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Cover Story: A French Kiss

Speaking the language, loving the culture and drinking the wine

By Julie Mullins · February 14th, 2007 · Cover Story
  Barbara Klaw
Joe Lamb

Barbara Klaw

Name/Organization: Barbara Klaw, President of Alliance Française

Years as President: Since May 2006

How did you get the position: "It's an election. It's very informal, (whichever members) show up vote. You're nominated first. Then the people that are already the officers of our organization discuss it amongst themselves and see how they feel about it, and it just goes from there."

Duties: "I'm still trying to figure that out. We have a board meeting every now and then, usually once a month. We usually have some (social) function once a month, too. Also, part of my function is to greet people and make sure everybody who doesn't know somebody knows somebody else when they leave. And I've corresponded with quite a few French people this year who are anticipating coming to Cincinnati and (have) managed to get them to actually have a 10-minute conversation in my home when they've passed through, to see if maybe they would choose to accept a job here or not."

Salary: Volunteer

Trusted second in command: "(Vice President) Renee Lowther has been wonderful. I have to say that she is really the glue of the entire organization."

How many people do you boss around? "I don't really boss anybody around; it doesn't work that way.

It's hard to boss around people who are volunteer workers, for one."

President Bush gets "Hail to the Chief" played when he walks in a room; if your position had a ceremonial song attached to it, what would it be?: "I have no clue."

Parlez-vous français? But of course you remember high school French, n'est-ce pas? Even if you don't, the Alliance Française will still welcome you. It's a local haven for francophones, francophiles and French folks alike.

The local Alliance Française president, Barbara Klaw, is a French professor at Northern Kentucky University by day and in her spare time wears several hats in her presidential role: board meeting manager, social event planner, marketer, ambassador, people-connecter.

Klaw also possesses the sartorial saavy of a Gallic gal. The afternoon we meet for a chat over coffee, she's strikingly clad in a fitted, tomato-red leather jacket with bold, substantial silver zippers running its length.

Between her warm, friendly enthusiasm and genuine interest in people, Klaw strikes me as a quintessential ambassador for the group. She smiles often as she speaks about her love of all things French -- dating back to an experimental grade school program.

She spends summers in France whenever possible and enjoys being in touch with spoken French and French people at all times. "It's sort of created a second family and allowed me to recreate, I suppose, a pseudo-French life here," says the Chicagoland native.

Alliance Française strives to recreate a French universe here as much as possible through social activities involving things members are interested in: think themed dinner parties, wine and cheese tastings and, of course, an annual Bastille Day celebration.

"(French) people tend to have different conversations when you have dinner parties than Americans," Klaw notes, "because you're allowed to talk about all those taboo subjects (such as) politics and religion and people can all disagree and that's just fine. It doesn't mean you hate anybody. It's just different."

Klaw says there are about 300 members in the local independent chapter of the national nonprofit organization, and individual annual dues are $40 (with adjusted fees for students and families). There's also a fee for the various social events to cover costs for food and beverages (read: wine), but members do receive discounts. Guests are also welcome.

For more information, visit france-cincinnati.com



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