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December 12, 2013
It's 330 years later and the French influence remains prevalent in the Grosse Pointes. From the names of families, streets, the lake and the cities themselves to legends and lessons about the strip farms, French is part of the local life.

What better place for a chapter of Alliance Française to have a chapter? The organization, with 150 members, promotes and encourages the understanding of French culture with lectures, book clubs, films, parties and conversation.

Grosse Pointe's chapter is relatively new compared to the Detroit branch established in the early 1900s. Grosse Pointers Warren and Mireille Wilkinson and Nicole Stroh signed the articles of incorporation for Grosse Pointe's chapter in 1970, one of more than 160 chapters across the United States.

"It is there to encourage French and American understanding through language and culture," said three-time president David Thoms. "As a local chapter, we emphasis the Detroit/French heritage."

The Grosse Pointe chapter, along with chapters all over the world, promotes understanding between citizens of both countries, he said.

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French is the official language of 55 countries and is the second language that the United Nations uses in its printed material.

Some 150 Grosse Pointe members, half of whom admittedly don't speak French, but have a interest in French tourism, wine, art and culture, attend a variety of monthly club-sponsored activities.

Alliance Française's book club members read a book, printed in French, and discuss it. The Ciné-Club sponsors movies once a month at the Grosse Pointe Public Library, Woods branch, complete with subtitles, Thoms said.

Three conversation groups are held every month, half of the meeting time is conducted in French, the remaining portion is in English. Conversations could cover culture or politics.

The club also offers French classes from beginners to advanced intermediate at Assumption Cultural Center.

And there are always parties, Thoms laughs. The Christmas party, of course, offers French food. This is followed by Gallette de Roi in January featuring gallete, a form of cake, into which a plastic baby Jesus has been baked.

"This is a Southern French tradition. Whoever gets the (piece with the baby) is king for the day," he said of the day organized for children. "And an age-appropriate film is shown."

Another event hosted by Alliance Française is "immersion day." Held at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial, it's a day filled with games and activities of French origin. Attendees speak French, eat French food and play French games.

Thoms said one of his favorite club activities is distribution de Prix, another French custom. Teachers from all area public and private schools select one exceptional student in their French classes to receive a book and certificate from Alliance Française.

"It's a big deal in France," Thoms said. "(Locally) If a senior has won the prize all four years, he receives a small college scholarship."

While the two aforementioned events focus on students, adults can attend two to three lectures annually. These are open to the public. Recently, a Tunisian immigrant was invited to speak. Following her talk, a traditional Tunisian meal was served.

Alliance Française and the Detroit Institute of Arts have co-sponsored an art lecture. A spring lecture with the DIA is being scheduled, he said.

An attorney, Thoms joined the group in 1980 after greeting a client with a "bon jour." Her reply was talking him into joining Alliance Françise.

Members "join because they want to learn the culture, become more worldly, learn more about French culture, plus there is a party," he said.

For more information, call Christiane Stein at (586) 777-4602, e-mail cstein44@comcast.net or visit afgrossepointe.org.

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