April 8, 2011 | French
From Le Petit Sénégal to the Upper East Side
I speak French in two very different New York neighborhoods.
Yesterday morning I went to Harlem, exiting the subway at 110th and Lenox and walking north to 116th.
I had a particular destination in mind, one that I thought would produce some opportunities to talk about and speak French as it is used in one or more African countries, but I won’t write about that destination at this point, because the employees—who were extremely charming, by the way—wanted me to wait for the owner to come back from Senegal and okay their participation.
Harlem Near 112th and St. Nicholas
Near 115th Street, I Think
And I don't want to get anyone in trouble.
I did, however, roam up and down 116th a bit, and could see snippets of French on signs and product names here and there. I exchanged a few French words with a couple of people. I learned—I didn’t know this in advance—that 116th Street and neighboring blocks in Central Harlem make up a community known as le Petit Sénégal, or Little Senegal.
French, Though I Don't Understand Intended Meaning
A Senegalese Community Center, Avec Français
At one store I entered, I asked a man if he spoke French. He said of course.
I asked him if I could speak to him in French. He said absolutely not.
I asked why, though I had a pretty good idea already. He told me he was from Senegal, where French was, he said, the language of their oppressors. He speaks Wolof and English. I said, well, since I don’t speak Wolof, I guess we’re stuck with English.
He smiled. He was very friendly, despite his having just come off a night shift, and despite my having attempted to speak to him in a language he apparently shuns. (By the way, I can't tell you the name of his store; apparently the sight of me walking up and down the street taking pictures made a few people uncomfortable, so I need to be more farsighted and get advance permission from places next time.)
He said other people in the neighborhood would not necessarily share his point of view about French, but added that that was because they weren’t educated and didn’t realize the history of what the French had done to their country.
He also told me that young people in Senegal want to learn English, and that you see and hear more and more English in his native country. It is funny to keep trying to learn foreign languages when I keep hearing, and seeing, how people around the world are moving more and more towards English.
In the afternoon, I paid a visit to the French Institute Alliance Française or FIAF, which I have mentioned previously in this blog, to talk about French classes. They are allowing me to sample some FIAF offerings, which include—besides a wide variety of events—dozens of French courses, at all levels.
Central Park, Near FIAF
East Side Rush Hour
FIAF happens to be located in a very ritzy neighborhood, on 60th Street between Madison and Park. As was the case earlier in the day, I saw French in the names of various organizations and businesses I passed.
For French: Tirez!
The context was very, very different, however, and just three miles away.
French Classes Have Just Begun!
The Restaurant Rouge Tomate (Red Tomato)