Bonjour, Mon Ami
Story and photo by Ami B. Cadugan / Fiddlehead Contributing Writer
Parlez-vous Français? Then you might think of joining Prêt-à-Parler, a group of Francophones who gather each month to keep their knowledge and love of French vibrant and alive. Pourquoi pas?
Prêt-à-Parler, which means “ready to talk” in French, is hosted by the Franco-American Centre of Manchester.
According to Executive Director John Tousignant, “We are a very eclectic group of people. Everyone from third-generation West Siders (of Quebecois descent), to school-age French students, toddlers and even recent immigrants from Haiti and the Congo. Anyone who wants to practice speaking French and listen to French being spoken is welcome.”
The group meets the first Tuesday evening of each month at St. Anselm College’s Sullivan Arena, to practice speaking French and to keep their French heritage alive.
“We aim to create ways to have the generations celebrate together,” said Tousignant.
Which is fitting, since the meetings tend to evoke musical chairs. People are constantly moving around a large table in the conference room, chatting, then moving on.
According to Tousignant, an average of 20 different members of various ages attend the meetings each month. At a recent meeting, a teenager was overheard speaking what sounded like fluid French to a founding Franco-American Centre member, Adele Boufford-Baker.
Roughly translated, it went like this:
“Your accent is so beautiful,” said the woman.
The teen replied, in what sounded like a flawless accent, “Merci, Madame.”
“Where did you learn to speak like that?”
“My family and I lived in Paris for three years.”
“C’est bon. And did you enjoy that?” asked Boufford-Baker.
“Oh, yes, very much. I made some great friends and got to travel all throughout Europe. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything,” said the teen.
That’s what the group is all about, according to Tousignant.
“Hearing different dialects being spoken is a huge opportunity for students studying French,” he said. “They can get their ears acclimated to a variety of accents. It’s a great way for us to support what they learn in their school environment.”
Prêt-à-Parler meetings began in the 1990s and Céline Desrosiers has been at the helm for the last four years.
“It’s important to keep our language and culture alive, especially for the younger generation,” said Desrosiers. “So, I like to divide people into smaller groups and find fun ways for them to practice their French. English is discouraged.
“I’ve seen people’s skills improve dramatically, over the course of only a few months. It doesn’t matter if people stay for 25 minutes or for the full hour and a half. It just matters that they come.”
Prêt-à-Parler is one of many events sponsored by the Franco-American Centre. In March, a month-long celebration of La Francophonie (the international French community) takes place. Festivities planned throughout the Granite State include exhibitions, speakers, films and additional conversation groups.
Gov. Chris Sununu is expected to kick things off, with the raising of the Francophonie flag. Other dignitaries, such as the Quebec Délégation and French Consulate from Boston, attend as well. French contributions to the state of New Hampshire are honored throughout the month. Naturally, there’s plenty of wine and cheese for all.
French-themed happenings continue throughout the year. Highlights include the New Hampshire PoutineFest (June 22); Festival of Saint Jean Baptiste (June); Beaujolais Nouveau Gala (Saturday before Thanksgiving); and the Soirée de Noël/Volunteer Celebration (December).
This summer, they will offer two types of summer camps. One is geared toward children ages 7 to 10, so they can become immersed in French. The other, Camp Bienvenue, is to help French-speaking immigrant children acclimate to American culture and life in Manchester.
French classes for all ages and levels are also offered year-round. If you’re planning a trip to Paris, consider signing up for the “Traveler’s French” course. You’ll learn how to negotiate a taxi from Charles De Gaulle Airport, flawlessly order fromage (cheese), and ask a Parisian for directions to the Eiffel Tower. Oh lâ lâ!
While St. Anselm is on summer break, the group mixes things up and meets in local restaurants around Manchester and Bedford. If you overhear the sensual sounds of French being spoken, chime in with a “bonjour.” Expect to receive a warm “bienvenue” in return.
Prêt-à-Parler meets on the first Tuesday of each month from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in the conference room inside Sullivan Arena, at St. Anselm College. Details about upcoming events can be found on the Franco-American Centre’s website at facnh.com. There’s a separate website for the New Hampshire PoutineFest at nhpoutinefest.com