes de nuit, sur les rues, ou dans le métro, il y avait toujours une présence policière pour que l’on ne puisse pas s’inquiéter, même une fille seule.

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August 2009
Québec: Our Francophone Neighbor to the North
By Marcel LaVergne, Ed.D.

Printable version (pdf)

Map                   Flag                     Arms

Some years ago when I was teaching at Natick High School in Massachusetts, one of my French 2 students, who had just spent his winter vacation in Québec with his parents, proudly announced to me and to the class that when he was in Québec everybody spoke French and "they really do use the passé composé over there."

Surprisingly, in spite of the fact that it takes only 6 hours to drive to Montréal, many of my students had no idea where Québec was.  That province could have been on the other side of the world as far as they were concerned.  In fact, that could also have been said for many French teachers because there was very little mention of Québec in our curriculum or in the textbooks that we used, other than a few photos of Montréal and Québec City.  There was almost no mention of Québec life, traditions, literature, music, cuisine, cinema, art, etc.

As part of my series of articles on la Francophonie, I would like to offer some insights about Québec in light of the Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities Strands of the Foreign Languages National Framework.  The 400th anniversary of the founding of Québec City was celebrated during the month of October 2008.

A Bit of Québec History

Although the world associates Québec with the French language, the survival of French was very much in jeopardy of being transplanted by English.  The fact that French is the official language is due to the struggle and the perseverance of many people.  The following timeline contains the major events of that struggle.

  • 1534-1542: Jacques Cartier makes three voyages to Canada.
  • 1608: Samuel de Champlain founds the city of Québec.
  • 1642: Maisonneuve and Jeanne Mance found the city of Montréal.
  • 1759: The British capture the city of Québec.
  • 1763: The Treaty of Paris gives Canada to England.
  • 1774: The Québec Act re-establishes French civil laws.
  • 1791: The Constitutional Act divides Canada into two provinces: Upper Canada and Lower Canada.
  • 1826: Louis-Joseph Papineau forms the Parti Patriote.
  • 1837-1838: Failure of The Patriot Rebellion.
  • 1838: Lower Canada declares its independence.
  • 1839: The Durham Report advocates for the union of Upper and Lower Canada.
  • 1840: The Upper and Lower Canada Union Act makes English the official language.
  • 1842: Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine argues for French as a language in parliament.
  • 1848: Abrogation of Article 41 of the Union Act which prohibited the use of French in the Assembly.
  • 1850: Between 1850 and 1940 almost 900,000 French Canadians leave Lower Canada for the United States.
  • 1867: The British North America Act, Article 133 makes bilingualism obligatory in the Québec and Ottawa parliaments.
  • 1883: The motto Je me souviens is added to Québec’s coat of arms.
  • 1887: Québec Premier Honoré Mercier wants Québec to assert itself as a French and Catholic nation.
  • 1953: The Tremblay Commission recommends the creation of the Office de la langue française.
  • 1960-1966: The Quiet revolution.
  • 1960: Jean-Paul Desbiens writes Les Insolences du Frère Untel.
  • 1961: Creation of the Office de la langue française.
  • 1961: The Parent Commission overhauls the Québec system of education.
  • 1963-1971: The Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism advocates for a bilingual Canada.
  • 1969: The Official Languages Act establishes institutional bilingualism at the federal level.  
  • 1976: René Lévesque’s Parti Québécois ascends to power.
  • 1979: Michèle Lalonde publishes Défense et illustration de la langue québécoise.
  • 1980: Québec independence referendum defeated 60%-40%.
  • 1987: The Lake Meech Accord recognizes Québec’s distinct society status.
  • 1990: Failure of the Lake Meech Accord.
  • 1992: Failure of the Charlottetown Accord.
  • 1995: Québec independence referendum narrowly defeated 51%-49%.

Rene                                    Louis-Joseph                 Charles

René Lévesque                      Louis-Joseph Papineau                       Charles de Gaulle

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Québec: Canadian Province or Separate French Nation?

                  "Un pays, une culture"…

                  Voilà bien, en effet, les plus évidentes  et les plus simples éléments qui s’imposent

                  dans les faits pour définer cette étonnante réalité que constitue le Québec.

                                                                                                                              (Françoise Tétu de Labsade, p.11)

Although technically a part of Canada which is largely an anglophone country bordered on the south by New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, Québec occupies 15.5% of the surface of Canada and is as large as France, Germany, and Spain combined.  I say technically, because most Québécois consider that Québec is a separate and distinct autonomous society with its own language, culture, and laws.  Hence, the slogan found on every automobile license plate: Je me souviens

From the very beginning, the people refused to abandon their francophone heritage and to pledge allegiance to the British by abandoning their language, religion, and culture.  Controlled by the Catholic Church, the largely rural population lived in small villages which were named for the saint to which the local parish church was dedicated.  Many boys were named for Mary, the mother of God, with names such as Louis-Marie and Jean-Marie.  The Catholic Church ran the schools, the hospitals, the orphanages, and all the social services.  It opposed urbanization and industrialization.  Reminded constantly by their local clergy that their language and their religion were interdependent (la langue, la gardienne de la foi!), the people were rarely engaged in the business, commercial, industrial, and political realms of the region which took place in the cities where the language of the English-speaking minority prevailed.  Their whole life centered around the local parish church and the local pastor.  The less interaction with their English-speaking neighbors, the less chance that they would lose their faith.

Although the French-Canadians far outnumbered the English-Canadians, they were regarded as second-class citizens by the ruling English-speaking class who occupied the cities and ran the province.   Advocates for French-Canadian nationalism decried those deplorable conditions.

First, the situation, which was disastrous, was described. One hundred years after Durham, French-Canadian minorities had been despoiled of their rights.  Only English was spoken everywhere, "yet more serious still was that English unilingualism did not even respect Quebec rights."  In short, Confederation had not brought the promised equality.  Immigration favored the British.  And at the economic level, with figures to prove it, "French speakers were not only in a position of inferiority but were also in a state of dependence and even servitude." (Ares)

For many years, they worked as farmers and laborers and had no access to the world of banking, administration, and business where English was the language of preference.  In fact, they often referred to themselves as habitants, and the language they spoke was known as joual, an unsophisticated   and uneducated oral form of French.

The work on the farm was difficult and poverty was so rampant that in the early 1900’s, more than 1 million habitants left the rangs of Québec and sought work and a better standard of living in the New England States.  Most left with the intention of returning to their farms after earning some money there.  Those who did return did so with a different attitude and some experience of city life.  They wanted something better than the life they had left behind and moved to the cities.  That created an undercurrent of dissatisfaction and a desire to partake in the affairs of the province.

Prior to 1960, the French-Canadians penetrated slowly into the business world as more and more people left the farm. In 1900, 62% of the population lived in rural areas but in 1960 only 25% of the people did so.  Champions of Québec nationalism such as Louis-Joseph Papineau, founder of the Patri Patriote, l’abbé Lionel Groulx, director of l’Action française, Maurice Duplessis, Prime Minister of Québec, Paul-Emile Borduas, publisher of le Refus global, Jean-Paul Desbiens author of Les Insolences du frère Untel and Félix Leclerc , the first of les chansonniers who sang of French pride and the desire of recognition, were responsible for what has been called La Révolution tranquille of the 1960’s with the advent in power of Jean Lesage and the Parti Libéral who proclaimed "C’est le temps que ça change." and stated in 1962 their desire to be "Maîtres chez nous!"

According to Laing, the Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism in 1963 found that Francophones did not occupy in the economy, nor in the decision-making ranks of government, the place their numbers warranted; that educational opportunities for the francophone minorities were not commensurate with those provided for the anglophone minority within Quebec and that French-speaking Canadians could neither find employment nor be served adequately in their language in federal-government agencies.  The periodical and the movement known as Parti pris (1963-1968) believed that

Le Québec a été et est toujours colonisé, par les Anglais, par les "Canadians," par l’élite cléricale et bourgeoise, par les exploiteurs capitalistes américains; même la littérature française a trop longtemps colonisé les lettres québécoises. (Françoise Tétu de Labsade, p.150)

Mills states that as far back as 1839 Lord Durham, referring to Lower Canada blamed the struggle between the Anglophones and the Francophones on racism and not on politics.  He found "two nations warring in the bosom of a single state." In his report to ensure harmony and progress, he recommended assimilating the French Canadians, whom he called "a people with no literature and no history," through a legislative union of the Canadas, in which an English-speaking majority would dominate.

The desire to be self-sufficient and to self-govern even to the extent of being an independent country was given fuel in 1967 when president DeGaulle of France shouted to the world during his visit to the World Fair in Montréal "Vive le Québec libre!"  One year later in 1968 René Lévesque founded the Parti  québécois whose platform and goal was to have a national referendum on Québec sovereignty.  The term French-Canadian was officially replaced by the more nationalistic word Québécois.

