Speaking French

  • 2010-06-03
  • Interview by Mihai Bica

French Embassy ambassadors of culture Laurent Guidon (left) and Audelin Chappuis.

Audelin Chappuis has been living in Vilnius since the fall of 2008. This 30-year old Parisian talks about French culture, which is being revived in Vilnius with the help of the Cultural Center at the French Embassy, where he is deputy director and also a cultural attaché. Vilnius is his first mission abroad, where he brings along his background in theater work. Chappuis is keen to share some insights about what’s being done here in terms of spreading French ideas. The Baltic Times met with Audelin, together with his colleague Laurent Guidon, who works on linguistic and education matters at the French Embassy and French Cultural Center, to talk about French culture in the Baltics.

How have you adapted to Lithuania?
AC: It’s very nice, very easy; we have very good relationships with all our contacts, no problems - very good adaptation.

Do you mean the contacts here, or do you keep in touch with the embassies abroad, in the other Baltic countries?
AC: Yes, we keep in contact with them, especially with our neighbors, our colleagues in Riga, Tallinn and Minsk - a little bit also in Warsaw, Moscow but mainly only our close neighbors. We try sometimes to have some common projects, but it is not so usual because we all have our own planning - we do try to find the same project for Francophonie Days because it is on the same day everywhere.

Are the French embassies in the other Baltic countries so developed in the cultural field?
AC: Yes they are, but it is a bit difficult for me to talk precisely about their activity. They are basically more or less like we are, doing their best to have lots of cultural projects

Do you have some French artists that live here that you help or support?
AC: Yes, for example there is a French painter living in Kaunas, Gilles Vuillard, and we are exhibiting his work here in our cultural center. The next step will be trying to exhibit his work in other places in Lithuania. In music, for example, we invite musicians to come and play here and have some classes with Lithuanian pupils in order to cover more than just a concert. We invite also performers like for the Naujasis Baltijos Sokis [festival of the modern dance ‘New Baltic Dance’]. Another project which will be quite interesting will be to invite a choreographer to Vilnius.

During the summer a lot of people are used to going out, especially on Didzioji Street, where the embassy is. Do you have any special activities now?
AC: We have a very good location in the very heart of the town; it’s definitely a great advantage. Inside the cultural center is the French library, run by Pegasus. Also Cafe de Paris where there are many activities which attract people, so open places for everybody, some screenings, quizzes etc.

ou also have activities promoting learning the French language in schools and universities here. Are there a lot of developed programs in the field, given that the percentage of French speakers here is quite low still - about two percent?
AC: Well the percentage is a bit more, but still low.
Laurent Guidon: The ministry’s figures talk of about 2.8 percent in the school system, but we don’t have numbers for higher education, where it is more volatile. There are two great axis of our work - one is perfecting integrated learning of the French language, which consists of pupils having not just French classes but also different classes like mathematics or biology taught in French. It is a program sustained by the Ministry of Education, who puts a lot of emphasis on this type of learning. Another part is in the higher education studies, where we have acts of cooperation with certain institutions. It is also a traditional issue, French was the first foreign language taught here after the war, but the interest in the French language is comparable with what we can see in a lot of countries from Central and Eastern Europe. At the same time, Lithuanian authorities attach big importance to the French language, the country being one of the observers of the International Organization of Francophonie for more than 10 years now. There is also interest from the part of the ministry to diversify the teaching of foreign languages.

So I understand that you have some connections with the Ministry of Education, some influence, they help you, the French embassy helps taking decisions involving French teaching or something like this?
LG: We are under the logic of cooperation with the Ministry of Education. Our project was accepted because it also coincided with its strategic priorities. For the rest, in what concerns the large term of cooperation in education, like most parts of embassies here I think, there are relations, or, from time to time, requests of expertise in certain fields.

Lately you had some activities in cinemas here in Vilnius showing movies with free access, also showing movies in Cafe de Paris on some nights, as part of the Cine-Club.
AC: We try to have a meeting place for everybody here in the French Cultural Center, and on our Web page, and especially our blog didzioji1.blogspot.com; we try to put everything online and show all the diversity of our actions.
Also on the French culture site you have a web TV. What materials does it promote?
AC: We try to give the opportunity to all artists, scholars coming from France, or Lithuanians involved in our projects, to talk about what they are doing to large audiences through this blog - the first French-Lithuanian blog - everything being posted in both languages.

But there are also French television channels from France transmitted here in Lithuania - are they visible within the Embassy?
AC: In the cultural center in the lobby there is always a French TV channel on.

You have some offers of higher education studies on your Web site - is it a successful action, given the low number of French speakers here?
AC: It could be more successful, of course, because people often don’t know that it is possible to also continue their studies in English, in France. One other aspect is that universities in France are almost free of charge, just some little expenses. Then there are some facilities for students to find accommodation and also some grants that students may receive. The French embassy helps applicants to obtain the grants.
LG: For the candidate for a student grant one must submit their file, stating the reason for their choosing France for the studies, and knowing that the grants are reserved for students applying for a second Masters program or higher.

Do you know of any success stories of Lithuanians that have studied in France?
AC: Well, there are quite a lot, actually. What comes to mind now is one former student of philosophy in France who is now a university professor in Vilnius.
LG: In my field of activity there are constantly professors - of French or other fields - that come from a background of higher education in France and that have a very much appreciated level of knowledge.

Do you know where one could find the best French wine in Vilnius?
AC: Well, it depends on the taste of everybody. You can find great wine in Cafe de Paris, of course!
LG: You can find it anywhere, as long as you know how to read the labels - even cheaper wine in some small shop around the corner can be very tasty.