November 4, 2004
Carmel Irandoust didn’t have to worry about her figure when she moved to the United States with her husband four months ago. At least that’s what friends back in Paris said.
"They told me everybody (in America) is fat and they eat a lot," said Irandoust, 23. "But here in Scottsdale I see no fat people. Everybody is thin, blond and really proud of their bodies."
Oh, la la! Now that Irandoust has a driver’s license, she’s bound to discover her friends weren’t necessarily wrong, but she still was apprehensive about moving to the United States.
"I was scared a little bit," Irandoust said. "Everyone said to be careful because Americans don’t like France. . . . All they know about us is that we don’t like (President) Bush."
The East Valley’s growing and culturally vibrant Francophone community this week will host a series of events celebrating all things French. Festivities will include a petanque tournament, a scavenger hunt illuminating France’s contribution to the Valley, a wine and cheese tasting and various lectures.
"There’s been a necessity to draw attention to the French presence, culture and contribution," said Bill Hendrickson, professor emeritus of French at Arizona State University. "There’s been a little bad blood, although it turns out the French were not necessarily wrong. I think there’s a tendency to forget about that."
French President Jacques Chirac’s refusal to follow the United States into a war with Iraq prompted an immediate backlash. Lawmakers renamed french fries in the cafeteria of the U.S. House of Representatives "freedom fries," and restaurants across the country followed suit. For a while, buying French wine for the sole purpose of dumping it was an expression of patriotism.
Some of the Valley’s French community, which numbers around 5,000, brush off these incidents as silly, but others found it difficult to bear.
"I like America," said 20-year Scottsdale resident Alain Mantel. "I am here, a citizen and a patriot, even if sometimes there is a little tension between ideas. But what can I do?"
Most of the Valley’s French residents arrived with companies such as Motorola and Boeing and decided to stay. Although there is a French elementary school in Scottsdale, most opt to send their children to public schools.
"You get people who are going to make France here and not adapt," said Brigitte Terseur, Tempe resident and president of the New Acropolis Cultural Association. "The most important thing in life is what you do. You make your nest anywhere as long as you are being positive and constructive."
Today a growing international presence in the Valley and a close-knit network of cultural organizations such as the Alliance Française, the New Acropolis Cultural Association and Art Renaissance help French expatriates adjust to life in the Arizona desert.
Although relations between the United States and France are still tense, Irandoust’s concerns about her new home turned out to be unfounded.
"People are so warm," said Irandoust, who perfected her English by watching Jerry Springer and CNN. "I never felt any resentment or that people don’t like me because I’m French."