The Alliance Française Dublin is a French language and cultural centre which also hosts a French Multimedia Library. Philippe Milloux has been its director for four years.
Dublin.ie met him in his elegant corner office at the former premises of the Kildare Street Club, home to the Alliance since 1960. A framed Charlie Hebdo cover hangs on the wall. The ideals of the Enlightenment, of debate and of the freedom of expression are important to M. Milloux. But so is romance.
Dublin.ie: What were your impressions of Dublin when you first came here?
PM: When I arrived first I fell in love twice. First with the country, and then with my partner, my lovely Dee from Limerick who is now my wife. Sometimes we are lost in translation but she explains a lot to me. I will plan ahead and she will look at me and say ‘yeah Philippe, whatever’, But then you know she’s right because actually something has happened in between and she takes it much more relaxedly – so that would be the Greek way! There’s a bit of Greece here, there’s a bit of Australia here.
I think I felt myself to be at home within two weeks.
Dublin.ie: Where else have you worked?
PM: I’m a primary school teacher, that was my first job when I was 18. I started to travel when I was 24. I discovered that my language was needed and asked for so I would give private tuition. I lived in Stockholm and Greece. I come from a very rural part of France – from a small village of 80 people. My father was a mechanic and I was supposed to be a mechanic too and take over the garage. And my dad, and I love him for this, he said ‘no, no you’re bright at school. You keep on going. You do your best and eventually you can become a teacher and I’ll be happy.’ So I did. And I decided to learn languages as well because I had discovered that I loved them. I speak three or four languages well now. German was my first language after French. I lived in Italy so I speak Italian. I lived in Greece so I speak a little Greek.
Dublin.ie: Why should I learn French?
PM: I would answer in a very diplomatic way: learn any language. But French of course would really please us! Without another language, you have a huge price to pay when you want to go abroad – if you leave all the English-speaking countries you can find it very difficult to survive. And for business of course: learn French because of the African market which is huge. French is still the second official language of the UN after English. Learn French because Brussels will use you, multinationals will use you. People use the language as a tool nowadays. We move from one country to another. What you need is a tool for communications and better job opportunities.
Dublin.ie: Sure, but what’s wrong with learning French using this free app on my phone, for instance?
PM: Oh yes, we have competitors everywhere – which was not the case 20 years ago.
But we may try a new catchphrase for next year which will be very bold: ‘Others teach, with us you learn’. And to learn you need to interact with real people speaking the language you’re learning.
Dublin.ie: Who comes here?
PM: Everyone. Any human being can learn a language at any time. Our oldest student is maybe 77. Regarding nationalities, it’s a melting pot: I would say 75% of our population is Irish but the rest is from the rest of the planet: we have German, Italian, Spanish and a lot of Brazilian people recently: French will help them to have access to the European market.
Dublin.ie: You have 4000 students. C’est beaucoup, n’est ce pas?
PM: We are the third largest Alliance in Europe. And the other two are Paris and Brussels – so they’re cheating! I was in Australia before, in Sydney, a city of four million people. The Alliance there has 2500 students. So when you look at the ratio of the population and the number of students, this place is no.1 on the planet.
Dublin.ie: Why is French so popular in Dublin?
PM: I think it’s part of your culture. The French and the Irish have been very close to each other for many, many years. It’s part of the history we share. We can go right back to General Humbert, who tried to establish a democracy in this country in 1798. This friendship that you read about is true – we get along very well. I think there’s something in common between Irish people and French people. And of course in Brittany we have a Celtic culture in common with Ireland and Scotland too.
Dublin.ie: And Irish culture: any favourites?
PM: Well you know I’ve tried 600 times to read Ulysses! We have this Franco-Irish festival of literature every year which is a big thing and so I read a lot of the modern young generation. Paul Lynch would come first into my head. And I love John Banville – I love the way he is so sharp – for him, every word in every sentence has to be so precisely chosen.
Dublin.ie salutes Philppe for his good taste and thanks him for his time – as well as for some excellent coffee from the Alliance’s own cafe on the ground floor. The croissants are good too, naturellement.