The biggest change and the one having the most drastic result was the formation of the Parent Commission (1963-1966) which completely reorganized the system of education by taking it out of the hands of the church and making it the responsibility of the state.  It is ironic that the man most responsible for this change was himself a bishop.  Having lost control of the schools, the church lost its most important source of candidates for the priesthood and religious life.  Although 86% of Québécois claim to be Catholic, only 10% attend services regularly.  In spite of its close relationship with the church from the very beginning of its existence and of the many architectural reminders scattered throughout the countryside, i.e., crosses, religious statues, and calvaires, Québec has in reality become a secular nation which has divorced itself from the institutional church.  Eventually, the Church lost its influence in all areas except religion when the state took control over all health and social services.

The Parent Commission instituted a national university called Université du Québec with 10 branches scattered throughout the region and replaced the 40 church-run collèges classiques for boys and écoles normales for girls with coeducational collèges d’enseignement général et professionnel"commonly referred to as CEGEPs.

With better access from the secondary level to the university, the caliber of Québécois graduates improved and many joined the ranks of the corporate and professional world.  Naturally, they expected to be treated on a par with the English speakers and that their language be recognized in the workplace, in shopping areas, and in government agencies.  National and ethnic pride became a watchword and was delivered over the radio and television by the young singer-songwriters of the 1960’s known as les chansonniers, the most famous being Gilles Vigneault, Robert Charlebois, Claude Léveillé, Diane Dufresne, and Plume Latraverse.   The importance of song in transmitting the message of independence cannot be underestimated because as Felix Leclerc said, "Le Québec est un pays divisé, sauf quand il chante" and also "Chante, et le Québec ne mourra jamais."

According to Tétu de Labsade,

                  La chanson est l’expression première d’une culture populaire, elle permet à la collectivité d’exprimer librement et de mille manières l’âme d’un peuple d’autant mieux que le peuple la comprend et y trouve ses forces vives. (p.338)

Québec went through a period of unease in the 1960’s with the advent of Le Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ) which engaged in acts of violence – bombings, bank robberies, and in October 1970 with the kidnapping and death of Pierre Laporte, the Labor Minister.  Rather than win the support of the Québécois, those acts of violence shocked the people because throughout history the Québécois were pacifists who as far back as 1918 objected to and refused to be drafted into the armed forces.  They also refused to become involved in the Iraq War.

Six years after its foundation the Parti Québécois finally took power and began to make good on its promise to hold a referendum on the sovereignty issue which it did unsuccessfully in 1980.  The result was 59% against independence.  A second referendum in 1995 was once again defeated but by the narrow margin of 51% to 49%.

During those tumultuous years, Québec, although not independent, gained in stature and has proclaimed itself a separate and distinct province and in 1977 passed the Charter of the French Language a.k.a Law 101.  That Law proclaimed that Québec is a French society whose official language is French, and legislated it as the language of government, of education, of business, and of advertisement.  By proclaiming that Québec was a French society, the people were seeking social justice in their own land by guaranteeing the primacy of their language, power over their own affairs, and their right to deal independently with the other nations of the world.  It also recognized the principle that la langue est la gardienne de la culture.  According to Michel Venne,

Le principe de la souveraineté des peuples et des nations (la Chambre des communes, à Ottawa, vient tout juste de reconnaître que les Québécois forment une nation dans un Canada uni) est très largement appuyé par les citoyens du Québec.
 If not de jure, Québec is de facto a country and a culture.

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Québécois French

Inevitably, when speaking of Québec, the question of the variety of French spoken there comes up and often with the sense that the Québécois speak a "bad" French.  Before making a judgment, it is important to examine the evolution of the French of Québec from the beginning to today.  Considering that Québec is a francophone island in an English ocean that has had to fight for its linguistic, religious, and cultural survival since France lost the Battle of the Plains of Abraham and that it was isolated from France for so many years while being surrounded on all sides by an anglophone culture, it’s a wonder that the French language survived.  For a while, it stood still, not undergoing the changes in pronunciation and in vocabulary that affected the French of France and keeping intact the French of those regions of France from where the settlers came.  According to Tétu de Labsade, "Québec a donc gardé de son long isolement quelques  mots qui ont totalement disparu de la France, ou ne sont conservés dans cet usage que dans certaines régions bien précises." (p.88)

Additions to the language were necessary to describe the flora and the fauna of their new land that did not exist in France.  They also incorporated Amerindian words spoken by the native population of the region.  As the population moved from the rural areas into the cities, English words from the factories and the mills where they worked became incorporated into the language with a French twist as well as English words from the daily broadcast of American TV shows, the Internet, and the influx of American entertainment culture.  Many Québécois (especially in Montréal) began to speak a variation of French and English called le joual which Tétu de Labsade (p.96) describes as "le joual semble très loin du français normatif  standard:  Il apparaît très anglicisé; il utilise un vocabulaire français pauvre puisqu’il s’y est substituté un vocabulaire anglais, il sert surtout à la communication orale." She further explains that

"C’est donc en ville que le contact entre le français rural et l’anglais industriel et commercial est le plus continu. Il en résulte un parler populaire—qu’on appellera le joual—à base syntaxique et lexical tout à fait française mais qui s’adjoindra pour les besoins de communication entre patrons et ouvriers un lexique, des expressions et des tournures anglaises. (pp.95-96)

At first, this phenomenon was confined to oral speech and  the written language maintained a stricter adherence to the rules of standard French that one would be hard pressed to say if the author were from France or from Québec.  Although authors such as Gratien Gélinas (Tit-Coq ,1948) and Louis Hémon (Maria Chapdelaine,1916)) had their characters speak in the everyday language of the French-Canadian, it was not until the Révolution tranquille of the 1960’s, that authors, such as Michel Tremblay expressly wrote in joual and singers such as Robert Charlebois and Plume Latraverse sang in joual as a sign of defiance and solidarity with the sovereignty movement.  Léandre Bergeron published dictionaries of the québécois language.  As an expression of national pride it had its effects locally but the outreach in the francophone world was limited because no one but the Québécois could understand it.  Great strides were made to improve the quality of the French language especially in the government, in the schools, in the media, and in literature.

A study conducted in 1997 and reported by de Villers revealed that the majority of words and expressions (77%) used in all the articles published in one year in the Québec daily Le Devoir were no different than the words and expressions used in the French daily Le Monde.  The Office de la langue française found that those words that were found only in Le Devoir could be divided into four categories:

1.     Québécismes originating in France represented only 8% of the words and expressions in daily use in Québec.

2.     Québécismes coined in Québec accounted for 68% of the words and expressions.

3.     Québécismes formed from borrowings from other languages accounted for 13%.

4.     11% were specialized words, non-specific to Québec French.

The difficulty that most Francophones from outside of Québec have when encountering a Québécois lies with the Québécois accent (which has many similarities with the accent of la Bretagne) and the use of joual in everyday speech.

An interesting by-product of the great influence the Catholic Church had on the Québécois is the fact that most swear words are variations of words relating to God, liturgy, sacraments, etc.  Scatological words or words relating to sex are rarely used, unlike in the USA.

As far as being "bad" or inferior French, all languages have a spoken form that conforms to the country in which it is spoken because of a variety of factors.  In fact, not every Frenchman in France speaks French exactly the same: there are regional accents, provincialisms, borrowed words from other languages, dialectical variations, levels of education, social class, etc.  French teachers should expose their students to the spoken and written language of the more than 6 million Québécois who use it proudly every day.

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Québécois Culture

La révolution tranquille of the 1960s gave rise to a cultural as well as to a political transformation of Québec.  As the Québécois sought control over their own destiny, those cultural principles began to be developed in the writings of the authors, poets, singer-songwriters, dramatists, and cineastes of the day.  The contemporary literature and arts no longer mirrored that of France but echoed the thoughts and ideas that occupied the minds of the current generations.  They wrote and sang about what mattered to them.  Freed from the strict control of the Church and confident in their own political identity as French-speaking citizens of the world, they broke loose of the old constraints and developed new traditions.

Cultural traditions based on religion such as attending midnight mass at Christmas, celebrating one’s patron saint’s name day, the giving of gifts on the feast of Saint Nicholas, on New Year’s Day, or on the Epiphany have been gradually abandoned.  Other traditions such as the gathering of the eau de Pâques , or la bénédiction paternelle on New Year’s day are not practiced consistently throughout Québec, but are specific to certain villages and families.

La veille de Noёl is often celebrated by attending an early evening mass followed by le réveillon at someone’s house.  During this time traditional foods such as , les cretons, la tourtière, la dinde ou le poulet, la tarte au sucre ,and  la buche de Noёl are eaten followed by the opening of gifts.

La Sainte Catherine is celebrated on November 25 mostly in the elementary grades with the making and eating of la tire à mélasse Ste-Catherine.  That tradition began in the 1600s when Marguerite Bourgeois , who opened the first school for girls, made the tire to entice the young native American girls to attend school. 

Another tradition that continues is la Guignolée which is held at the beginning of December.  At that time, people from the town and/or social organizations solicite food and money donations from their neighbors to benefit the poor of the parish.

