Here begins a look at some of the many Alliances Françaises in the world. For those who don’t know, the Alliances Françaises are buildings set up all over the world by the French government in order to promote the French language, French culture, and (in my opinion) knowledge and culture in general.
It is sort of my goal to visit all of them. However, I don’t think that’s possible: according to their website, there are well over 1,000 of them. I’ve been to maybe twenty of them, and I highly doubt, for example, I’ll ever make it to the hundred-some in subsaharan Africa any time soon. But when I can, I make it a point to visit them and see what’s up, francophonically speaking.
Usually the AFs (or Centres Culturels, as they are sometimes called) encompass a school building with classrooms, a café (pour mieux diffuser la mode de vie française), a rather impressive library, some sort of hall for performances, a gallery, free toilets, and sometimes a bookstore. My main concern is with the libraries and the free toilets, and also the brochures sitting around and any cultural events that might be taking place.
For those francophiles such as myself, these places are a real treat. They, in the stitled and broken English of a Canadian branch, stretch:
[f]rom the Land of Fire to the Canadian boundaries, from the African continent to Northern Europe, from Asia to Oceania… the Alliances Françaises emerge out of a Francophile dynamics from every culture around the world.
Founded in 1883, Alliance Française’s success is due to the loyalty of a public with deep roots in the French language and francophone culture. The Alliance Française brand is known in 136 countries and has inspired a rich network of over a thousand local associations with a proper legal entity. (source. Don’t they have any English speakers in Canada to proofread?)
I once dragged my father to one, and he didn’t see the point: i.e., there is no American equivalent. For pops, this was a good thing: the entire world, he thinks, is an American cultural center. For example, in Turkey, the Turks go about wearing Mr. T t-shirts while rocking out to Metallica and watching NBA games as they chomp on hamburgers. (In America, by contrast, no-one is going about wearing Mustafa Uğur t-shirts while blasting Tarkan, cheering on Fenerbahçe and chowing down on çiğ köfte.) And you can get Anglophone books, newspapers, etc., anywhere in the world, he boasted triumphantly, while the French have to build special libraries to house the frayed manuscripts of their dying language.
Anyway, I just went to the one in Izmir:
ENTRY: There was a little cat scratching at the front door and trying to get in. I let the cat in and she ran to a food bowl under a desk. There was a woman at a desk who ignored me. This is in marked contrast to the Turkish world around the AF, where you are regularly greeted with iyi günler! hoş geldiniz! buyrun, buyrun!. The French froideur and peur des autres begins at reception!
GALLERY: They were putting in an exhibition that appeared to be B&W photos of rocks in Greece. As it was not open yet, I didn’t see it.
CAFE: Did not appear to be open, but some used tea cups and sugar packets sat on a table. DELF results were posted on the wall.
TOILET: excellent. Filled up my water bottle in the sink as well. Vive la France!
BIBLIOTHEQUE: A man said “Bonjour” as I walked in. He then ignored me, though he became animated when some fellow AF worker came in and offered him a piece of gateau. They had some nice books and magazines. I read “Le Monde Monthly” where they reprint old and outdated articles from years past. I spent five minutes trying to understand the French sense of humour and worrying I’d forgotten how to speak French as I examined two cartoons in the paper. Finally I realized the captions were reversed. Eh ben en effet. They had a lot of CDs and DVDs, and it was cool and air conditioned in 36-degree Izmir. They also had a lot of BDs, with a large space dedicated to Satrapi, and some in Turkish. Top notch!
Overall, a great place for any francophile to while away a hot afternoon in Izmir.