French and French-ability
By Meg Walker, photos by kc kratt

Back in the late 1800s, four men and a publisher gathered in the city of Paris with a vision to spread their culture beyond the borders of their country. Their efforts can certainly be deemed successful: it is estimated that there are 440,000 people learning French at Alliance Française centers around the world.

“Promoting French language and culture for over 100 years” is the slogan of Buffalo’s own chapter of the organization, Alliance Française de Buffalo (AFB), which formed in 1903. Here, the AFB aims to promote French culture in the community and schools, just as the founders hoped in 1883. Patricia Schiavone, current president of the AFB, wishes to clear up a misconception that she believes lingers. “It’s assumed that to belong to the Alliance one has to speak French,” she says. “It is absolutely false. Here in Buffalo, a lot of our members do not speak French; they just love the culture.”

Schiavone first moved to the United States when she married a Buffalonian. She had knowledge of the Alliance and started as a member. Later, when her children became more independent, she chose to up her involvement. Professionally, she is a teacher at Grover Cleveland High School, but on the weekends she holds French language workshops at Canisius College. The two-hour sessions on Saturday mornings are in literary comprehension, listening and comprehension, and grammar. Much like Alliances in other cities, AFB offers classes for adults and children to immerse themselves in the French language. Native French speakers teach the classes with a concentration on current conversational methods of speech. For children who are eager to learn, AFB offers the Club des Copains, which is held on Saturdays for ages six to thirteen.

In addition to formal classes, members of the Alliance meet three days a week for conversation groups. Although participation is free, it is limited to members. Groups meet on Mondays from 6:30–8 p.m. at Starbucks, 5429 Main Street in Williamsville; Wednesdays from 6:30–8 p.m. at Starbucks at the intersection of Delaware and Kenmore Avenues in Buffalo; and Thursdays from 10:15–11:45 a.m. at the Towne Restaurant at Allen and Elmwood in Buffalo.

Clearly, a major focus of the AFB is the fun of learning and speaking the French language. “We have committees who organize cultural events, like Francophonie Day, cabarets, musicals, theater plays, Bastille Day festivities, trips, tastings, potlucks, and more,” Schiavone says. Francophonie Day is held every other year when a French speaking part of the world is chosen and presented to the community. In 2001, AFB chose to create its own version of Francophonie Day, which changes forms every year—from a table discussion, to a movie, to a meal prepared by the Alliance’s very own cook, Alessandra DeSimone.

French culture has a wealth of experience to offer the adventurous. “I love its diversity, its aesthetic, and its power to make people fall in love with it,” says Schiavone. For more information about becoming a member, or regarding any of the Alliance’s events, visit their website, or call 688-4171.

Meg Walker recently graduated from Canisius College.


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