Le temps des sucres is also a popular tradition in rural Québec.  People go to the cabane à sucre during the springtime when the maples are running to partake in copious meals of fèves au lard, jambon, oreilles de crisse, soupe aux pois, tarte au sucre d’érable, and the ever delicious tire sur la neige.

Le poisson d’avril , which is like the American April Fool’s Day, is celebrated by playing tricks on others as we do in the USA.  However, sometimes those tricks involve pranks such as sticking a paper fish on someone’s back or making someone courir le poisson by sending him on a wild goose chase.

In September, at the corn harvest, it’s traditional to invite one’s neighbors, friends, and family over to help with les épluchettes de blé d’Inde.  The chore of shucking corn becomes a festive occasion with song, dance, games, and food.

Québec has its own set of national holidays or jours fériés.  The following are also jours chômés  (no work) for government employees:

  • New Year’s Day (Jour de l’an): January 1
  • Day after New Year’s Day (Lendemain du Jour de l’An): January 2
  • Good Friday (Vendredi Saint)
  • Easter (Pâques)
  • Easter Monday (Lundi de Pâques)
  • National Patriots Day (Journée nationale des Patriotes): Monday before May 25
  • Québec National Holiday (Fête nationale du Québec): June 24 (also called Fête de la Saint Jean-Baptiste)
  • Canada Day (Fête du Canada): July 1
  • Labor Day (Fête du Travail): First Monday in September
  • Thanksgiving (Fête de l’Action de grâce): Second Monday in October
  • Remembrance Day (Jour du Souvenir): November 11
  • Day before Christmas (Veille de Noёl): December 24
  • Christmas (Noёl): December 25
  • Day after Christmas (Lendemain de Noёl): December 26
  • New Year’s Eve (Veille du Jour de l’An) December 31

La journée nationale des Patriotes commemorates the 1837-1838 Patriot Rebellion against the British-influenced Canadian constitution which favors the English-speaking Canadians to the detriment of the French-speaking Canadians.  The Parti patriote wanted a constitution inspired by the American Revolution and advocated a complete break from the monarchy.  That early struggle for their rights is recognized by the grateful Québécois who established this holiday in 1937 "pour souligner l’importance de la lutte des patriotes de 1837-1838 pour la reconnaissance de notre nation, pour sa liberté politique et pour l’établissement d’un gouvernement démocratique."

La fête nationale du Québec, originally known as La Saint-Jean Baptiste, was established in 1977 to honor the patron saint of French-Canadians, so named by Pope Pius X in 1908.  This holiday originated with the first French colonists on June 23, 1636 on the banks of the St Lawrence River with a bonfire and five cannon shots.  The day took on a more patriotic tone after the failure of the Patriot Rebellion.  To this day, many towns celebrate la Saint-Jean Baptiste with the lighting of a huge bonfire in a public square or park.

Canada Day, a national holiday throughout Canada is celebrated in Québec mostly by the English-speaking population.  Any demonstrations by the Québécois tend to be in the form of protests against the federal government.

La fête de l’Action de grâce takes place a month before the American Thanksgiving Day because the harvest in Québec comes earlier than that in the USA.  It has also been a tradition since 1576, whereas Americans have given thanks since 1621.

For more information on les fêtes du Québec, consult

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Québécois Song

                           Robert                                    Gilles

                    Félix Leclerc                                           Robert Charlebois                                   Gilles Vigneault

Par la chanson, le Québec se démarque rapidement de la France et acquiert une autonomie basée sur la simplicité et l’authenticité de cette manifestation populaire. 
Tétu de Labsade, p.325

Whenever a group of Québécois get together for a veillée, they will usually break out in song, often singing traditional songs in the form of la chanson à répondre.  According to Tétu de Labsade, when the first settlers arrived from France, they brought with them more than 50 thousand songs and over the years "les paroles sont changés et font allusion à des réalités québécoises". (p. 326)  Of the many types of songs, "la chanson à répondre est fréquemment utilisée à cause précisément du coté sociale des veillées où il est bon de faire participer tout le monde. (p. 328)  Because of the severity of the winter season and the fact that for many years the Québécois lived mainly a rural sort of life, the veillée was often the only form of entertainement available and song was a handy and cheap way to have fun.  The singing was also accompanied by dance such as the reel, the gigue, the ronde and the quadrille.

One of the first groups to popularize the chanson à répondre commercially is La Bottine Souriante from the Lanaudière region of Québec.  Essentially, in the chanson à répondre, the lead singer tells a story, sings the refrain and the rest of the group repeats the refrain.  Those songs are very seldom sad and reflect the everyday life of the people in an amusing way.  The rhythm is such as to make one tap one’s feet and want to dance.  It’s really the telling of a story in song.

In addition to traditional music, there has been a concerted effort to develop a unique Québécois music that is more than just the translation of American or British rock and roll or the imitation of French from France music.  The music seeks its own identity, proclaims its own value system, and in the words of Tétu de Labsade:

                  La chanson du Québec exprime aussi les sentiments de l’homme universel:
la solitude et ses remèdes qui ont nom tendresse, amour et amitié; l’individu,
aux prises avec une société qui refuse de le comprendre, qui réagit avec humour
et joie de vivre." (p. 337)

For a list of the more popular singers, please consult

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Facts about Québec

  1. Alphonse Desjardins opened the first Cooperative Bank (Caisse Populaire) in 1900.
  2. Women obtained the right to vote at the federal level in 1917 but in Québec not until 1940.
  3. Québec adopted its flag le fleurdelisé in 1948.
  4. Claire Kirkland-Casgrain was the first woman elected to the Assemblée nationale in 1961.
  5. Québec nationalized the production of electricity in 1962 when it took over Hydro-Québec.
  6. The Ministère de l’Education du Québec was created in 1964 and took the responsibility for education away from the church.
  7. Montréal hosted the 1967 World’s Fair.
  8. UNESCO grants World Heritage Status to the city of Québec in 1987.
  9. Day care (les garderies publiques) cost only 7.00$ per day for children under 5 years of age after which they go to la maternelle.
  10. K-12 private schools receive financial aid from Québec up to the rate of 80%.
  11.  Unlike the rest of Canada and the USA, a high school graduate must attend a CEGEP in order to be admitted to a university.
  12. University tuition in Québec is the lowest in Canada.
  13.  At the birth of a child, one of the parents is entitled to one year paid maternity leave.
  14. As in the rest of Canada, Québec has a National Health Insurance Plan.
  15. The richer you are in Québec, the higher the taxes. Approximately 40% of Québécois pay no taxes.
  16. As in the rest of Canada, Québec uses the metric system and gasoline is sold by the liter.

Québécois literature

Jean-PaulGabrielle                        Michel

Jean-Paul Desbiens                   Gabrielle Roy                                       Michel Tremblay

Prior to the 19th century, the literature of Québec was closely associated with that of France as far as themes and stylistics were concerned.  There were many accounts of voyages to and explorations within the new world and of writings by religious such as Marguerite Bourgeois of their attempts to covert the Amerindians to Christianity.

True Québécois literature came about in the 19th and 20th centuries when the writings became more expressive of the conditions of life in Québec.  Issues of patriotism, of nationalism, of social justice, of religion and education began to roll off of the printing presses. 

Some of the notable writers of the 19th century are Louis Fréchette, Octave Crémazie, Francois-Xavier Garneau, Emile Nelligan, and Lionel Groulx.

Some of the notable writers of the 20th century and their most famous works are:

  • Louis Hémon, Maria Chapdelaine (novel)
  • Roger Lemelin, Les Plouffe (novel)
  • Gabrielle Roy, Bonheur d’occasion(novel)
  • Hector de Saint-Denis Garneau, Regards et jeux dans l’espace (poetry)
  • Ringuet, Trente arpents (novel)
  • Alain Grandbois, Les Iles de la nuit (poetry)
  • Yves Thériault, Agakuk (novel)
  • Jacques Brault, Mémoire (poetry)
  • Réjean Ducharme, L’avalée des avalés (novel)
  • Jacques Godbout, Salut Galarneau (novel)
  • Michel Tremblay, Les Belles-Soeurs (theater)
  • Anne Hébert, Kamouraska (novel)
  • Michèle Lalonde, Speak White (poetry)
  • Antonine Maillet, Pélagie-la-Charette (novel)
  • Yves Beauchemin, Le matou (novel)

Literary Excerpts

Le Damned Canuck


Ah sonnez crevez sonnailles de vos entrailles
Riez et sabrez à la coupe de vos privilèges
Grands hommes, classe écran, qui avez fait de moi
Le sous-homme, la grimace souffrante du cro-magnon
L’homme du cheap way, l’homme du cheap work
Le damned Canuck


Gaston Miron, L’Homme rapaillé

La main du bourreau finit toujours par pourrir

Grande main qui pèse sur nous
grande main qui nous aplatit contre terre
grande main qui nous brise les ailes
                  grande main de plomb chaud
grande main de fer rouge
grands ongles qui nous scient les os
grands ongles qui nous ouvrent les yeux
                  comme des huîtres

la grande main pourrira
et nous pourrons nous lever pour aller ailleurs.

