Field Notes: Speak French? You’ll Love This Group of French Speakers and Francophiles
Field Notes explores Honolulu’s vast and varied scenes and subcultures. This month: Alliance Française Hawai‘i.
photos: leah friel
Qu’est-ce que c’est?
What is it? Founded in 1883 in Paris, Alliance Française encourages French language and culture. The nonprofit’s Island branch began in 1961 when Anita Hecht, a fabled patron of the arts, and Siegfried Ramler, a Punahou teacher and one of the judges at the Nuremberg Trials after World War II, hosted a French theater troupe with great success. The AFH holds monthly meetings, hosts events and conversation groups, and gives scholarships to high school and college students to enable them to study in France. Its Quatorze Juillet party, celebrating the July 14th birth of the French Republic, is a notable occasion where Champagne corks have been known to fly. “The Governor and his wife have come to the last two,” says Francois Miller, a member since 1979, who assists in counting the French national election votes of the 526 registered French citizens (some dual citizens, like Miller) in the Islands.
Comment ça marche?
Conviviality and culture go hand-in-hand for AFH members, many of whom form spinoff groups and hold dinners on a regular basis, such as the one Miller hosted recently at his Provence-style outdoor kitchen and terrace. “I made a ratatouille Niçoise and a daube Provençale,” he says. “Others brought a roast chicken, chicken liver pâté, salads, noodles and desserts,” including a gorgeous flan made by Richard Kurth according to his grandmother’s recipe.
“We have a weekly conversation group at Mocha Java at Ward Center, Saturdays at 9 a.m.,” says Margot Michels, who participates and also offers instruction. “There is a charge for the first two hours, which are more formal, but from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. it’s free.”
A fête this April 7 at Hanahau‘oli School will feature the Honorary French Consul in Honolulu, Guillaume Maman, speaking—en français, mais oui!—on the topic of “Paris, Ma Ville Natale” (“Paris, my native city”). Admission is $15 for nonmembers, $12 for members and $5 for students; a light meal of sandwiches, chips, bread and dessert can be ordered in advance for $12. A conversation and mingling period begins at 8:15 a.m., followed by the program.
French speakers, French teachers past and present, émigrés and Francophiles, the “just curious” and “just hungry” all mingle at events and smaller, informal spinoff soirées. To join Alliance Française, visit the website and select your option (initial fee: $45 per year, individual; $60 per year, family). Visitors to afhawaii.org can find information, applications and event listings.
Margot Michels, age “mais non!”
ESL instructor, Hawai‘i Kai and Los Angeles
“I come because the people are so wonderful and so warm-hearted. It’s a connection to French culture.”
Ephrem Vitya, 45
Security, Democratic Republic of the Congo
“Since I arrived in Hawai‘i a year ago and became a member, I have made friends here; they’re helping me. This is my family. This is my family. I am not able to quantify how much being in this group means to me.”
Richard Kurth, 80
Taught French at Kamehameha Schools for 31 years, Downtown
“I like the people, I like the food and I like to speak French.”
Parlez-vous français? Or want to? Visit afhawaii.org or call (858) 952-1221.
READ MORE STORIES BY DON WALLACE