A great ex-pat life — but a long way from home

Seattle's French Underground: Ensconced in metro Puget Sound, French nationals nonetheless feel the inevitable tug of the homeland. Conclusion
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Seattle's French Underground: Ensconced in metro Puget Sound, French nationals nonetheless feel the inevitable tug of the homeland. Conclusion

Fourth and last of a series

All French transplants, however much they like metro Puget Sound, face the same questions: Are they going back and, if so, when? Even those who rebelled against their education re-consider it for the benefits it might bring their children. Others feel they could drift too far, culturally or linguistically. There is the financial planning that college tuition here requires, plus, as close relatives grow older, distance matters more. Says Benoît Vialle, a senior planner in Mobile Communications at Microsoft: "For us, it seems to be a sliding window of time that we keep moving. Right now, I think we will be here three more years, until our oldest son is ready to enter middle school."

Olivier Fontana, another French Softie who came to Issaquah in 2003, also hears the clock ticking. "Within four years, we will have to choose: definitely staying here or definitely going back. I don't think about it, though – I'll just see how it goes." Marie-Christine Bodinier has no children, but she has the same concerns. "It's such a long way from family and from friends. I don't have plans to leave and, here, I have a great life. But I still think about being nearer to home in the future."

Muriel Monteiro, who grew up near Vichy, came to Seattle nine years ago. Two years later, she fulfilled a longtime dream by opening Lola Pop, her fashion boutique in Fremont. Supervising its array of young, smart Parisian labels takes Monteiro back to Paris three times a year. For now, she says, she is loyal to Puget Sound. "In Seattle, you can be with French people and live the French way. For instance, I really love the Pike Place Market, just going there with my little umbrella and my basket. It doesn't feel like I'm in America then, because it's still old buildings, local produce, good cheeses."

"I've been hiking and so on," she says. "But I don't do much around the area, I'm here to work. I have my friends - my good friends - and my life here is really comfortable. But when I go away, I take a plane; I'll fly to Thailand or Europe."

Monteiro relishes the bio lifestyle. "I love yoga and there are great teachers here. Acupuncture, massage, naturopaths, all of those are excellent." What is not excellent, however, is the hardcore side of health care – about which every French person tends to have a strong opinion. Even the most well covered tell you it is just wrong, both logically and morally.

Says Fontana, "The HMO thing - when a guy explained me this in France, I didn't even believe him. Because our way of thinking is: It's a choice of life. You make less money, you pay for it, sure. But you're gonna sleep well. If you get sick, you're not going to be out on the street. You're not gonna have to pay for your kids' schools, all that kind of stuff. Like an insurance, you know? The more you want the more premium you have to pay. Here, insurance is just an image. It's very cheap but it covers very little."

Health care is one of those things, admits Monteiro, through which Seattle remains nothing more than just part of America. "There are too many horror stories. I hear them from all my customers and I have my own. As a French person, I was taught to have respect for age. Here, I don't see that - and I don't want it, either."

She gives a Gallic shrug. "Every winter, at Christmas, I go to the Pike Place Market. I stand in the line and I buy one of those tiny doughnuts. Then, I get a paper cup of sample tea from Market Spice. I take them to a place that looks out over the Sound. This is my special ritual. And, when I have to leave, I will really, really miss it."

Resources for francophones

French American Chamber of Commerce, Pacific Northwest Chapter
2200 Alaskan Way
Seattle, WA 98121

Seattle BIO Sea
Official web site of the Seattle French biotech community.

Alliance Française de Seattle
4649 Sunnyside Ave N # 205
Seattle, WA 98103

Alliance Française de Portland
1425 SW 20th Ave # 104
Portland, OR 97201

Seattle Nantes Sister City Association
Seattle-Nantes Sister City Association
7007 35th Avenue NW
Seattle, WA 98117

Mercer Island - Thonon les Bains Sister City Organization
c/o Mercer Island Chamber of Commerce
7613 S.E. 27th Street
Mercer Island, WA 98040
Contact: Jane Meyer Brahm

Seattle Francophone Info online forum)
French Conversation Meetings
These vary from time to time, so check to be certain they are indeed scheduled. Various local language schools also sponsor conversation groups for their students.

French on the Hill
Tuesdays, 7 p.m.
Le Dilettante
416 Broadway E, Seattle 98102

Phinney French
Wednesdays, 7-9 p.m.
Phinney Market
5918, Phinney Ave N
206-789 3663
Contact Tanya 206-313-0696

The Seattle French Language Meetup Group
Different locations and dates; over 300 members

Third Place Books French Conversation
Tuesdays, 5:30 to 7:00 p.m.
Lake Forest Park Towne Centre
17171 Bothell Way NE, Lake Forest Park

Les Grenouilles
A group of francophone families in Seattle, Bellevue, Redmond, Kirkland, Sammamish and other areas with francophone children. At least one parent must be francophone: parents speak French with their children.
Contact: Mireille Gourribon-Geerlings at LesGrenouillesSeattle-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

TV5 Monde
The international francophone television network, number 3 in the world after CNN and MTV
Via cable: Comcast

Via satellite:
Distributed by Dish Network


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