From the Kitchen Table to the French Table

The French Rendezvous

Illustration by Sara Willia

Fifty years ago, the US census told us that the number of Francophones in Louisiana was over one million. These days it’s probably around 200,000, more or less, but no one can say for sure. Its decline is largely attributable, as we know, to the banning of French at school. The difficulty in counting those who have been able, despite everything, to continue to practice it can be explained by the fact that people who do speak French or Louisiana Creole well are always under the false impression that they do not speak “good” French and say “no” when asked. Nevertheless, three generations later, despite the efforts of CODOFIL and militant, engaged and even enraged individuals at times, the French language in Louisiana is no longer as robust in termsof absolute numbers. It is what it is. The radical change that we have seen since that time is rather that of the attitude towards the public expression of French. Before, French was practiced at home around the kitchen table, so to speak. There are many stories of Cajuns being reprimanded, frequently by other Louisiana Francophones, for committing the mortal sin of speaking French in public. Paradoxically, during this period of decline, as the number of Francophones diminished, French was increasingly acceptable in the public square. Nowadays, French has the right of citizenship in Louisiana. If you know where to listen, you will hear chatting in French everywhere.

The surest public place you can go is to one of the many French tables that abound in Acadiana. According to the CODOFIL website which lists them, you can find one somewhere practically every day. From Basile to Raceland, from Marksville to Kaplan and from Eunice to Scott, via Welsh, Thibodaux and Arnaudville, you can meet Francophones of all levels, from the beginner who can only say “hello” to people who can read and write in French too, all over a good cup of coffee, of course. For lovers of stronger drinks, meetings can take place in the evening around a cold beer. From Dwyer’s Café in Lafayette every week to La Table française de la Maison Valsin Broussard once a month, there are plenty of opportunities to make friends in French.

Instead of being insulted when I speak in public, people express their disappointment to me at not being able to speak French. They make remarks in English rather like “How lucky you are to speak French”, “I wish my grandparents had taught me French”, or in a way that says a lot, “I should have listened to my grandparents more”. So come to the table and talk with us.