Having secured a place to stay, I decided it would be good to learn French before I went, so I signed up at L’Alliance Francaise down on Young Street, in Halifax. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s so much fun!
I’m in debutante deux (wow, I didn’t know I could be a debutante after all this time — but it just means “beginner, level 2”). Here’s their website: http://www.af.ca/halifax/.
My class of four was the most multi-cultural I’ve ever experienced. There was Nadia, from St. Lucia (where I think they speak French); Samantha, from Caracas, Venezuela (where French was very popular with one of the rulers at one time and widely spoken); Maria, from Beirut, Lebanon, where French has been spoken for a long time. (Beruit has been called the Middle Eastern Paris); myself, dual citizen U.S. and Canada, and our professeur, Isabel, who is also the Directorix of L’Alliance (AF) in Halifax and is from Paris.
AF also promotes French culture. On the first Friday evening of the month they show a documentary with vin et frommage afterwards and on the last Friday a fiction-type movie with the same socializing. French is spoken, but everyone is very friendly, so you don’t have to be fluent, but just open and willing to discuss whatever comes up — in French.
I went to a mini-immersion just before I left where I learned how to play Petanque, also known as boules (or bowls). Here’s a link to a You Tube video of what Petanque is like (though not as fun as our game).
We were taught by Clemon, fresh from Paris. He was very French, tall, thin, with spikey dark brown hair and a winning way. He told me that he’d just come back from a French teaching stint in India. There are 62 branches of L’Alliance Francaise, promoting the French language and culture around the world.
Clemon showed us the requisite hat you wear (kind of floppy fedora type), the equipment (a small ball (about 2 inches in diameter called a cochonette), and at least three heavy metal balls with distinctive markings on the different sets, that team members toss to try to get as close as possible to the clochonette. The game seemed to me to be a cross between bocci ball and curling (without the ice).
It’s also required to drink “Pastis or Pernod,” which is a very tasty delicate anise wine. He brought a bottle from Paris for us. After learning the rudiments, we filled our plastic cups with pastis and walked down Young Street, in front of the Hydrostone market and then went into the back lane, where we played petanque, drank our Pisso, and shouted suitable commentary in French. Dishwashers and cooks peeked out from the restaurants on their smoke breaks to cheer us on.
I also went and saw Pascale McKeever’s play about three people who spoke different kinds of French, (Parisian, Quebequoise, and Acadian) at the de Mauier theatre in Halifax. It was in French, no subtitles. It wasn’t easy to follow I have to say and I looked blank a good bit of the time, but it was fun.
I brought my textbook, and flip cards with me on my journey. My favourite phrase to use when speaking with a French person became: “Je prefer a parlez le Francaise quand je suis en France, mais je suis soulement une debutante trois.” the person would laugh and then help me out, though I did have trouble one time when I was visiting the Tuileries Garden standing next to Auguste Rodin’s The Kiss * and looking across the Seine and asked two what looked like gendarmes what that green building was. I kept calling it a “Maison verte, i.e., for me, a “green house.” They didn’t really get what I was asking, but then I heard them mention the word “drapeau” (flag) and said”ou, oui” it had a flag on top of it; turned out to be Le grande Palais (oops).
- * The story and history of “The Kiss” is pretty interesting (with a rather sad plot).