by Jessie Ammons
photograph by Travis Long
“We don’t have any family here. In a way, this is our family.” –Sandrine Pauwels, co-host of the French social club
When Sandrine and Jean Pauwels moved from Paris to Raleigh 16 years ago, they were delighted to find a community of French natives in the area. Sandrine, especially, met regularly with women for coffee and book exchanges, but conversation would often return to wanting to connect on a less formal level. So the couple decided to open their Oakwood home. “We invited people to come, bring a dish, bring a bottle of wine,” says Sandrine. “It’s mostly open to the French community, but of course our American friends are welcome,” says Jean, before adding, with a chuckle, “we certainly have Francophiles, too.”
What began two years ago as a monthly potluck of a few dozen acquaintances quickly grew into 50-plus dapper guests, sometimes as many as 90 of them, who trickle in and out. “It starts at 7 p.m., and then it’s – whatever. Until…” says Jean. Sometimes, the merriment continues until 1 a.m. The group now meets every other month and invitations spread via word-of-mouth. “It’s become a connection between people who live here and people who are arriving here” from France, Jean says.
Minglers – including the couple’s children, Pauline, 17, and Alexandre, 21 – span every age and occupation, speaking French and eating heavy, savory hors d’oeuvres. As the clock approaches 10 p.m., the snacks switch to sweets. “It’s fun,” Sandrine says. “It’s just fun, fun, really fun.”