Brittany not so different from NZ

KNOW YOUR NEIGHBOUR: Sterenn Jaouen speaks about French life and culture, and it turns out it is  not so different to New Zealand.
ROBERT KITCHEN/FARIFAX NZ
KNOW YOUR NEIGHBOUR: Sterenn Jaouen speaks about French life and culture, and it turns out it is not so different to New Zealand.

The rain came down thick and fast on a Thursday afternoon as the weather relentlessly bombed Palmerston North with its continued salvos.

Inside the City Library, a French woman talked about "the region where it's always raining".

Interestingly enough, she was not talking about Manawatu but her home province of Brittany in north-west France.

Sterenn Jaouen was this month's speaker at the Know Your Neighbour programme, organised by Settlement Support Manawatu.

Miss Jaouen's 25-minute presentation to about 40 people covered the fashion, language, food, culture, history and music of France, specifically Brittany.

Settlement Support administrator Tracey Allan said that was the main reason the presentation was well-attended.

"It was a country they were interested in," she said.

"We don't hear many bad things about France."

Brittany is not beautiful in the traditional sense, suffering extensive damage during World War II, but it is a province with similarities to New Zealand.

The main drivers of Brittany's economy are dairy farming and fishing.

Like te reo Maori, the native language of Breton was discouraged for a generation.

During the 1950s, children were punished for speaking Breton in class and signs would read "Il est interdit de parler Breton et de cracher par terre," or "It is forbidden to speak Breton and to spit on the floor."

In the 1980s, at a similar time to the revival of the Maori language, Breton underwent its own renaissance.

Miss Jaouen said that while the language was reasonably well known, lingering feelings of shame prevented people from speaking it as often as they could.

A popular part of Miss Jaouen's presentation was the cultural overlap between Brittany and Celtic nations such as Ireland and Wales.

The most commonly used traditional instruments are the bagpipes and the Celtic harp.

Miss Jaouen admitted to getting nervous before speaking but the love of her country did make it easier. Mrs Allan commended her courage.

"I think it's a brave thing to get up and talk about your country in another language."

Miss Jaouen said a person's perspective was usually more interesting than a book or the internet.

"You can read a book, but it's not the same," she said.

One audience member said it was good to learn about a country that might not otherwise be in the forefront of public thinking.

"It's easy to learn about England and the United States, but not these other countries," she said.

"The girl was proud of her country and you didn't get any of the misery you get in the news."

For the next Know Your Neighbour session on August 2, a group of people from Mongolia led by Ariunaa Mendtso will speak. It starts at noon at the Sound and Vision Zone, City Library.

Manawatu Standard