An interview with Thomas Ponte is an Alliance Francaise teacher, former FLE trainer in Paris. Amateur rugby and table football (Subbuteo) player. Thomas arrived in Odessa in February 2020 and then returned to France in July. He finally returned to Odessa in January 2021 to live and work.
Which part of Odessa reminds you of your hometown and why?
I must admit that Odessa is absolutely different from Paris and its region. Perhaps the Tairova district reminds me of certain large estates in the greater Parisian suburbs. A bit also the traffic jams… but Parisian traffic jams are still at an incomparable level!
Please indicate where you are from?
I was born in the south of Paris where I grew up, Issy-les-Moulineaux to be precise. I spent a large part of my life there except a 5-year stint in Amiens, Emmanuel Macron’s birthplace between Paris and Lille.
Did any of your family or friends come to see you in Odessa?
Unfortunately, I have been in Odessa since March 2020 and health restrictions have so far prevented my relatives from visiting me in Odessa.
What advice would you give to your compatriots who are planning to come to Odessa for the first time?
At least know how to read the Cyrillic alphabet… and take their swimsuits! And also get lost in the city center to discover the surprising architecture!
What’s the most interesting thing about your job?
Meetings with Francophile personalities.
Do you think French culture influences Ukrainian culture and how? Can we still see this influence today?
In the days of the Soviet Union there was a benevolence and promotion of French culture. For example, the book of the Three Musketeers is more popular in Ukraine than in France! I think that unfortunately, now American culture has taken over even if French cinema is still very much watched in Ukraine.
What do you think is the image of the French for the Ukrainians? In general, what representation do the French have in Ukraine?
I’m going to be in the clichés, but the French know Ukraine above all for the femininity and the beauty of Ukrainian women. The Ukraine is not unknown to the French, notably thanks to the song “Petit Boris et Natacha” but as a general rule all the countries which are between Germany and Russia are considered by the French as a single block: l ‘Eastern Europe.
What can Ukrainians learn from the French? What can the French learn from the Ukrainians?
The French could draw inspiration from the dynamism of the Ukrainians and their capacity to adapt to social and economic changes. For the Ukrainians, in search of their national identity, it would be relevant to be interested in the relations between France and Belgium for the linguistic part and between France and Algeria for the historical part and not to repeat the same mistakes.
What story that happened in Odessa and in connection with the culture and the French language do you prefer?
Even if it’s a myth, I think that the song Potemkine by Jean Ferrat remains a very strong symbol.
Imagine that you have to show characteristic elements of French culture (a book, a film, a song, a painting, an actor, a gastronomic specialty, architecture (not the Eiffel Tower) or a monument). What would you choose?
Without hesitation, Asterix. Both Comics and animated films (I am less a fan of films with actors, even if we have to admit that Asterix, Mission Cleopatra is a success) …