Roland Giguère, L’Âge de la parole

Je veux vécrire

J’envisageais un projet d’envergure nationale, non mais, c’est vrai! nous devons, nous, Canadiens français, reconquérir notre pays par l’économie; c’est René Lévesque qui l’a dit.  Alors, pourquoi pas par le commerce des hots dogs?  Business is business.  Il n’y a pas de sot métier, il n’y a que de sots clients. Je ne suis pas séparatiste, mais si je pouvais leur rentrer dans le corps aux Anglais, avec des saucisses, ça me soulagerait d’autant.

Jacques Gadbout, Salut Galarneau

Rejean                     Gatien                        Emile

                   Réjean Ducharme                                   Gatien Lapointe                                   Emile Nelligan

Viens-tu aux vues avec moi?

Elle revient de très loin et lui demanda sur ce ton un peu distant qu’elle prenait pour parler aux clients:

                  "Allez-vous prendre un dessert?"

                  Jean se souleva à demi sur les coudes, carra ses fortes épaules et planta dans les yeux de la jeune fille un regard d’impatience et de gaminerie.

                  "Non, mais toi, tu m’as pas encore dit si je serais le lucky guy ce soir.  Tu y penses depuis dix minutes; qu’est-ce que tu as décidé?  Oui  ou non, viens-tu aux vues avec moi?"

                  Dans les prunelles vertes de Florentine, il vit déferler une colère impuissante.  Cependant elle abaissait déjà les paupières.  Et elle dit d’une voix tout à la fois fâchée, lamentable et qui voulait encore être conciliante:

                  "Pourquoi ce que j’irais aux vues avec vous, moi?  Je vous connais pas, moi!  Je sais-t-y qui vous êtes, moi!"

Gabrielle Roy, Bonheur d’occasion

Tout m’avale

                  Je suis seule.  Je n’ai qu’à me fermer les yeux pour m’en apercevoir.  Quand on veut savoir où on est, on se ferme les yeux.  On est là où on est quand on a les yeux fermés: on est dans le noir et dans le vide.  Il y a ma mère, mon père, mon frère Christian, Constance Chlore.  Mais ils ne sont pas là où je suis quand j’ai les yeux fermés.  Là où je suis quand j’ai les yeux fermés, il n’y a personne, il n’y a jamais que moi.

Réjean Ducharme, L’Avalée des avalés

Une maudite vie plate

LES QUATRES AUTRES.-    J’me lève, pis j’prépare le déjeuner!  Des toasts, du café, du bacon, des oeufs.
                  J’ai d’la misère que l’yable à réveiller mon monde.  Les enfants partent pour l’école, mon mari
                  s’en va travailler.

MARIE-ANGE BROUILLETTE- Pas le mien, y est chômeur.  Y reste couché.

LES QUATRES FEMMES- Là, là, j’travaille comme une enragée jusqu’à midi.  J’lave.  Les robes, les jupes,
                  les bas, les chandails, les pantalons, les canneçons, les brassières, tout y passe!  Pis frotte, pis
                  tord, pis refrotte, pis rince…C’t’écoeurant, j’ai les mains rouges, j’t’écoeurée.  J’sacre.  A midi,
                  les enfants reviennent.  Ça mange comme des cochons, ça revire la maison à l’envers, pis ça
                  repart!  L’après-midi, j’étends.  Ça c’est mortel!  J’hais ça comme une bonne!  Après, j’prépare
                  le souper.  Le monde reviennent, y ont l’air bête, on se chicane!  Pis le soir, on regarde la télé
                  vision!  Mardi!

Michel Tremblay, les Belles-Soeurs

Soir d’hiver

Ah! comme la neige a neigé!
Ma vitre est un jardin de givre.
Ah! comme la neige a neigé!
Qu’est-ce que le spasme de vivre
A la douleur que j’ai, que j’ai!
Tous les étangs gisent gelés,
Mon âme est noire.  Où vis-je?  où vais-je?
Tous ses espoirs gisent gelés:
Je suis la nouvelle Norvège
D’où les blonds ciels s’en sont allés […….]

Emile Nelligan, Oeuvres complètes

Cage d’oiseau

Je suis une cage d’oiseau
Une cage d’os
Avec un oiseau
L’oiseau dans sa cage d’os
C’est la mort qui fait son nid


C’est un oiseau tenu captif
La mort dans ma cage d’os
Voudrait-il pas s’envoler
Est-ce vous qui le retiendrez
Est-ce moi
Qu’est-ce que c’est
Il ne pourra s’en aller
Qu’ après avoir tout mangé
Mon coeur
La source du sang
Avec la vie dedans
Il aura mon âme au bec.

Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau, Regards et jeux dans l’espace

Ma langue est l’Amérique

Ma langue est d’Amérique
Je suis né de ce paysage
J’ai pris souffle dans le limon du fleuve
Je suis la terre et je suis la parole
Le soleil se lève à la plante de mes pieds
Le soleil s’endort sous ma tête
Mes bras sont deux océans le long de mon corps
Le monde entier vient frapper à mes flancs

Gatien Lapointe, Ode au Saint-Laurent

Nos élèves parlent joual

                  Nos élèves parlent joual, écrivent joual et ne veulent pas parler ni écrire autrement.  Le joual est leur langue. [……]

                  Le joual est une langue désossée: les consonnes sont toutes escamotées, un peu comme dans les langues que parlent (je suppose, d’après certains disques) les danseuses des Iles-sous-le-Vent: oula-oula-alao-alao.  On dit: "chu pas apable", au lieu de: je ne suis pas capable; on dit "l’coach m’enweille cri les mit du gôleur", au lieu de: le moniteur m’envoie chercher les gants du gardien, etc. […….]

                  Cette absence de langue qu’est le joual est un cas de notre inexistence, à nous, les Canadiens français.  On n’étudiera jamais assez le langage.  Le langage est le lieu de toutes les significations.  Notre inaptitude à nous affirmer, notre refus de l’avenir, notre obsession du passé, tout cela se reflète dans la joual, qui est vraiment notre langue.

Jean-Paul Desbiens, les insolences du frère untel


Teachers of French are encouraged to introduce their students to Québec, our francophone neighbor to the north and to seek a sister school relationship with a CEGEP in the hopes of organizing homestay exchanges or e-pal relationships between the students.  Hopefully, this article will serve as a primer for those teachers who are unfamiliar with the history and the culture of the Québécois and motivate them to seek more information on their own.  In doing so, teachers will be implementing the Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities Strands of the Foreign Languages National Standards.

La bottine

La bottine souriante


1.     De Villers, Marie-Eva.  "A Strong Desire for Continuance."   The French Language in Quebec:  400 Years of History and Life.

2.     "Journée nationale des Patriotes."

3.     Laing, G.  "Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism."  The Canadian Encyclopedia.

4.     Mills, David.  "Durham Report."  The Canadian Encyclopedia.

5.     The French Language in Quebec:  400 years of History and Life.

6.     Tétu de Labsade, Françoise.  Le Québec: un pays, une culture.  Boréal/Seuil.  Québec.  1990

7.     Venne, Michel.  "Le Québec, laboratoire de l’altermondialisme?"  in  Koop, Marie-Christine Weidmann.  Le Québec à l’aube du nouveau millénaire.  Presse de l’Université du Québec. Québec.  2008.


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July 2009
Paris: Vieux et Neuf
By Beckie Bray

Beckie Bray travels often to Paris and, while there, she is a keen observer of the local culture. In this article, her second in a series of four, she focuses on the old and the new.

It's amazing how Paris can be vieux and neuf all at the same time. While walking from the Gare St Lazare to the Palais Royale, I take a route I have never chosen before and go from the modern train station and summer sales of Galeries Lafayette, Printemps, Gap, and Sephora to little alleyways and cobblestone streets. It is there that I realize how ironic the dichotomy can be.

I happen upon a square called Place Louis XVI. I learn from an inscription on the building that Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette are buried there or at least the area is a memorial to their lives. Beautiful architecture captures my attention as I walk around the little block to see if I can get into the building and see the displays. Being Monday, the building is closed, but I stroll around the perimeter to see the arches and figurines. As I saunter, I see both young and old individuals discussing all sorts of matters. There are older men debating politics on the bench I eventually share and they are just as opinionated as the girl on the next bench who is talking with her mom on the phone about her curfew.

I notice a sign outside a café that informs the public that it has WiFi. As I walk, I imagine for a moment WiFi availability in cafes in Paris during Louis XVI's reign. While he was at Versailles, Louis could have checked his yahoo finance account to see what the price of a baguette had become or maybe even e-mailed generals in America to see how much more help they needed with the war. The peasants could have surfed the web and signed an online petition demanding that Marie Antoinette buy fewer clothes.

