For the 16th year running since 1998, 20 March marked the International Day of La Francophonie, a celebration of the French language and culture by millions of its speakers, learners and enthusiasts around the globe. The Budapest Times got the lowdown on the French community in Budapest from Juliette Monroche, president of French-speaking expatriate association Budapest Accueil.
Budapest Accueil is the association for the French-speaking community here. What does that mean in terms of membership?
We count some 170 families among our members, not only French but also Belgian or Hungarian and with many mixed-nationality couples. Our membership is very varied but the typical expatriate profile here is families with children, for whom expatriation is often a career choice and who usually stay three or four years on average before moving on elsewhere. As Budapest is a relatively easy-to-live city for first-time expats we also have a number of members who are enjoying their first time abroad. Some are sent by companies in their home countries but others come to Hungary under their own steam. Unfortunately the number of expats has tended to decrease in the last two or three years.
What does Budapest Accueil have to offer to members and non-members?
It is a non-profit association whose primary mission is to welcome French-speaking expatriates in the city: these include not just native French speakers but all French-speaking people as well as Francophiles. For instance we have many Hungarian members who come because they like France, its language and its culture. We organise regular meetings, in September when new arrivals come to Budapest and throughout the year, to help them find their bearings and the addresses and information they need to settle. Our website, www.budapest-accueil.org, has plenty of information and links but we also publish a guide with detailed information on a range of practical issues relevant to expats in Budapest.
Budapest Accueil organises a lot of activities…
Our association relies entirely on volunteers, for whose work we are very thankful, and we organise 15 to 20 activities that run on a regular basis. These are of two types, as some of them are inherent to Budapest Accueil and free to its members, while others are offered through the association by people outside of it and therefore require an additional fee. Among our activities we regularly organise cultural visits in Budapest with French-speaking guides, wine tastings with a French-speaking specialist and family-oriented activities for those with children of all ages. For instance we hold mother-baby meetings, and readings in French at the French bookshop [Libraire Latitudes, Wesselényi utca 11 in District VII] with a lady who also relies on singing, dancing and puppetry, meaning the event can be open to all children whether they speak French, Hungarian, English or any other language, and whose parents would like them to hear or learn a bit of French. We organise a lot of sports activities, such as tennis, volleyball, hiking and Nordic walking. Our aim is to provide opportunities for socialisation for French-speaking people in Budapest, especially the wives (more rarely husbands) of expats but also for couples as we organise events in the evening for those who work, such as the wine tastings or our hugely popular conferences on Hungarian and regional history and culture. Members can also benefit from our association’s dynamic character in joining our events to discover the city in interesting and unusual ways. This year, for example, we organised an afternoon tea event for children at the circus where they were able to visit backstage, and a karting afternoon.
You yourself organise regular conversation groups for people who would like to learn or practise French: do you mostly have Hungarian people or is it more open than that?
Everyone is welcome, so long as they are members of the association. At the moment I have a lot of English speakers, including from Ireland, Scotland and Canada, but also Hungarian and Czech people. The group is mostly for people who are beginning to learn French and runs twice a month. We rely almost entirely on the French language, using texts on French culture as a starting point to work on vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar and conversation, and to discover the traditions of France and of the participants’ own countries.
Does Budapest Accueil offer other activities for people who speak no or little French?
Since we are a Francophone association we do rely a lot on that language but we also offer Hungarian classes and, of course, sports activities are open to anyone who wants to join. For example we organised last June a day-long meeting between our volleyball team and that of the American International School in Budapest. A lot of our members speak English anyway and we are always open to welcome new faces. We are actually looking for someone to help us with Let’s Talk, an activity we run to give our members an opportunity to speak English and to discover English culture. But it is true that unlike, for instance, the International Women’s Club (IWC) we are not an international association to begin with.
Speaking of the International Women’s Club, you have worked this year on opening up the association to other expatriate communities.
Yes, I think expatriates are lucky to be able to live in different communities with the opportunity to discover another culture. A French-speaking association should not remain just that but also help introduce its members to the culture of other people around them. This year we are lucky that the president of IWC, Marie Pataky-Kovalevitch, who is French, was also interested in opening up the IWC to other associations. We now relay to our members information on each other’s events but our cooperation has reached its peak with the “French Day” we jointly organised on Thursday at the Marriott hotel.
What was the programme?
The aim was to present French culture, 21 March having been a good day because of its connection with the day of La Francophonie. The French Institute (Institut Francais) was there to present its programmes and visitors were able to browse books on the Libraire Latitudes’ stand. Fashion being such an iconic French affair we had a fashion show organised by a local representative of French brand From Paris With Love, as well as a presentation by d’Stock Lingerie of creations by top French lingerie designers. Of course gastronomy featured prominently thanks to Budapest-based French food representatives A Table and La Praline for bakery and pastry products, and Le Gourmet de Bordeaux, which works with French producers, especially from southwest France, for example cheese, cured meats, wines and prepared dishes. Finally there was a short theatre show and a raffle. Such events featuring the culture of different countries are regularly organised by the IWC but it is a first for Budapest Accueil, and we welcome introducing people to French culture and atmosphere.
What other projects of interest to Francophiles does the association have?
On 13 April we will hold a cabaret show at the American School. The show is in French but with a lot of visual elements, music, dance and singing. In the past we have had people who did not speak French but still enjoyed it. Otherwise we welcome people to visit out website to see what we have to offer.
Till March 27th
Hungary’s Francophone Festival comes to an end on 27 March with 12 French-speaking countries presenting their traditions and gastronomy to the sound of Moroccan band Chalaban and French group Accordzeam. It’s at the Hungarian National Gallery in Buda Caste from 6pm and entrance is free.