Last June, Alexandre Durand and his friend Tom Carles were in the gardens of the French ambassador’s residence in Washington D.C. The two French students, who have been major figures on social media since launching their @ATfrenchies account in 2020, were recording a TikTok video with the ambassador Philippe Etienne. The theme was how to pronounce the names of U.S. cities such as Baton Rouge, Des Moines, Fond du Lac, and Vincennes. When the influencers suggested “Deetroyt,” for example, the diplomat would correct them by exaggerating the pronunciation in French: “C’est Détroit!”
Watched more than 24,000 times, this was the first in a series of funny videos produced for the French embassy’s account. Philippe Etienne has also talked about his career, his passion for foreign languages, his favorite movies, and the differences between France and the United States in an episode of Rendez-Vous, the podcast cofounded in March by Alexandre Durand. “We diplomats are like translators or interpreters,” he said. “How can you explain your country to the country where you are posted? And also, how can you explain the country you work in to your own country? It’s the most interesting part of the job.”
This outlook is shared by Alexandre Durand. Via social media, his podcast, and a website offering online classes, he hopes to “share Francophone culture and teach French while having fun.” He and his friends have become “ambassadors for French language and culture,” and as such, receive many requests from brands looking to be promoted in the United States. Rendez-Vous is sponsored by the cosmetics company Avène and the online learning platforms Lingoda and Babel, and the French duo have already been approached by cookie brand St. Michel, a famous cheese company from the Jura region, and a renowned sparkling water brand.
From Soccer Player to Influencer
Everything started with a 42-second video posted on TikTok. “And I’m not even a social media person,” says Alexandre Durand. “I’m kind of discreet; I don’t like sharing my whole life online.” His true passion is soccer. As he was too short to join the Clairefontaine training center in France, the Parisian applied to American college teams and received a scholarship to study in Ohio when he was 17. Two years later, the goalkeeper was recruited by the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, south of Milwaukee, and spent the summer in the United States due to the pandemic.
To kill time before classes started, Tom Carles convinced him to create a TikTok account. On July 16, 2020, they recorded themselves in their car butchering “the most difficult English words to pronounce.” The four words, “Worcestershire,” “mischievous,” “scissors,” and “chocolate,” had the Internet in stitches. Overnight, the video was watched more than seven million times, and British newspaper the Daily Mail wrote a whole article about the two student soccer players, who were then invited to a casting for the reality TV shows Les princes et les princesses de l’amour and Too Hot to Handle.
“They were asking a little too much, and I didn’t want to be typecast,” says Alexandre Durand. However, the pair continued to “surf the social media wave.” Their 30-second videos about how to flirt in the United States, the right way to pronounce the word croissant, and different homophones in the French language, are now followed by two million people on TikTok and 489,000 in Instagram. But the two influencers are not resting on their laurels. “It’s too easy to sit on your bed and make TikTok videos,” says Alexandre Durand. “I was always hungry for more.”
“Professionalizing our Content”
Alexandre Durand is tanned, with long hair and stubble, and uses his Californian surfer’s physique to his advantage. (As a teenager in the very respectable 17th arrondissement of Paris, he used to dream of being a model for U.S. brand Abercrombie & Fitch.) However, he knows that fame in the time of social media is fleeting. “There are lots of ups and downs. From one moment to the next, new influencers can appear out of nowhere and take your place. And there are thousands of good-looking French guys who go to school in America… It’s not enough.”
As a result, he is trying to “create an ATfrenchies brand.” This is how he launched the Rendez-Vous podcast, hosted with fellow Frenchie Tim Curtet, and an online platform for learning French via videos and private online lessons with himself or Tom Carles. Alexandre Durand is pursuing these projects alongside his studies (having just started an MBA at Longwood University in Virginia), and his dual career as an influencer and a college soccer player. After graduating, he hopes to open a French school or a bakery in Los Angeles.
In the meantime, Alexandre Durand would like to work with the 2024 Olympics to “bring as many Americans as possible to Paris.” He is also hoping to use his experience to obtain an O-1 visa. Influencers have recently been authorized to apply for this permit, which is reserved for individuals with “extraordinary ability” in business or the arts. “Before TikTok and Instagram, I didn’t have much,” he says. “Today, I don’t have to think twice about taking a vacation to Hawaii or buying a flight from Los Angeles to Richmond. Social media and the United States have given me the means to enjoy this comfortable life.”