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For Bastille Day, French groups are de rigueur on Long Island

Tina Mercier-Elsakka, of Huntington, writes French words heard

Tina Mercier-Elsakka, of Huntington, writes French words heard in conversation at the Huntington French conversation class at the Huntington Public Library in Huntington Station July 5, 2016. Credit: Marisol Diaz

Apropos of Le quatorze juillet — Bastille Day — one might get a hankering to speak in the mother tongue of France.

Some folks, however, don’t need the French National Day — celebrated July 14 — as an excuse and actually do it chaque semaine.

A group of decidedly determined Francophiles meets each Tuesday at Huntington Public Library to converse in French, learn about the culture and simply delight in la belle langue du monde vieux.

“I missed France and speaking French so much,” says Tina Mercier-Elsakka, 66, the group’s leader, whose love of French and singer Charles Aznavour began under the spell of a high school French teacher. She married a Frenchman and lived in France and the Ivory Coast for 22 years before returning home to Huntington in 1994.

At the club, Mercier-Elsakka explains, “We’re all here to celebrate the French culture and language.”

And so they do, reading news articles about France (in French), listening to Edith Piaf songs (in French), discussing current events and playing board games — aussi en français. Occasionally, Mercier-Elsakka jots down words or expressions on the library’s whiteboard.

“Il n’y a pas de quoi,” Mercier-Elsakka writes, explaining its two meanings: there’s no reason or you’re welcome.

Having studied abroad in Provence, Janine Melillo, 64, of Plainview, also put her French skills to use when she later lived in Canada. Now she keeps those skills well honed at these weekly meetings.

An attorney by day, Pam Goshman notes that her 20-year-old son studied French in school for years.

“My son won’t speak French with me because I’m not French,” says Goshman, 61, of Dix Hills. Her pals at “La Conversation,” as they’ve dubbed their group, happily oblige.

Though the club boasts about 50 members, 10 or so show up at any given meeting, including David Sprintzen, 76, of Syosset, an expert on philosophers Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. Sprintzen helps guide the members through the dual rigors of existentialism and reading in French.

“It’s a lovely group: gracious of spirit,” Mercier-Elsakka says of La Conversation. “In French you say, ‘Gracieux.’ ”

A former teacher and now an ardent traveler, Lee Levy, 80, of Melville, recalls meeting Jacques Chirac, then president of France, at the 60th anniversary commemoration of D-Day, to whom she declared, “J’aime La France!”

“It was magic,” she says, beaming.

Farther east, at Panera Bread near Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove, the Centereach French Club, a group with 75 members, also meets each Tuesday evening.

First come the introductions, explains Bala Swaminathan, 47, of South Setauket, who runs the group to reconnect with the language he learned during a summer studying in Montreal.

With no set agenda, the eight or so attendees at any given meeting introduce themselves and discuss current topics — mostly in French — except for the newbies, who are permitted to speak in English.

Eric Loehwing, 73, of St. James, a retired Hauppauge High School French teacher, assists with corrections and brings a French flag to meetings to help newcomers find les francophones.

Observing that in many instances of life people tend to stay in socially insular groups, Loehwing says, “We have a very, very wide range of backgrounds and that makes it interesting.” New members, he adds, are always welcome.

Back at the library, les hommes et les femmes catch up with one another, relishing their brief time together to exult in all things Francais.

Arriving about an hour late, Jacqueline Doremus, 49, of Northport, is eager to spend at least a few minutes speaking and thinking in French. The youngster in the group, Doremus, 49, jokes en français that she received her AARP card today. Laughter and bonhomie fill the room.

Says Mercier-Elsakka, “We’re just French lovers.”

Il est très évident.

Both groups have pages where members can join and RSVP for meetings.

La Conversation

WHEN | WHERE 6:30-8 p.m. Tuesdays at Huntington Public Library — Station Branch, 1335 New York Ave., Huntington Station

INFO 631-421-5053

This group is not for beginners; intermediate-level French skills are necessary.

Centereach French Club

WHEN | WHERE 7-8:30 p.m. Tuesdays at Panera Bread, 143 Alexander Ave., Lake Grove

INFO 631-366-2079

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