India can be something of a culture shock if you only speak French and are coming here for the first time. Ask Laurence Dubois who followed her husband, an executive with a private company, to Delhi around a year ago. “I had no idea where to buy furniture, or get fish,” she says in her heavily accented English.
That's where Delhi Accueil (Delhi Welcome) came in.
It is a group of around 205 French and French-speaking volunteers, mostly stay-at-home wives of French and French-speaking expats in Delhi, but there are also a handful of Indians fluent in French.
Delhi Accueil’s raison d’etre is to make the initial difficult months of a newcomer’s stay in the new, alien city a little easier.
It has a website and also publishes a newsletter giving out phone numbers of doctors, beauticians, decorators and the like, along with information on what to do for the utilities — electricity, water, gas, phone, schools — and where to get the grocery and dairy products, meat, bread and other things you took for granted at home.
Formed in 2005, Delhi Accueil is part of a large international group, the Fédération Internationale des Accueil Français et Francophone à la Etranger, present in 160 cities in 76 countries.
The group also works as a support structure for the women, providing like-minded companionship.
Every weekday morning, during the short gap when the day’s housework is taken care of and before it’s time to pick up the children from school, the members get together for some ‘conference’ or the other conversation classes in English, or Hindi, or German, or Spanish.
Then there are also classes to familiarise the members with aspects of Indian culture, the sari or the significance of Diwali; or it could also be a book reading at a coffee shop.
“It gives us a something to do and the feeling that we're not alone,” says Corrine Marquis, president of the group.
Not just that. “If there’s an emergency and I can’t go to pick up my son, I can always ask someone from the group to help out,” says Sara Anglade, who’s been in Delhi two years now.
Then of course, there're French paperbacks to exchange and valuable tips and advices on good maids and drivers.
Delhi Accueil also organises a couple of big parties in a year.
There’s the French mela held at Alliance Francaise, the French cultural centre, generally in late November; a ‘welcome back’ party sometime in October when all the families return for the beginning of the new session in school, and, of course, a grand Christmas party on the Sunday after the festival where all members and their friends congregate at a farmhouse and spread good cheer.