New Jersey’s ties with the French have always run deep. It was here that French General Lafayette led revolutionary forces in a fight for liberty. And it was here that as a token of appreciation, Princeton, Trenton, Hamilton, Ewing, Hopewell, New Brunswick, and other New Jersey locales dedicated the streets that still honor him.
It was also here that years later, French citizens fleeing their own revolution and the failures of the Napoleonic wars arrived in the Garden State, including Napoleon’s brother, Joseph, whose Bordentown mansion brought high French culture to small town New Jersey.
And it was New Jersey’s Essex Troop that led the way to the liberation of Paris during World War II.
Today that French and New Jersey connection — while seemingly invisible — is stronger and deeper than one imagines, so deep that Honorary French Consul Anne de Broca-Hoppenot, right, can sit comfortably in her Princeton home office — appointed with a French flag, a few images of officials, and a row of official documents — and say with all legal certainty, “You are now in France.”
As proof she references the French blazon over the door. It says, Agence Consulaire de France and, according to the French Embassy, it stands for “protecting the interests of French nationals abroad.”
Yet it begs the question, why the need for a French consul in Princeton in the first place? The answer: c’est la vie. Or more accurately, the large number of French citizens who have settled in this region and made the consul a necessity in the first place. And despite what many conjecture, Princeton University is not the reason.
As the New York Times reported in 1998, “This year, the French consul general in New York City appointed an honorary consul for New Jersey: Caroline Lareuse of Princeton. Mrs. Lareuse, who is married to a Frenchman, holds dual citizenship and has long been active in many Franco-American activities, exemplifies the kind of personal ties that have developed through programs that let public officials and private citizens reach out to people around the world. One such program is Sister Cities International” — one that forged a lasting connection between Princeton and the Alsace city Colmar.
While Princeton University has a long history of attracting French nationals as faculty members, de Broca-Hoppenot and others point to the region’s French-owned industries, especially pharmaceutical companies, as the magnet for the French population.
The French American Chamber of Commerce and French officials report a wide range of French-owned business including Itech Instruments in Ewing; Adents in East Windsor; PKB, a manufacturer of perfume filling machines with a sales office in Princeton Junction; Schlumberger in Princeton Junction; Publicis Groupe, owner of Rosetta in Hamilton; Somfy Systems (part of France-based Somfy Groupe) in Dayton; Axens North America in Princeton; and Coface North America in East Windsor.
De Broca-Hoppenot also mentions a few small businesses: Corkscrew Wine Shop on Hulfish Street and the businesses that make up the Oh La La French Ephemeral Boutique (see sidebar, page 28).
No matter the draw, French nationals continue to arrive in the area, and de Broca-Hoppenot makes a good case study — starting with how the mother of four grown children became a member of the French consulate and what she does.
De Broca-Hoppenot became the third honorary French consul three years ago, following Isabelle Darnis-Wilhelm (who replaced Lareuse in 2003). “I knew Isabelle, and I knew what she did. (This position) is so helpful. When she said she was leaving, I said I was interested.”
De Broca-Hoppenot fit the qualifications: between 25 and 70 years of age, willing to volunteer five years, not working for the French government, and being in Princeton. “They — the French Consulate — always look for someone in this area because it attracts a lot of dignitaries and because it is in the middle of the New Jersey,” she says.
A full-time French teacher at Stuart County Day School, de Broca-Hoppenot also fit another need: afternoon and evening availability and no frequent business travel from the region.
De Broca-Hoppenot’s name was sent to the New York consul, where she was reviewed, interviewed, and appointed to a volunteer position that is an adjunct to the New York City office.
As part of a network that includes the French ambassador in Washington, D.C., 10 general consuls in the United States, and liaison offices in most states, De Broca-Hoppenot talks about her duties and her constituents.
“Our role is the intermediary between the French consul and the French population in the state. We do a lot of administration work.”
That includes visas. “I cannot give people a visa,” she says. “That’s a specific department in New York. I get a lot of e-mails from Princeton students who need visas. (So) it is mostly connecting students going abroad in France. What is the best thing to do regarding health insurance? I don’t always have the answer but I ask the consulate.”
Then there are passports or identity cards. “People have to go to New York for the first step for the passport (and) tell the people to send (the documents) to Princeton because they don’t want to go to New York again. And the New York consulate (passport or ID card office) is only open in the morning. I’m open from 4 to 7:30 p.m. And I can legalize a number of documents.”
But her most important duty to area French citizens involves elections. “Whenever there is an election, (the Princeton consulate office members) are in charge of organizing the polls and taking the proxy votes.”
De Broca-Hoppenot then describes French democracy in action in New Jersey. “Two years ago, there was an election for the consular. I organized that here (in her home office). Previous elections were done at the French American School.”
Since French national elections are more involved than the U.S. elections, de Broca-Hoppenot says she has to provide the opportunity to vote on four Saturdays. “We have two rounds. Since we vote in France on Sundays, we vote here on Saturday.”
She says they use ballots and an envelope dropped in a box. “For the election the New York consulate sends two people to supervise. In the evening we open everything, and members of the New York consulate take the information, then they report” the votes to Paris.
Regarding the number of French registered to vote in the area, de Broca-Hoppenot says, “The population is growing and moving, so it is hard (to say). In this area there about 5,000 registered, but there about 6 to 10 thousand (French) here.” She adds that there other voting polls for French nationals in New Jersey — Montclair is another locale.
De Broca-Hoppenot’s other duties include representing the consul at Princeton where she welcomes French dignitaries and visiting French nationals, even presenting the Croix de Guerre to French veterans.
Then there are those looking for information. “Lately I met two entrepreneurs who were looking at opening a business. And I have a background in business” — and a background that reflects the French in New Jersey experience.
“I did my business school (training) in Paris,” she says. “My father was in the army so I traveled. I’m very French, but my roots are everywhere. ”
She traveled again for five years as an internal auditor for the L’Oreal Company and then served for another five years for Biotherm, a face cream L’Oreal subsidiary in southern France.
She had four children when her husband, Herve Hoppenot, an executive of the pharmaceutical company Rhone Poulenc (now Aventis), brought the family to the United State. They arrived first to the Philadelphia area and then central New Jersey. Her husband is now the CEO and president of Incyte Corporation in Wilmington, Delaware.
“I have been in the U.S. for 25 years, 17 of them in Princeton,” she says, adding, “There are lots of French people coming for big companies and small ones.”
Returning to the idea of advice, de Broca-Hoppenot says, “I give advice about school and way of life, personals aspects, rather than the business.
One school she readily mentions is the American French School which she says she helped found “to entice French nationals to move to the area and strengthen the community.”
She also mentions her involvement with the establishment of the Friends of Princeton Soccer and the founding of Konekte Princeton Haiti, a nonprofit providing teacher training and school building in Haiti. “French people have been part of the history for both good and bad, and it is one of the poorest countries in the Eastern Hemisphere. I go back a few times a year and prepare teacher training because they had nothing,” she says.
Looking at her current official position and thinking about her past, de Broca-Hoppenot says, “I feel that the position really helps a lot. And I am happy to be part of it.”
She could also say, “C’est la vie.”