The French often get a bad rap in the United States. Ask Americans to describe a typical Frenchman, and four out of five will paint you a picture of a cheese-eating, beret-wearing, wine-guzzling, Eiffel Tower-gazing, Renault-driving, café-loitering pseudo-intellectual who rambles on about l'amour. It's the stereotype, of course, the result of watching too many movies that feature Maurice Chevalier or Leslie Caron. Is it a bad thing? That depends on whether such a vision rouses you to plan a trip to France or compels you to add "Frog" to your lexicon of derogatory terms.
If you're in the latter group, get over it: The French, they are a funny race, as they say. But if you're harboring Francophile tendencies, read on. The Alliance Française de Dallas is offering a taste of French culture that's much less expensive than round-trip airfare to Europe. For beginners, you can attend the group's Bastille Day celebration this Saturday. For $40 a head, you'll get to eat a buffet dinner and "Bastille cake" (presumably that of "Let them eat..." notoriety, rather than some pastry served to political prisoners), sample French wines at the open bar, and practice your high school French on captive club members.
If these festivities whet your appetite for all things Gallic, you can become a member yourself for $35. The Alliance Française is a worldwide network of nonprofit associations that seek to promote "awareness, understanding, and appreciation of the French language and culture," according to the national alliance's mission statement. These vague official terms boil down to various activities here in Dallas. The most prominent venture the AFD sponsors is its language school. Beginning and intermediate students of French can sign up for reasonably priced classes held at various locations and times. So if your dream is to go on a whirlwind tour of France, you'd better prepare now.
But as a former speaker of college-level French, I can tell you that learning a language isn't like riding a bicycle. My skills (however meager) have lapsed because of inactivity. That's where the beauty of the Alliance Française comes in. There are French lunches at La Madeleine and "soirées de conversation" at which to practice your parlez-vous-ing with others of all abilities. Before you know it, you'll be speaking French with much more ease than could be accomplished through just taking classes. Just don't be obnoxious about it; the French have a hard enough time with their reputation.