Burlington Speaks French: A look at the new Alliance Française cart on Church Street
From taking in the aromas of rising dough and roasting coffee beans, to eavesdropping on multilingual conversations punctuated by the clinking of plates, and catching fleeting glimpses of dodging and ducking street performers, it’s no surprise that the excitement of The Church Street Marketplace flicks your attention back and forth like a pinball in an arcade machine.
One cheerful little blue awning, dappled by the shadows of an overhanging tree, emerges like an island in the ado. Attached beneath it is a petite white cart manned by neighborly volunteers from the Alliance Française of the Lake Champlain Region. The service brought by the cart, which is currently organized and overseen by members Richard Gliech, Micheline Tremblay and Lise Veronneau, has been in operation for nearly ten years now. During this period, AFLCR has been sponsored by The Church Street Marketplace Association in order to provide this welcoming presence to the area’s francophone visitors from noon until 4 p.m. each Saturday and Sunday.
According to Gliech, the cart is AFCLR’s way of elegantly serving two goals. “It is a way for our organization to make Church St., but also our wider community, more welcoming and attractive to French-speaking visitors simply by saying ‘Bienvenue, we’re here for you and we speak your language,’” he said. “Speaking one’s language goes a long way in showing that you care.”
A sign perched in front of the cart that reads, “Service D’Acceuil En Français,” along with a string of alternating French and Québécois flags seems to attract French speakers from around the world. According to Matthew Ennis, who is the friendly smile behind the crisp white “Bienvenue à Burlington” t-shirt, AFLCR cart volunteers have had the chance to speak with visitors from Québec, France, Belgium, Switzerland and some African countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo. With the help of some other AFLCR volunteers in rotation, Ennis sees to it that visitors to the cart get expert local advice on where to go, what to do and where to eat in downtown Burlington.
In the spirit of AFLCR’s mission, Gliech said that the cart is also a way of promoting la langue française and calling attention to the reality of its use in Burlington and more broadly in the state of Vermont. “In addition to French-speaking visitors, our presence on Church St. gives the Alliance an amazing exposure within our local community and it’s a great way to let people know we exist, provide them with specific information about our activities and classes, and sign them up for our newsletter or even for membership,” he said.
The cart is just one of many of AFLCR’s community initiatives that hope to make the Burlington area more hospitable for our francophone neighbors from the north and beyond. Other projects include distributing, “Bienvenue Québécois” stickers for local businesses to put in their windows.
AFLCR’s welcome service that was once offered using a tent has been, within the past two years, transformed into the chic blue and white cart used today thanks to the generous donation of Ernie Pomerleau. Pomerleau is the president and CEO of Pomerleau Real Estate and is the Honorary Consul of France to Vermont, in addition to a wide range of other community engagements.
“The cart itself has proven a nice addition, compared to the tent and table of previous years,” said Gliech. “It is visually attractive, easy to move and self-contained. Plus, we will be able to use it for various other events where it may become our signature feature.”
So stop by the AFLCR’s French cart on Church Street… and say “bonjour”!
Written by Emily Engott, volunteer for the Alliance Française.