French Friday: My Étonnant Native Country

One of my best friends, a picture book author, is happy as a clam when she talks to 100 kindergartners. I know of other authors, who adore huge assemblies.

I’m a small group person. Big parties and large venues have never been my thing. Concerts are an exception. Still, I’d rather see my favorite bands or singers in a small club than a stadium.

In the next few weeks, I will meet with more than 400 middle school and high school students. I just found out that their teachers decided to separate them in smaller groups. So I will have one presentation at the middle school and four at two different high schools on the same day. Phew, what a relief.

What worries me now is the fact that for the first time ever I will meet students who take French at school. This should comfort me since anything French is my thing, right? In fact, as I am preparing my presentation, I keep questioning its content.

Usually I split my one-hour power point presention in four parts:

* My French background shown through slides from my hometown and surroundings.

* The process of writing, from the choice of topic to the editing. I also include elements about writing in a non-native language.

* Multiple-choice questions based on my novel, which is shared in class prior to my visit.

* Q&A is always my favorite part, so I allow 10 minutes.

But as I am now selecting my slides, I am caught in a spiral of thoughts:

How do I introduce contemporary France to teenagers who learn how to speak France but have not necessary been there yet?

What should I tell them about my native land? How honest do I want to be?

Is it okay to show its flaws? Will it discourage young people to visit?

In my Middle Grade novel Chronicles From Château Moines I introduced the early immigration issues that took place in the France of my childhood in the 1970s. Almost fifty years later, France is still dealing with immigration issues.

Do I want to show the gathering of migrants at Porte de la Chapelle, still happening after the regular dismantling of the camps and despite the opening of welcome centers, too small to accomodate everyone?

But there is also genuine concern for the migrants’ situation. French people want to exemplify the motto Liberté Égalité Fraternité.

So what about Calais?

Now shouldn’t I stay with a classic vision of France, particularly of Paris, with its lovely cafés and sophisticated boutiques? Is cliché versus authentic okay?

After all, there are still lovely cafés and sophisticated boutiques in Paris. They sit blocks away from the gathered migrants and within an hour from the projects in the suburbs.

In my Young Adult thriller Trapped in Paris, the two protagonists find themselves in the northeastern suburbs of Paris, less than ten miles away and yet another world.

What about music? Music plays a huge role in any teen’s life.

Once in a while, when I’m in a store or a café in the U.S. I hear French music. Almost always it’s soft French music. Often Edith Piaf singing La Vie en Rose or even Charles Trenet and La Mer. But Carla Bruni is now a favorite, as well as Serge Gainsbourg and Zaz.

It is said that when French-style music is played in a store, the atmosphere shifts from ordinary to sophisticated. In fact, some storeowners are known to play French music or French music-style when they have French items, such as wine or cheese, to sell. Shoppers don’t even notice but are still influenced.

Many contemporary French singers such as Julien Doré still exemply the unique French poetic musical style.

But what about hip-hop bands or rappers who use music as a media to address racism, poverty, immigration, unemployment, topics of concern for many French people?

Now I scroll down my own playlist and wonder about the older Manu Chao. The singer started his musical career a few years before I left France but really took off in the mid 1990s. With his mix of reggae, ska, with clear Latino roots he changed the traditional French musical scene.

Now what about the diverse French rap scene, a mix of rap de rue or street rap, conscious rap, popular rap, and other sub genres in between?

Should I add the hip-hop band Nèg Marrons? After all they wrote one of my favorite songs about their parents.

As I prepare my presentation and debate pros versus cons the complexity of my native land is palpable.

So for now only one thing is sure: the choice of the T-shirt I will wear.

























  1. Have fun on your school visits! Your knowledge, love of books, and energy, not to mention all you will share about France, will inspire the students. Enjoy!

  2. Love the T-shirt, Evelyne. And hope you will give us an update about how the school visit goes – very exciting! And I think it’s great you have children learning French this time. It’s always inspirational to learn more about traditions and cultures from the ‘locals’. Enjoy – and don’t forget the update!

    • Thanks, Kimberly. It’s from J Crew and even better in real than on the photo. I was amazed too by the large French classes. And yes, I plan a post event blog post. See you!

  3. I think a “warts and all” approach is better with young people. I’m sure they will appreciate your gift of time.

  4. I’m with Dan. I wouldn’t focus on the negative but I would try to give a realistic view of France, today. And always a bit of humor. Good luck, Evelyne. I know you’ll do great. –Curt

    • Yes, me too. Since I posted I worked on the presentation and came up with a balance of positive and challenging. My numerous faux pas as a new comer will fill the humour needs. Thank you, Curt.

  5. wow, those are tough questions! I’m sure you’ll be brilliant. The kids (especially those studying French) will be so charmed by your French accent that they’ll love anything you have to say. I think it’s best to be realistic, and honest. Because every country has les avantages et des inconvénients, n’est-ce pas ? 🙂 Et la France, c’est étonnant ! (j’adore votre tee-shirt!)

    • Based on the comments, it’s pretty clear that a mix of great and more challenging is best. Honest but not to the point of being dark. The T-shift was a great find at an étonnant price too:)

  6. Tellement bilingue que tu dois avoir deux accents charmants, le français en anglais et vice versa! Bonne idée Julien Doré, personnellement j’aime beaucoup. Si tu veux surprendre tes élèves, fais-leur écouter un Bobby Lapointe comme « ta katie t’as quitté »! Il y aura du travail pour la traduction.. bon un peu compliqué. Que dirais-tu deBoris Vian? Un classique, maintenant.

    • Merci:)
      J’ai fait une petite compile et Julien Doré est dedans for sure.
      Et puis j’ai plein de photos de Paris, le touristique et le ‘normal.’
      Je devrais être okay.

  7. It would be silly to think of France as merely movie-style Parisian, just like thinking all of the US is movie-style New York. I think I’d start there. France has its regions and varying cultures and middle school students can grasp that.
    It’s a wonderful opportunity and you will do well to represent your native land. Those kids are lucky! 🙂

    • Thank you, Joey. Right, it is the same with every country and even every big city. Paris is particularly depicted as being gorgeous and elegant. And it is. But there is so much more, for sure. I just put the last touches to my presentation coming up this Friday. Four more are following with older students who are taking Frenchm, so I can add some material for them. As always, thank you for stopping by.

  8. Kevin Shrieve says:

    Evelyne, how did your presentation go? Were you satisfied with the mix of “cliché versus authentic” that you were able to share with the young people?

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