There are about 1,500 Utahns with French passports, and many of them, frankly, kept a low profile during the "freedom fries" years.
Marie-Helene Glon, for example, cautioned her sons not to speak French in public.
But this is old news, says Glon, who prefers to look ahead. In her new position as Utah's honorary consul of France, she wants to promote French culture and French economic ties to Utah, and to bring together Utah's disparate French community so it really is more of a community one that other Utahns could get to know better. In the process, she hopes, she'll "break a few prejudices."
"If we're all scattered and don't gather, we're going to remain anonymous," she says. "And that's what I want to fight."
Certainly there are some stereotypes about the French, says Glon, who asks the reporter to suggest what those might be. Well, gulps the reporter, maybe sometimes "arrogant."
Yes, Glon agrees. "But we're not like that at all." It's more that the French tend to be private, she says. "We don't smile on the street" whereas in America, she's noticed, people smile everywhere, all the time.
Glon is one of 25 consuls and honorary consuls in Utah, some of them representing countries you might expect (Denmark, Mexico) and some a surprise (Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia). Honorary consuls don't have to actually be from the country they represent, as long as they speak the language and have strong ties to the country. Glon was appointed by the French government and had to go through an eight-month process of interviews and background checks.
Her duties include helping Utah's French nationals with passports and other official documents. She urges those French-Utahns who have not yet done so to register with the French Consulate in San Francisco, a process that is mandatory for certain international paperwork. Registering also offers them consular protection should they ever need it, she points out.
Although she has now lived in America for more than a decade, she says she will always consider herself "150 percent French." The walls of her Salt Lake home are covered with paintings of the poppy and lavender fields of her native Provence. She watches only French TV, reads only books in French, and reads French newspapers and magazines. She wants to keep up on the day-to-day life of her native country, she explains, and to track how her language is evolving. A linguist and translator, she also teaches French at Salt Lake Community College.
Glon's husband, Daniel, is also a linguist and translator. They moved to America so he could work for the '96 Olympics in Atlanta, and later relocated to Utah so Daniel could head up language services for the Winter Olympics.
As an honorary consul, Glon works hard to be, well, diplomatic.French President Nicolas Sarkozy's new marriage? "I think an honorary consul should not comment about that," she says with a smile. America's insistence on renaming French fries and French toast after the French government refused to back the U.S. before the 2003 invasion of Iraq? She prefers not to talk about such controversial things, she says. "I hope Americans are past that."
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