My flashbacks in Place St Louis are interrupted as a car blasts its horn at a moto passing him on the right. I decide to hop on the metro at the stop closest to St Louis, Havre, to find a café on the Champs-Elysées. Once again, I recognize that the names of the modern metro stations are direct allusions to historical people, places, and events. It is a history lesson in itself to look up why stations are named as they are. In fact, it causes me pause when I descend into a metro station that I do not know the name from my culture lessons. What possessed the metro people to give a name like Defert-Rochereau to a large metro station? Who is he, anyway? This concept continues on to the street names, all of which have historical importance, yet modern structures border each side.

One can see the irony in the cafes, too. When ordering a crêpe suzette after a croquet monsieur, one enjoys rustic France at its best. However, when walking out of the brasserie, we are met with the golden arches of the American megachain.

As I leave the café and head towards the market, I prepare myself for a haggling match with an older population. Instead, I find myself face to face with a Palestinian man and his daughter who speak less French than I do and refuse to bargain. They are selling the same clothes I have seen at all the other flea markets and at the same prices. What happened to the markets of old? Nevertheless, as I walk into the indoor market and see the poissoniere giving cooking directions to a young mother for the salmon, I remember how much I love the antiquity of France.

The recent postcard says it all. There is a picture on the front with three cafes in a row. They are named Kabobs, Pizza, and Hagan Daz. Sometimes, though, the duality of the old and new helps me keep Paris real for my students; it is always a laugh to teach that the plus vieux bridge in Paris is Pont Neuf.

The author would like to thank Paula Gaffey, her student teaching mentor, and Marcel LaVergne, her best professor, for their wisdom and continuing support.

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The Francophone World as Seen Through the Eyes of Poets of the French Language
By Marcel LaVergne, Ed.D.

In this ever-shrinking world of internet communication, the opportunity for French teachers to research the French-speaking world is literally at one’s finger tips. A Google search of Writers of the French language, of French culture in the world, of the History of the French colonial empire, etc. will reveal numerous sources of information that once would have taken hours of research in a library. Having taken advantage of my leisure retirement hours to do such research, and knowing full well the pressing demands made on your time, I offer the following article to you as a way of expanding your curriculum and of satisfying the Cultures, Connections, and Communities strands of the Foreign Languages National Framework.

As a result of France having stretched its borders through exploration to the New World, its colonial empire in Africa, the Antilles, the Orient, and the Indian Ocean, French today is spoken in every country of the world and on every continent. It therefore makes sense that the French curriculum in our schools reflect that reality and that our students become aware of the history, ideas, opinions, and philosophies of those French-speakers who lived outside of France.

Because poetry is usually much shorter than prose although not necessarily easier to understand, I have chosen to focus on a few universal themes and to present them through the words of poets not of France but of the rest of the French-speaking world, hoping that you appreciate their beauty and their quality. To truly understand the sentiments expressed in these poems, I suggest that you consult the books that I reviewed and the articles that I published previously for the Culture Club about French in Africa, Louisiana, and New England.... Download entire article

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Le Métro
By Beckie Bray

Beckie Bray travels often to Paris and, while there, she is a keen observer of the local culture. In this article, her first in a series of four, she focuses on le Métro. She explains how important it is for the Parisians and how it differs significantly from the métro in Washington, DC.

Le metroLe métro parisien a été créé pour faire plaisir aux voyageurs de Paris. En fait, les règles et méthodes que l'on suit aux Etats-Unis ne se voient pas du tout. Par exemple, à DC, manger est interdit même sur les quais. A Paris, il y a à chaque station et gare un distributeur des goûts et boissons – les gâteaux, les bouteilles d'eau, des cocas, etc. De plus, dans les grandes gares, il y a un appareil pour vendre le café! Ainsi, il y a des règles d’étiquette bien suivies là qui n’existent pas ici. Là, il est normal de laisser la place à une vieille dame ou d’ouvrir la porte si c’est nécessaire.

Les heures de métro sont convenables aussi ; pendant la semaine, le métro est disponible de 5h30 à 1h00, les week-ends jusqu'au 2h00. Il y a des noctiliens qui sont gratuits (sauf ceux qui suivent les lignes RER) et qui arrivent fréquemment. Si l'autobus n'attend pas à l'arrêt, il y a un panneau indicateur qui indique combien de minutes d'attente comme dans les stations de métro. Il y a des guichets qui s'ouvrent à 1h00 pour aider les couche-tard à trouver de bonnes places.

Parce que pousser les limites est un sport national de la France, sauter les composteurs et aller deux à la fois est facile, parce que les guichets dans les stations sont installés pour qu'on ne puisse pas voir qui y passe. Encore, l’étiquette dit que si on est demandé, on laisse passer avec soi les gens qui sautent.

En parlant de la loi, la Police a une grande présence à Paris ; ils font le ménage de Paris dans les zones touristiques. Aussi, les nuits, on trouve la Police partout sur les rues dans les voitures marquées et cachées, dans les bateaux sur la Seine, à moto, à pied, et dans les trains. On n'a jamais peur la nuit parce qu'ils sont toujours là, même sur le métro et les lignes RER il y a des contrôleurs qui regardent le composte des billets et aussi la Police qui fait le tour des lignes pour arrêter les malins. Le jour, on voit les pickpockets qui profitent des touristes et la nuit, il y a des voitures dans le métro avec seulement deux ou trois personnes ce qui veut dire que de temps en temps, on est seule avec un autre. Savoir que la Police est là est très rassurant.

L'arrangement des stations est aussi important. Au centre ville, on ne trouve pas une station loin de l'autre. En fait, il y a des entrées partout qui sont bien marquées pour que l'on puisse monter dans une bonne station. À cause des 16 lignes de métro, de temps en temps, on veut trouver une station qui n'est pas la plus proche pour avoir un chemin direct. Si ça arrive, il y a toujours les panneaux indicateurs pour indiquer où les autres se trouvent ; les stations ont toujours les plans de Paris par métro, RER, bus, bateau-bus, et par arrondissement et attraction.

Comme chaque bon truc, il y a du mauvais aussi. Par exemple, l'été à Paris il fait chaud et avec tous les touristes, les trains sont bien chauffés ! Même s'il n'y a pas de climatisation dans les voitures, il y a des fenêtres qui s'ouvrent pour respirer. De plus, il y a des arrêts non-prévus, les redirections, et les trains directs. Quand il y a un train qui va changer, généralement il est bien marqué, soit à la gare, soit par haut-parleur. Finalement, il n'y a qu'une seule ligne à éviter – le RER D. Mais, il n'y a rien là pour les touristes, alors rien à craindre.

Il est difficile de se perdre sur les trains, mais au cas où l'on n'est pas sûr, il y a toujours quelqu'un à demander ; les Parisiens connaissent le système très bien, même s'ils ne parlent pas aux étrangers. Donc, ne vous inquiétez pas si vous conduisez toujours chez vous – agissez comme un vrai parisien et prenez le métro !

Rebekah Bray is the Curriculum Coordinator and Department Chair of World Languages at Friendship Collegiate Academy, a charter school in Washington, DC. Every summer she finds an excuse to spend time in Paris; this past summer it was to "meet some real Parisians" and meet them she did! Her Rolodex now includes ambassadors, gang members, waiters, police officers, and missionaries. She would like to dedicate this series to Paula Gaffey, her student teaching mentor, and to Marcel LaVergne, her best professor.

The Paris Métro

Le metroLe métropolitain of Paris was created for the enjoyment of the travelers of Paris. In fact, the rules and methods followed in the United States are not even applicable. For example, in Washington, DC, eating is prohibited even on the platforms. In Paris, at each station there are vending machines for drinks and snacks alike – cookies, water bottles, soda, etc. Furthermore, in the larger stations, they have automatic coffee machines! Also, there are etiquette rules closely followed there that do not exist in America. There, it is normal to allow the elderly to take your seat or open a door for someone if necessary.

Even the métro hours are more convenient in Paris: during the week, the métro is open from 5:30AM until 1:00AM, and until 2:00AM on weekends. Also, the noctiliens, or night buses, are free unless following the lines of the RER and arrive frequently. If the bus is not at the stop already waiting, there is an electronic board indicating the time of the next arrival just like in every métro station. At 1:00AM, ticket booths open up to answer any noctilien questions.

Because pushing limits is the second national sport of France, jumping the turn styles and going through two at a time is easy, since the ticket windows are situated so that the attendants cannot see who passes through each time. There is even an etiquette rule regarding les sauteurs - you allow them to walk through the gate with you.

Speaking of the law, the Police have a visual presence in Paris – they « do the housework » for Paris in all of the tourist zones. At night, one sees the police around town on the roads in marked and non-marked vehicles, in boats on the Seine, on bikes, walking, and in trains. Therefore, there is no need to fear at night because they are always there, especially on the métro and RER lines where the contrôleurs watch for validated tickets and security prevents difficult situations between passengers. During the day, the pickpockets are notorious for targeting tourists and at night one could be alone or with a few people on the métro. It is during these times that knowing the police are nearby is comforting.

