The Portland Culture Exchange’s Facebook page states its creed: “Portland has a bright present and an even brighter future as a multicultural city. We’re here to bridge the social gap between ‘Mainer’ and ‘New Mainer.'”
With that in mind, Lilly Pearlman, the exchange’s most visible face and social event organizer, on Wednesday night put together a bilingual night of French and English conversation at Chez Okapi, an African restaurant on St. John Street.
“Basically, the project is to bring together these communities that exist, that are multicultural and multilingual,” said Pearlman, who lives on Munjoy Hill. “I think the point of tonight is just to get people together and help people get to know each other by learning and sharing with each other, the languages that we speak.”
Native English speakers — mostly white folks from around here — were paired-up with native French speakers, who were mostly new Mainers from places like Angola, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. All participants took turns speaking in both languages. Linguistic skill levels ranged from expert to spotty. Pens and paper, along with hand gestures, were deployed where vocabularies failed.
Smiles, laughter and the international drink of choice, pale beer in a green bottle, were shared all around.
The Portland Cultural Exchange hosted an international musical street jam in Monument Square on First Fridays throughout the summer months. Pearlman said she hopes to hold the French and English exchange nights at Chez Okapi on a monthly basis this winter.