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  • Rebecca Drew

Lessons from International Francophonie Week


Red Rose Close-up

Today is the official end of International Francophonie Week for Year 2021. This year's theme was centered upon language, and I certainly learned a few lessons, but not necessarily in French. Just like the way this rose, pictured above, has to unfurl its petals, I felt layers of myself were opening up, barely revealing the center. Let me explain.


I tried to translate handwritten French documents written centuries ago. For the most part, it was a struggle. I listened to a few French language lessons. It seemed fine until I had to pronounce words myself. And don't ask me to solve any French math problems beyond 2+2=4, which should be deux plus deux...wait...tell me again how to say "equals" in French? Then, I participated in a Zoom webinar about common sayings in French-Canadian and Acadian culture. When I say participate, it means I wrote "Merci" during the chat session. The brave souls who allowed themselves to be seen on camera were very well-versed in French and English. They kindly explained everything in perfect English. I felt so out of place amongst people who know so much about their culture, and I almost left the meeting as soon as I entered it. I'm glad I didn't, but I never quite understood what they said in French. Did I learn any French? I would have to consult my notes, but I know "bleuet" means blueberry in Québec, and it's a cornflower in France. It's a good thing I don't have plans to travel any time soon, or possibly ever.


That webinar, held by the Franco-American Centre in New Hampshire, had the most impact. I wished I could have shared their cultural experiences, although some of them shared stories about the way their pronunciation was perceived by others, and how they were discouraged from speaking French in the school systems of the United States. Is this part of the reason why my great-grandfather left Maine for California? Was he hoping to resolve the issue of navigating two cultures within New England? That way, his offspring would not have to make the choice. Truly, I don't know. And here I thought he just wanted to tend his plants in a different climate!


As expected, there were numerous references to nature and farming. Many of the webinar participants laughed when something was said in French. I started laughing, too, but I wished I knew why I was laughing! It was fun to see everyone having a good time. However, I felt like an interloper of sorts. This was their world, and they are happy to share it with others, but I still felt like an outsider looking in. Sure, I share some of the heritage, but I was not raised in the day-to-day culture. Did I have a right to be there? Then, I heard one of the participants, the lovely singer Josée Vachon, say something that almost moved me to tears. She said it in French before translating, but I was getting a tiny bit teary-eyed before she translated it. What did she say? I don't remember. As she explained, she said her family migrated to Maine from Beauce. That is the same region in Québec where my ancestors originated before immigrating to Maine, too. Was an internal memory sparked? The sun is starting to shine on my keyboard as I write this. Mind you, there was a bizarre bit of snow this morning, so this sun is a surprise. And when I was thinking about typing the word "quagmire," I decided to look it up, old-school style, in the dictionary. Guess what word I landed on first thing? Québécois.


If you are still reading this after my stream-of-consciousness session, then "merci." As I was saying, there were lessons learned. Yes, I may not know French, but I must share this culture with you. The Québécois and Acadian culture must stay alive. So many of the people are good and kind. For the most part, they seem down-to-earth, and there is a compassionate side to them. Sure, some of them may be quiet with people they don't know, but there is a thread of concern for the well-being of others. I'm not sure how to explain it, but others have made references to this seemingly innate compassion, and I've seen it myself. Perhaps I can share some of these stories with you as we "cultivate the roots of our heritage." Of course, I will find ways to link them to nature, because the natural environment plays a major role in how cultures are formed, and that's certainly true for the Québécois and Acadians. Yet, at the end of the day, it's how we relate to each other, whether or not we are speaking the same language.


The enjoyment of nature is one way to bridge the divide amongst people with different languages and culture. They say it generally takes three generations to lose a culture and language, but I am hoping to keep some of it alive through the Floramont Journal. Luckily, there are other descendants of New France who are ensuring this treasure is not lost, and some of them still know the French language! I really envy the ones who know about the soirées, the large gatherings of multi-generational family and friends where people bring instruments and have sing-alongs of folk music. Meanwhile, I hope to take the party outdoors, virtually, where we can appreciate nature through the lens of those who came before us. À bientôt! Translation: Bye for now!