The métro map and station placement are also important. Downtown, one finds métros every few blocks. In fact, the prolific entrances are well marked as to easily find the correct station. With sixteen métro lines, sometimes it is easier to walk an extra block to avoid making several transfers. If this is the case, there are always many signs indicating where the other station entrances are. Additionally, there are several maps in each station for public transit (métro, RER, bus, boat bus) as well as the local streets and attractions.

Like every silver cloud, there is a grey lining. For example, Paris in summer is hot, and with all the tourists, the trains are warm! Even if there is no air conditioning in the cars, there are windows that catch the breeze. Also, there are unpredictable stops, redirections, and non-stop trains. When a train differs from a traditional route, it is well marked, be it through signs at the station or on the loudspeaker. Finally, there is one line to avoid – the D line on the RER. Luckily, tourists have no need to take this line, so do not fear.

It is difficult to be lost in the métro system, but in the case there is uncertainty, there is always someone to ask; Parisians know the system very well even if they choose to not speak with tourists. So, do not worry if you always drive where you are from – act like a true Parisian and use the métro!

Rebekah Bray is the Curriculum Coordinator and Department Chair of World Languages at Friendship Collegiate Academy, a charter school in Washington, DC. Every summer she finds an excuse to spend time in Paris; this past summer it was to "meet some real Parisians" and meet them she did! Her Rolodex now includes ambassadors, gang members, waiters, police officers, and missionaries. She would like to dedicate this series to Paula Gaffey, her student teaching mentor, and to Marcel LaVergne, her best professor.

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The French Writers of New England
Marcel LaVergne Ed.D.

"Les Franco-Américains sont les citoyens des Etats-Unis, descendants des Canadiens-Français, en majorité Québécois, mais comptant aussi quelques Acadiens, qui émigrèrent vers les Etats-Unis (et principalement vers la Nouvelle-Angleterre) à partir de la seconde moitié du dix-neuvième siècle. " (France-Louisiane Franco-Américanie)

Note : Two books on this topic are reviewed in the Library: Jeanne la fileuse and Canuck.

The History of my People

As a child, I grew up in a Franco-American household, went to a Franco-American church and attended a Franco-American parochial school where one half of the day was spent in French and the other half in English. Although I grew up bilingual in Massachusetts and became a French teacher, I never really knew anything about my Franco-American heritage.

As a third generation transplanted Québécois whose grandparents were born in Quebec and whose parents were born in Minnesota (my father) and in Massachusetts (my mother), like so many of my peers, I refused to speak French in public. In fact, I was ashamed of being a French speaker and my memories of that time are mostly negative. Most of my grandparents’ and parents’ generation were mill workers for whom an education was for the rich. So many of us were ridiculed because we spoke English with a French accent, had difficulty pronouncing the letter "h", and were called "Canuck", "Frenchy", or "frog" by those outside of our ethnic group. There was tremendous pressure to join the "melting pot" and to speak English and to become "American."

Download entire article with lists of novels, poetry, theatre authors, excerpts, images, and more!

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French Writers of Louisiana
By Marcel LaVergne, Ed.D.

As a former French teacher, I regret the fact that I introduced very few examples of works written in French by Louisianians. I taught what I knew: France and Quebec. Although I included some history of Louisiana and of the Acadians, the only examples of creative works consisted in a couple of Cajun songs.

The National Foreign Language Standards became an impetus for me to do more in the area of Cultures, Connections, and Communities. Consequently, I incorporated French Africa, the French Antilles, and Indochina into my curriculum so that my students could see the breadth and the width of French culture in the world. In short, I began to see my obligation not to France but to La Francophonie. Sadly, I retired before I could include the many fine writers of Louisiana and I hope that this article will encourage some of my readers to pursue this topic on their own. To that end, I offer this blueprint.

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Black Writers of the French Language
By Marcel LaVergne Ed.D.

france senegal mali
La France Le Sénégal Le Mali


Prior to the formulation of the National Standards for Foreign Language Learning, the focus of many secondary school French classes was teaching words and verbs and grammatical accuracy.  Culture was often an afterthought or a separate subject. Then ACTFL published a Standards-based curriculum which included Standard 2: Cultures:  Gain Knowledge and Understanding of Other Cultures and Standard 3: Connections: Connect with other Disciplines and Acquire Knowledge.

These Standards paved the way for teachers of French to expose their students to a wide array of French language masterpieces and to a greater understanding of France’s influence in the world.

Unlike Spanish teachers who teach the Hispanic World, we, French teachers, have mostly confined our sights to la belle France and have widely neglected the world known as la Francophonie. Other than some token samples of African or Québécois prose and poetry, our students are mainly exposed to le génie de la langue française of France. How much more interesting and informative our lessons would be if our students were to go beyond the physical frontiers of L’Hexagone and discover le génie de la langue française as it exists throughout the world. How many of them know that French is spoken in some 40 countries and manifests itself in very beautiful creative writings by authors who are largely unknown to them? Through those authors, our students would discover the history, traditions, beliefs, and artifacts of those other countries that make up la Francophonie.  Albeit French in expression, they possess their own soul and mind. As a beneficial by-product, our students would also learn the geography of the former French Colonial Empire.


Concentrating on one aspect of the former French Colonial Empire and satisfying the Connections Strand of the National Standards, from a historical point of view, our students would learn that four centuries ago in 1517 France began to enslave black Africans and that in 1885 the vast continent of Africa was apportioned between the British Empire, France, Belgium, Germany, and Portugal.

Consequently, Africa was introduced to western civilization by force and not by choice. Because the colonizers’ mission was to civilize the “barbarians” who lived in those lands, the enlightened Whites sought to remake the black inhabitants according to the western mode by imposing their value system: justice, education, religion, etiquette, architecture, language, dress, without any regard for the history, traditions, and beliefs that shaped the black natives for centuries. Inevitably, to be educated, the black Africans had to reject their own culture and adopt that of the white Europeans. But no matter how educated the former became, the Whites were still superior in every aspect, and, in the case of the French Colonial Empire, the Africans were still les nègres. It’s ironic that the French motto of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité did not apply to the Blacks of French Africa.

Because of the doctrine of assimilation (similar to the Melting Pot Theory of the United States), it was only natural that Paris, with its many fine schools, museums, and cultural centers, attracted many young black intellectuals from Africa, the Antilles, Madagascar, and the United States.  In fact, in the 1920’s, Paris had become the center of black culture in Europe, and it was there that those students met, became friends, and exchanged ideas. They developed a common bond: although they came from different countries, they shared one thing in common: Africa.

Disenchantment with colonialism and assimilation led to the first novel dedicated to exposing the evils of those systems with the publication in 1921 of René Maron’s Batouala. Maron of French Guyana won the Prix Goncourt for his efforts which caused a scandal in France.

In 1922, the Americans Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Countee Cullen, and others published a Negro Manifesto which stated: “We younger Negro artists now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they aren’t, it doesn’t matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too…If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesn’t matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow, as strong as we know how and we stand on the top of the mountain, free within ourselves.” (Jackson)

This attention to their Blackness by the writers of the Harlem-Renaissance greatly influenced the Franco-African community of Paris and, in the 1930’s, the black students from the French Antilles studying in Paris met and became friends with other black students from Africa and Madagascar. They soon discovered their common heritage: they were all products of colonialism; their ancestors suffered slavery, subjugation, and assimilation; they spoke the language and adopted the values of the colonizer.  As they discussed further, they also realized that they had the same goal: to be respected as Blacks from a Black world. They were not white and no longer wanted to behave as if they were.

Their discussions produced the publication in 1931 of a 6-issue journal entitled La Revue du Monde Noir under the direction of Paulette Nardal and Léo Sanjoux that became a vehicle for them to express their opinions. This was followed in 1932 by a one-issue journal entitled Légitime Défense under the leadership of Etienne Léro, Jules Monnérat, and René Ménil in which they went one step further and condemned the notion of colonialism and proclaimed the dignity of Black African culture.

Until then, the Black French African writers adhered to the rules and the style of writing of their French masters whom they imitated:  the Classiques, the Romantiques, the Parnassiens, and the Symbolistes.  This manifesto decried the fact that there was no trace of African culture to be found in the writings of their predecessors and contemporaries. Influenced by Marxism politically (Bolshevism : Colonialism : proletariat : subjugated), they wanted their writings to reflect Black African cultures, values, and style. They proclaimed pride in their African origins and no longer wanted to be assimilated into the culture of the West. Their writings had to be authentic and not simply imitations.  They no longer wanted to be Black men hiding behind white masks. It was, in a way, a declaration of war, provoking a violent reaction from the French government who terminated the publication of any future issues.

