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Dec 18 2010

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No escaping… Australian Francophilia

I’m certain that Melbourne is home to more Francophiles per capita than any other city in Australia, perhaps even in the English-speaking world. I don’t have empirical data for this, just a strong gut feeling. A shopkeeper only has to give her shop a French name and stock a few things French and the Francophiles come like homing pigeons, including moi of course.

A Belgian friend (who is francophone and fairly Francophile, but whose mother tongue is Flemish) was here in Melbourne a few years ago, helping out in a friend’s handmade soap shop for a few months. The customers were forever asking her if she were French. The first few times, she tried explaining what she really was, but soon gave up as the women always seemed so disappointed to find she wasn’t. She found it easier to say, ‘Yes, I’m French’. She quickly discovered that the customers would invariably buy a great many more bars and balls of soap, when they thought they were being served by a Frenchwoman. Amazing, non?

One of these days I will conduct some research into the emotions invoked in Australian (and possibly mainly female) hearts and minds by the idea of Frenchness. It doesn’t happen to the same extent at all in England, I’ve noticed, where the longlived antagonisms and rivalries between the English and the French completely obliterate any emotional resonance of French glamour that so characterises the feelings of many Australians.

My latest evidence in my eternal quest for empirical evidence of Australian Francophilia is in the form of a little shop called l’uccello. Yes, I know that’s Italian, but the shop itself is stocked with more French items than Italian. The owner says she loves all things Parisian and Venetian, and was just enamoured of the Italian word for ‘bird’, that she had to use it as the name for her shop.  I told her I thought l’oiseau would be better, but she didn’t look convinced.

L’uccello is on the second floor of the Nicholas Building on Swanston Street (near the corner with Flinders Lane)—and there are a great many other quirky little shops in that building, if you are planning to visit. The Nicholas Building itself is considered the grandest commercial example of the 1920s palazzo architecture in Melbourne, is classified by the National Trust, and on the Victorian Heritage Register. It was originally built 1925-26 for Alfred Nicholas, one of the men who developed Aspro, after his chemist brother George Nicholas invented it around 1915. You can find more details on the history here.

But back to the shopping: I especially love the reproduction French pastoral-scene fabrics, and yesterday bought some to make European pillow-slips, and matching runners for the bedside tables; as well as some very lovely French vintage buttons.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.escapetoparis.com/2010/12/no-escaping%e2%80%a6-australian-francophilia/

1 comment

  1. Judy MacMahon

    Bonjour Carolyne, I agree with you about the ‘frenchness’ in Melbourne. Check out http://www.MyFrenchLife.org, francophone & francophile community started here in Melbourne and growing globally. 500 members in Melb & 6 reunions/month :-) http://www.mel.MyFrenchLife.org …please join us :) Judy

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