Dubai: When the famed French band Les P’tites Ouvreuses performs in Dubai next Friday, the ‘guinguette’ atmosphere quartet will mark more than just its revival of ‘Chanson française’ or the French song. Its mix of dance, popular poetry and world music with unmistakeable strains from Nice will also be part of Alliance Française Dubai (AFD)’s 35th anniversary celebrations which will kick off a day earlier.
AFD director Bernard Frontero can barely hide his excitement as he talks to XPRESS about the week-long extravaganza. The kaleidoscope of events includes the launch of the 2018 year of Emirati French cultural dialogue, a performance by the legendary French state theatre Comédie-Française, a family day and a gala dinner, besides the Les P’tites Ouvreuses treat.
As the community waits for the curtains to go up, Frontero says the journey of AFD, which has been a symbol of French culture in Dubai, has accompanied the development of the UAE itself. Starting off from two Bur Dubai flats where a handful of people were taught French by two teachers in the early 1980s, the international non-profit organisation, which promotes French language and culture, has come a long way, giving new expression to thousands of people over the past three decades.
“French is so beautiful, sweet and romantic that anyone would be delighted to learn the language,” says Rasika Bhandarkar, assistant director of courses at AFD.
But it’s not just the romanticism that gives French its currency. Frontero says, “Along with Spanish and English, French has been recognised as a diplomatic language by the UN. More and more people in geographies like Africa have to learn French now as it is the language for business.”
Not surprisingly then that over 3,000 students of 97 nationalities enrol into AFD’s various courses taught by a faculty of 45-50 teachers every year. Besides six modules ranging from elementary to advanced, expert native levels, AFD also offers diplomas in subjects like Business Studies and holds separate classes for adults and children, depending on the requirement. It conducts exams and issues globally recognised certificates from the French Ministry of Education and prepares students to study in France and other French-speaking countries. It also conducts French language exams for Canadian immigration.
Within the melting pot that the UAE is, Frontero says there are over 35,000 French nationals, 25,000 of whom are in Dubai alone. But the number crosses 100,000 if you count all Francophones or French-speaking people. The UAE is also home to three French schools in Dubai, two in Abu Dhabi and one in Sharjah.
For this diaspora and others alike, AFD, which now has three centres - Oud Metha Road, Mall of the Emirates and Knowledge Park - serves as a bustling community centre. There is a constant stream of visitors at the centre. The main complex library, which stocks over 20,000 books and magazines is very popular. Periodic movie nights, family days and other cultural events are also a big draw. There’s also the just opened Cafe Odeon. “The French hamburgers, fried salmon with French potatoes and pastries are a hit here,” says Frontero. So are the organic brunches on Saturdays that come for just Dh80. “We love it here,” says Jean, who regularly visits AFD with her family. “The place has an amazing vibe,” adds Lucas, a former AFD student.