But the seed was sewn and, in 1934, Léopold Senghor from le Sénégal, Aimé Césaire from la Martinique, and Léon Damas from la Guyanne launched L’étudiant noir and gave birth in 1935 to the movement known as La Négritude. Rather than advocate a political revolution, these young students advanced the cause of a cultural revolution.  Césaire first coined the term négritude  which he explained as C’est le fait d’être Noir et l’acceptation de ce fait, de son destin de Noir, de son histoire et de sa culture. Senghor defined it as Ce sont les valeurs culturelles du monde noir, l’esprit de la civilisation africaine. Damas indicated that c’est le fait de défendre sa qualité de Nègre.  Later, Senghor wrote that  La Négritude est le patrimoine culturel, les valeurs et surtout l’esprit de la civilisation négro-africaine. (Kesteloot 1975) . After 4 centuries of subjugation, the Black man wanted to live in his own skin, wanted to breathe out his own creativity, and wanted all to know that he was proud of his Blackness. Because of these three, known affectionately as les trois pères, the term nègre was no longer a pejorative term and they proclaimed it proudly in their writings. The message that they gave to la civilization occidentale was that les jeunes nègres d’aujourd’hui ne veulent ni asservissement ni assimilation. Ils veulent émancipation. (Kesteloot 1975) This emancipation was not a complete break away from France but a rejection of the whiteness of their blackness.

In 1947, the group of students expanded and, under the leadership of Alioune Diop, the journal Présence africaine made its debut. It soon became and is still a strong advocate for Black/French voices in France and in Africa. No longer would the White man impose his way of life and sense of values on the Black man. Diop defines la négritude as ce n’est autre que le génie noir et en même temps la volonté d’en révéler la dignité. (Kesteloot 1975) According to him, the revolution must be both political and cultural culminating in independence for all black nations.

Finally, in 1948, Senghor published L’Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malgache de langue française which introduced to the French-speaking world the unique literature of the proponents of la Négritude. It announced that the Blacks no longer merely produced works in imitation of their white counterparts, but that their writings reflected the value system of Africa and its people. In spite of 4 centuries of colonialism, the assimilation tended to be on the surface only, because the black person never shed his black essence. The main difference between Africa and Europe, according to Senghor, is that (l)a raison européenne est analytique par utilisation, la raison nègre intuitive par participation. C’est dire la sensibilité de l’Homme noir, sa puissance d’émotion. Mais ce qui saisit le Nègre, c’est moins l’apparence de l’objet que sa réalité profonde, sa surréalité; moins son signe que son sens. (Joubert 1992)

In addition to learning about these writers, our students will become aware of the role that these writers played in the dismantling of the French-African colonial empire. Although Haiti gained its independence in 1804, it wasn’t until 1946 that, thanks to the indefatigable work of Aimé Césaire, la Martinique, la Guadeloupe, la Réunion, and la Guyanne Française, attained the status of départements d’outre-mer (DOM) with all the rights and privileges of French citizens. The independence of the African continent began in 1960 and Senghor was elected president of the independent Republic of Senegal. Although the goal of la Négritude was to achieve cultural independence, in reality it changed the face of the earth. France itself recognized this momentous achievement when, on March 29 1984, it inducted Léopold Senghor into the prestigious Académie française, thereby conferring legitimacy to that magnificent literature.

benin guinee niger togo
Le Bénin La Guinée Le Niger Le Togo


The themes that figure the most prominently in the writings of those Black writers of the French language are the following:

  1. The cruelty of slavery which the French began in 1517 and abolished in 1848.
  2.  L’esclavage de tes enfants
    Afrique dis-moi Afrique
    Est-ce donc toi ce dos qui se courbe
    Et se couche sous le poids de l’humilité
    Ce dos tremblant à zébrures rouges
    Qui dit oui au fouet sur la route de MIDI…
    (David Diop, Afrique, Coups de Pilon)

  3. The deleterious effects of colonialism which gave rise to racism:

    Tu sais, Négro, moi je ne suis pas raciste…mais j’ai ma petite philosophie, bien à moi. Voilà : Dieu a créé les Blancs d’un côté, et les Noirs de l’autre. Les Blancs ne sont pas des Noirs et surtout les Noirs ne peuvent être les Blancs. Donc, les uns et les autres doivent rester à leur place. Or, le monde étant créé tel qu’il est, il faut que les uns soient patrons et les autres  serviteurs. Les Blancs ayant choisi d’être les patrons, les Noirs doivent se contenter d’être les serviteurs. Et ça, c’est le moyen d’avoir la paix dans le monde.
    (Senouvo Agbota Zinsou, On joue la comédie)

  4. The destructive results of assimilation:
  5. ...Saint-Louis est la capitale des mulâtresses, leur univers fermé d’où elles entrevoient la belle et douce France. La belle et douce France, objets de soupirs énamourés, patrie perdue.

    A Saint-Louis, l’élément mulâtre se distingue nettement de l’élément noir. On dirait les immigrants d’une race d’aristocrates déchus vivant dans un perpétuel effort pour en imposer à leur entourage, les Nègres.

    Ce que la nature n’a pas voulu faire, la poudre le réalise à la perfection. Quelle merveilleuse chose pour se blanchir! Les mulâtresses chargent leur figure et leur cou de cette poudre qui, chez l’Européenne, était peut-être faite pour rehausser l’éclat de la blancheur naturelle. 
    (Abdoulaye Sadji, Nini)

  6. The authenticity and the dignity of African civilization.
  7. …Mais en affirmant la présence de l’Afrique avec toutes ses contradictions et sa foi en l’avenir, en luttant par ses écrits pour la fin du régime colonial, le créateur noir d’expression française contribue à la renaissance de nos cultures nationales.
    (David Diop, Préface de Coups de Pilon)

  8. Pride in one’s origins.
  9. …je n’ai pas bougé
    D’un pas
    Car homme aux cheveux brûlés
    A la peau brûlée
    Au coeur brûlé couleur de brûlis
    Je brûle de refaire l’âme
    L’âme noire…
    L’âme noire!

    (René Philombe, Sur la tombe de mon père)

  10. The common bond that all Blacks share.
  11. La Martinique est double et nous, Martiniquais, nous vivons dans un monde de fausseté; il nous faut retrouver la vérité de notre être…Tout naturellement, j’ai débouché sur la poésie, parce que c’était un moyen d’expression qui s’écartait du discours rationnel. La poésie, telle que je la concevais – que je la conçois encore – c’était la plongée dans la vérité de l’être. Si notre être superficiel est européen, et plus précisément français, je considère que notre vérité profonde est africaine. Il s’agissait de retrouver notre être profond et de l’exprimer par le verbe : c’était forcément une poésie abyssale. 

    (Aimé Césaire)

Some teachers may not feel comfortable introducing such topics, but they do belong to the history and literature of France as well as that of the United States. As is true with all colonial powers, our students will learn that some atrocities were done and continue to be done in the name of assimilation.  Hopefully by reading the works of those Black African authors, they will feel the nausée, haine, et colère of Léon Damas, the pride of being black of Césaire and the lack of blame for whites that Senghor feels as he hopes that les valeurs noires et les valeurs occidentales s’épurent l’une et l’autre et ne conservent que leurs caractères excellents, pour arriver à une harmonieuse fusion. (Kesteloot 1975)

So, as we focus on France in our classrooms, it is important to consider exactly what constitutes France.  Is it to be defined only by its products, practices, and perspectives as they exist within its physical boundaries or should it include its reach into the world? The National Standards recommend the latter.
burkina cameroun rwanda
Le Burkina-Faso Le Cameroun Le Rwanda


Jackson, Andrew P.
Joubert, Jean-Louis, ed. Littérature Francophone, anthologie. Nathan, Paris. 1992.
________, Littératures francophones d’Afrique de l’Ouest, anthologie. Nathan, Paris. 1994.
Kesteloot, Lilyan. Les écrivains noirs de langue française : naissance d’une littérature.
Editions de l’Université de Bruxelles. 1975.
_______,  Anthologie négro-africaine : Histoire et textes de 1918 à nos jours. Nouvelle
édition. EDICEF. 1997.
Thompson, Peter. Négritude et Nouveaux Mondes, Anthologie de la poésie noire :
africaine, antillaise, malgache. Wayside Publishing. Concord MA. 1994.
Volet, J. ed. « Lire les femmes écrivains et les littératures africaines »,

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Does du pain in French mean bread in English? Teaching Vocabulary in the Cultural Mode
By Marcel LaVergne Ed.D.


When the Foreign Language National Standards introduced us to the 5 Cs, (Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, Communities), we, the foreign language teachers, were being asked to look at our subject in a revolutionary new way. It was a proclamation that, once and for all, we divorce ourselves from the grammar-translation and the audio-lingual approaches and that we say goodbye to vocabulary lists and to grammar rules, that is, to abandon the strictly linguistic approach to teaching language.

When teaching vocabulary, we must now go beyond the dictionary meaning, (a.k.a the literal linguistic meaning) and also consider the cultural connotation of words. It's not enough to say that bread is pain in French because any traveler to France knows that that is not accurate. To the average American, bread is Wonder Bread, but if one were to visualize du pain, the image would be so different. The Cultures Strand tells us that the American student must not only know that the French equivalent for bread is du pain but must also see that difference. His mind must not see sliced bread in a plastic wrapper but a baguette.

