This March 20th, joyeux International Francophonie Day! (And March is celebrated as Francophonie Month! Hooray!)
Thanks to UNESCO, 274 million Francophones (plus countless Francophiles—we’ll jump on this bandwagon!) across five continents have an internationally recognized day to celebrate what unites them: the French language. In a world where we are so divided by religion, race, ethnicity, gender, political party, and culture, language (and a love of a good French cheese) unites the masses.
March 20th was chosen in reference to the day in 1970 when the Agency of Cultural and Technical Cooperation (ACCT) was established in Niamey, Niger. The ACCT eventually became the contemporary International Organization of Francophonie (OIF). Today 84 states and governments are members of the OIF. This year, 100 events celebrating Francophonie will take place around the world on five continents for le Grand Tour 2017, Voyage en Francophonie.
The General Director of UNESCO best explained the honorary day, in a letter penned for the 2017 Francophonie day: “The French language crystallizes centuries of culture and history. … It is in French that Pascal, Voltaire or Rousseau led the fight for tolerance, democracy and human rights. It was in French that Assia Djebar defended the rights of women and that Césaire, Senghor and so many others laid the foundations of modern humanist consciousness. On all 5 continents, hundreds of millions of men and women express their hopes for a better life in French.”
So what can you do to enjoy the depth, diversity, and livelihood of Francophonie culture? First, read Frenchly (obviously). Second, engage with something authentically Francophone. Frenchly has a few suggestions for anyone no matter where they are, and several specific ones for New York and Paris. There are many more events happening around the world, from South Africa to Vietnam, Vermont, Maine, Thailand, Québec, and all across the US from LA to Miami to all in between. Vive la Francophonie!
Don’t go to a French café unless it’s authentic and you know that French people eat there. Instead, buy yourself un baguette and de la confiture (jam) at a local bakery. Eat it at home with the French radio on (listen by going here and clicking “RFI World”). You can peruse the foreign language section at a book store, or see a French film like My Life as a Courgette or Elle. Simplest of all, stay in with a bottle of French wine, and check out the French-Language films on Netflix.
Buy a pastry from a French bakery—not a well-known one though, it’s sure to be loaded with tourists. (Except, Maison Kayser, 100% of French people in the French Founders office love and frequent Maison Kayser.) Take a stroll up 5th Avenue between 80th and 92nd streets; the east side of the street is dotted with buildings featuring Beaux-Arts architecture that’s very reminiscent of France. And sure, you could go to Albertine, but try Book Culture on the Upper West Side (536 W. 112th St) for their large selection of used French books. For dinner, Café Un Deux Trois (123 W. 44th St) serves quality French fare in a beautiful bistro. Finally, see the Lyon Opera Ballet’s Summerspace at the David H. Koch Theatre (20 Lincoln Center) on March 19th and 21st (buy tickets here).
Don’t go to a museum, a monument, or church. Don’t go to anywhere in a guide book even if it claims that’s where the Parisians are. (If it’s in a guide book, tourists know about it.) Head to the perimeter of the city and just wander. To the east, try Marché d’Aligre (Place d’Aligre), where you’ll find old French ladies towing carts stocked with fresh produce and flea market goodies. Wander around La Muette to the west, where the apartments are luxurious but it’s far enough from the Arc de Triomphe for the neighborhood to still be très Parisian. To the south, sample a few pastries in possibly the most charming shop ever, Chez Bogato (17 rue Liancourt). North and east, walk through the Parc des Buttes Chaumont (1 rue Botzaris), and eat in Belleville just south, or La Villette just north. And no matter where you are in the city, go into a Monoprix or Picard to feel instantly authentically French.