Living la vie française

March 1, 2012, 3:02 a.m.
Living la vie française
(SERENITY NGUYEN/The Stanford Daily)


With Toulouse Lautrec and Matisse-like vintage posters lined on the walls, the works of Descartes on the library shelves and beef bourguignon served at meals, La Maison Française lives up to its name as the campus’ French enclave.


La Maison Française, otherwise known as French House, is an undergraduate cultural themed house located on the Row. It is a self-op, run and organized by its residents.


Patricia de Castries, La Maison Française faculty affiliate, describes it as a place where students “are young and are allowed to make and learn from their mistakes.”


According to Edouard Negiar ’13, academic theme associate, the house enjoys being a very close-knit community. He attributes this to the residents’ shared interest in French culture.


There are three routes to attaining residence at La Maison Française. Students can pre-assign prior to the housing draw, apply to be a resident by selecting tier two in the housing draw or take their chances at being drawn in by selecting tier one.  


In the past, the house required applicants to speak French, have successfully completed one year of French at Stanford or have studied abroad for at least one quarter through the Bing Overseas Study Program (BOSP) in Paris.


The current application, written in French, asks the candidates to detail their connection to France and what they can contribute to the house.


Last year, half the current residents pre-assigned while the other half drew into the house, a ratio that has been relatively constant in recent years.


However, starting this year, applicants do not necessarily have to speak French to apply for residence in La Maison Française.


“We don’t want to exclude anyone if they don’t speak the language, but rather ask them why they have a particular interest in French culture and what they can add to the community,” Negiar said.


“Part of the excitement is that people are glad to be here and get involved in the French community, but not necessarily speak the language,” he added. “The more people buy into that, the more fun.”


A unique feature of the house is the classes offered almost every day of the week. On Monday, French conversation classes at beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels are held while introductory and advanced wine tasting classes, taught by de Castries, are offered on Tuesdays.


“These classes are among the most popular at Stanford and they are almost always filled up the second registration opens,” de Castries said.


On Wednesdays, Negiar teaches a French cinema seminar, screening new wave cinema, comedies, old classics and modern French movies.


“What’s important about the French House is that we don’t take ourselves too seriously, but instead try to informally organize fun events around French culture,” Negiar said.


The house also places an emphasis on French cuisine and tries to recreate the French culinary culture in the residence by offering French cooking classes and hosting La Table Française on Mondays, which attracts a variety of people including graduate students, faculty members and even Bay Area entrepreneurs to sample classic French food.


The dishes are prepared by Juan José , a Spanish born chef who trained in France. He serves some of his best French classics on the night, such as coq au vin, or chicken in wine.


“The experience is surreal; if a foreign student just came in, he would think he was transported to some weird French enclave where the baguettes, cheese and babbling away in French never stops,” Negiar said.


Fun-loving Chef José, who residents refer to as J.J., is a key part of the house community.


“‘J.J. has a great relationship with the students,” said resident Andrea Fuentes ’12. “He’s personable, fun to be around, jokes a lot and he’s a great cook, as well.”


La Maison Française also throws public events such as Crêpe Night. In preparation, residents put up wall decorations, lay tablecloths and hang Christmas lights to give the house a romantic feel. When the guests arrive, the students transform into cooks and waiters and serve savory and sweet crêpes.


The profits from Crêpe Night go toward funding house activities and excursions. In the past, excursions have included trips to the de Young Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco to see a Picasso exhibition on loan from the Musée national Picasso in Paris, or simply taking outings to French bistros in the area.


Another popular public event held at La Maison Française is Café Night, which has a more party-like atmosphere complete with a DJ on one side of the house and a live jazz band on the other.


“Café Night is the best, most social alternative to the Greek houses on campus for people who do not find themselves represented in the crowds at frat[ernity] parties,” Negiar said.


Students agree, hailing nights, classes and food at La Maison Française as a welcome addition to their Stanford experience.


“My first experience at the French House was great,” said Mauricio Antunano ‘15. “I instantly noticed the unique vibe and it was a very welcome change from the usual Stanford atmosphere.”


“I love going to the French House with my friends,” said Narjis Sarehane ’13. “Its a charming place where people can blend into French culture and traditions in a different country.”

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