The French In Houston Today
By John S. Ambler
At least three hundred French women married United States military personnel during or immediately after World War II and settled in Houston. Many of these newly arrived war brides were discouraged by the unavailability of familiar French foods, by the total unfamiliarity of a sprawling, automobile-based city, and by the Houston climate before the era of air conditioning. Scores of disoriented French war brides found counsel and comfort in the home of Germaine Miller, who was herself the French wife of an American naval officer and who chose to settle in Houston because of its friendliness. By the end of the 1970s, there was a formal organization, Houston Acceuil (Houston Welcome), to provide help with problems ranging from finding a French cheese shop to locating a French-speaking physician. More than eighty families—90 percent of these being short-term French residents—belong to this organization. Its women’s bridge meetings—like those of expatriates everywhere—offer an occasion to relax in the company of fellow citizens and to share feelings and impressions about such curious American phenomena as the fifteen-minute dinner, prayers before football games, and the use of first names with virtual strangers
Divisions Within the French Community
Formal and informal social networks link groups of French people to each other in Houston. Yet there is no general sense of community among them. There are no evident political or religious divisions among French Houstonians. The two most important lines of division seem to be length of residence and level of education.
French employees of French firms, brought to Houston for a residence of only a few years, have relatively little contact with permanent French residents. Their social contacts tend to be with each other and with the American employees who outnumber the French in the local offices of most French firms. Among permanent residents, the majority belong to no group that brings them into association with other French people. The same people tend to see each other at social and cultural functions. Although small entrepreneurs are represented in the Alliance Françoise membership, organized cultural and social life seems to attract primarily well-educated French people. Hairdressers, restaurant waiters, and less well-educated war brides are more likely to be left out of the social functions of the consulate and of the formal organizations.
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