Culture is not a separate entity to be taught apart. It transcends every word that we teach because every word is either a description of a product, or part of a practice, or the essence of a perspective. Let us consider again the French word le pain. It is a created thing (product) that is kept whole (practice) because it must be eaten fresh (perspective). But bread (product) is usually sliced and wrapped and contains preservatives (practice) because Americans do not have the time to buy bread every day (practice) because they are too busy (perspective).

And so there is more to le pain than meets the literal eye. When teaching vocabulary, we must consider both the linguistic and the cultural dimensions, if we want our students to truly understand that, although bread and du pain are linguistic equivalents, culturally they are quite different. Consequently, looking up words in the dictionary is not enough because it gives only half the picture. In this case, half a loaf is not better than none!

Take the following test: When you consider the following words, what does an American see and what does a French person see?:

A cup of coffee un café (an espresso)
The first floor le premier étage (second floor)
The first day of the week le premier jour de la semaine (Monday)
Bathroom la salle de bain (no toilet)
10 miles 10 kilomètres (shorter distance than 10 miles)
Size 7 shoes chaussures á la pointure 7 (very tiny shoes)
I'm full je suis pleine (expecting a baby)
The wedding ceremony la cérémonie de mariage (civil ceremony)
The train leaves at 4 Le train part á 4 heures (4 a.m.)
Apple pie La tarte aux pommes (sliced glazed apples on top)
The bus le bus (public transportation in the city)
Greyhound bus le car (transportation between cities)
A car une voiture (usually small, and gas efficient)

If the student, upon hearing the French word la voiture sees the American picture, a large gas guzzling SUV or the soccer mom's minivan, or un café is a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee, then he does not know what la voiture or un café really are. When teaching vocabulary, the teacher must include the cultural connotation in addition to the linguistic equivalent. This can be done if the words are framed in terms of the 3 Ps: Product (what?); Practice (how?); Perspective (why?) as illustrated below:

A. School-Related Vocabulary

1. High school, le lycée

In the USA, high school, which consists of four years, is usually a tax-supported comprehensive school designed to prepare students for further education or the world of work.
In France, le lycée, also tax-supported, is an examination entrance school attended by the top students destined for l'université.

Americans believe that every student has the right to attend college. In France, only the best academic students are admitted to l'université.

2. School schedule, l'emploi du temps

The American high school schedule means 5-6 subjects that meet every day, for the same amount of time, but for the French l'emploi du temps is much more similar to the American college schedule.

In the USA, the assembly-line mentality prevails and students must be held accountable for every minute spent in the school building. All subjects are treated equally and are scheduled for 50 to 60 minutes.
In France, students are expected to be in school only when they have a scheduled class and some subjects are considered more important than others and are scheduled accordingly.

3. Report card, le bulletin

To an American, a report card means a B+ or a C-, but to a French student, le bulletin means grades of 8/10 or 17/20.

In the USA, each subject is a separate, independent entity that must be passed in order to advance to the next level of that subject.
In France, each subject is a part of the whole and the student must reach a minimum number of total points in order to advance to the next grade.

4. After school, après l'école

To an American high school student, after school means sports, extra-curricular activities, or a part-time job that begins at 3:00 p.m., but to a French student, it means leaving school at 5:00 p.m. to go home to study. Often, the American will drive his/her own car, but the French student will walk, ride a bike, take a bus, or a train.

In the USA, a student must become a well-rounded individual involved in more than academics and must earn enough money to pay for his/her own expenses and to save for college.
In France, the student's full-time job is to study because academics are the most important aspect of his/her life if he/she is to succeed. Higher education is usually much more affordable and so there is no need to work. Very few French students own a car.

5. Sports, le sport

To an American student, football is an inter-school rivalry, but to a French student, le foot is an inter-town rivalry.

In the USA, sports are an equal adjunct to academics and are a vital contribution to school spirit.
In France, they are part of the physical education program and are intra-mural.

B. Civics-related vocabulary

1. Government, le gouvernement

The United States is composed of 50 states, directed by an elected governor, but France is divided into 100 départements, governed by an appointed préfet.

The USA is made up of 50 independent states, each with its own constitution. That each state has certain rights to self-government is indicated by the fact that the government leaders are elected by the people of the state and are independent of the federal government.
France is one nation divided into 100 federal districts called département managed by a préfet appointed by the president of the country. These districts have no right to self-government. They are part of the federal bureaucracy.

2. To vote, voter

To an American, voting day is Tuesday, but the French vote on le dimanche.

In the USA, voting is considered a civic duty but the government makes it inconvenient to accomplish by making it a part of a normal workday.
In France, voting is also a civic obligation but the government makes it convenient by scheduling it on a non-work day.

C. Leisure time-related vocabulary

1. Lunch, le déjeuner

To most Americans, whether urban, suburban, or rural, lunch lasts from 30 to 60 minutes and restaurants stay open all day, but in provincial France, lunch takes place at home and lasts 2 hours. Most restaurants shut down from 14 heures to 17 heures 30.

In the USA, time is money and lunch is just a break from work.
In France, lunch is an important rest time and a very important social and family occasion.

2. Vacation, les vacances

To an American worker, vacation means 2 weeks off after 1 year, 3 weeks after 5 years, to be taken mostly during the summer, but to a French worker, les vacances means 5 weeks off in August.

In the USA, a vacation must be earned by putting in the time. It is a benefit.
In France, les vacances are a birthright.


Rather than teaching vocabulary in thematic lists, i.e., the family, fruits, professions, etc., the Cultures Strand advocates we teach it in its proper cultural context. A rose by any other name might still be a rose, but calling bread, du pain, or lunch, le déjeuner, may be linguistically accurate, but it does not recognize the many different varieties of roses.

Each word has its own particular cultural referent which must be included if students are to truly learn another language. It's only through the culture that full comprehension is possible.

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A Passion for France and French Culture -Why I Study French

We language teachers usually have a passion for the language and the culture that we teach. Our ardent desire is to pass this passion on to our students. We, of course, know that inspiring all of our students is impossible. We'd be happy if we could inspire at least one!

Do some students develop a passion because of the way we teach or because of an interest that came from somewhere else? Here is an account written by a young woman who has fallen in love with the language and people of France. She explains how her interest blossomed.

Why I Study French
By Emily Loebelson


When I was five years old, my mother taught me the song "ai du bon tabac" and we used to sing it together. It was only years later I figured out what the words meant. I had actually been singing a little French ditty about snuff. I began my formal study of French at the age of nine. By then I had already learned the French words for the colors and numbers. I also knew many phrases that I had picked up from the Georges Moustaki and Edith Piaf songs that were played at top volume on weekends at my house. I looked forward to studying French at school, thinking myself well prepared. But when I entered the class, my battle began.

I toiled with my classmates, struggling to formulate basic thoughts. I learned how to tell Jean-Paul that the sun was shining or Patrice that I was quite tired. I was painfully conscious of every word that came out of my mouth. I grew frustrated. I didn't really enjoy French class most of the time. The only fond memories I have of high school French classes are the hilariously funny French movies we watched occasionally and the delicious Belgian chocolates that our teacher sometimes passed out. My interest in French did not wane, however.

When I was sixteen, I went to France for the first time. I attended a summer program at the CAREL in Royan. I was finally able to go beyond the structured classroom. I was in an authentic environment! I lived with a French family. My host mother and I often lingered over lunch, discussing all the out of date things I had learned in my textbook. I marveled at my host sister who was only eighteen but already training specifically for her chosen profession. I chatted with my new French friends in outdoor cafés, marveling at how different it was from speaking French with my American classmates. I began to notice how, like most Americans, I stood away from others when speaking to them; my vigorous gesturing required more space.


I returned to the States in the fall of 2000 when the presidential campaign was in full swing. I noticed how the general American population felt threatened by a candidate's noticeable intellectual air. I looked longingly towards the French, who celebrated the intellectual and cultural aspects of society instead of shying away from them. I identified with these French values, and I envied the fact that they were prevalent among the general population.

I am now a university student, and I am especially thrilled that I am able to read great French literature in the original language. My mother once said, "When you can read, it opens up new worlds for you." I've found that the more languages you know, the more new worlds open up for you!

Because of my knowledge of French, I have access to art, literature, and people that I would never have had. Reading Jacques Pr�vert for the first time in high school, I saw that literature existed outside of Shakespeare and Steinbeck. In college I became immersed in Eug�nie Grandet, empathizing with the trapped world of a nineteenth century heiress and her longing to be loved. Suddenly I could share in the worlds of Molière and Ronsard that had delighted and entertained French royalty and had been discussed in pre-revolutionary salons.

My mother had sparked my interest in French when I was only five. My French classes in elementary and secondary school kept this interest alive. Personal experiences in France increased my enthusiasm exponentially. My university experience has convinced me that French will always be one of the great passions of my life.

Emily Loebelson is currently a student at the George Washington University in Washington, DC.

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