A group of first-time acquaintances got together over lunch last week just to practise our French.
Practise might be a bit of an overstatement; few of us could handle a rudimentary conversation. The rest, me included, struggled to put a sentence together.
We met at Resto Gare in St. Boniface, the waiter was kind ("That's an appetizer," he pointed out quietly in case I didn't know), we all gamely introduced ourselves with a "je m'appelle __, et je suis __" and after a glass of wine (maybe even before) we tried a little Truth or Dare (action ou vérité) with two charming volunteer tutors, Sophie Gaulin and Mariette Mulaire.
It was fun, it was frustrating, it was humbling to be stripped of that comfort zone of words and propelled tongue-tied into a social occasion.
Many of us took French in school. Many of us wish we'd kept it up.
And it impressed upon me once again how lucky Winnipeg is to have this community in its midst.
When a recent visitor from Vancouver sniffed at our Chinatown, I told him to go to St. Boniface -- the largest francophone community in Western Canada. It's the resting place of Louis Riel, I told him, and home to Canada's oldest running theatre, not to mention a great little French newspaper called La Liberté.
Take that, snippy B.C. tourist.
Starting Saturday, the Free Press and La Liberté are launching a new feature called "le fil des Francophiles."
It's a weekly news feature and photo from one of La Liberté's five reporters, inside Saturday's FYI section. And FYI, it will be en français.
Think of it as a new Sudoku or Cryptoquote, to help you dust off your Grade 12 French brain.
La Liberté won't talk down to you; these are stories written for and about this city's francophone community. Their editor is Sophie Gaulin, who moved here from southern France five years ago and loves the snow and this city and its people.
We cooked up the idea last fall, before Mulaire's surprise invitation to lunch.
We hope you enjoy it. If you get stuck, call on the French immersion kid in the family, or try Google Translate. Those who don't like French on the back of their Corn Flakes boxes, turn the page. But don't underestimate the value of what Mulaire calls "francofun."
The first lesson gleaned from last week's impromptu rendezvous was there's nothing more endearing than grown-ups trying to learn something new.
We prairie folk really suck at that air-kissing shtick.
It gets easier, we were assured, with practice.