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El Monte Looks for a French Connection : Firm Proposes Bid for 2nd Sister City

February 11, 1988|ERIC WILHELMUS | Times Staff Writer

The City of El Monte is seeking another French Connection.

Although they weren't sure they wanted it, city officials finally found a home outside City Hall for a replica of the Statue of Liberty--the original in New York was a gift to this country from France.

Now, efforts are under way to become a sister city with Marcy en Baroeul, a town about 200 miles north of Paris.

Gould Inc., an El Monte-based electronics firm, established a strong bond with a radio factory in Marcy en Baroeul after Gould was chosen two years ago as a subcontractor for the Army's new $5.6-billion communications system. A special radio manufactured only by Thompson/CSF in Marcy en Baroeul is part of that system.

"Our job was to go there and learn where every nut and bolt of the radio belonged to the point where you can't tell the difference between a radio made in the United States and one made in France," said Steve Milakov, manager of communications and management development for Gould.

Milakov, one of the prime movers behind the sister city effort, described Marcy en Baroeul, a suburb of Lille, the largest city in northern France, as a "very real, quaint typical French city."

Representatives of both Thompson/CSF and Marcy en Baroeul have visited El Monte many times. In fact, they were on hand in November for the dedication of the 20-foot-tall, mint-green model of the Statue of Liberty, which, after a lengthy dispute over its placement, now sits prominently in front of City Hall. And El Monte has held barbecues and other social functions in their honor.

Milakov said the French visitors are "fascinated by the whole Western genre, cowboys and Indians," and have also taken a great interest in El Monte's Hispanic culture.

Another source of continuing interest and amusement to those on both sides of the Atlantic has been the difference between American and French work habits.

"In many ways, Americans work differently than we do," said Pascal Bluteau, manager of test inspection for Thompson/CSF, in an interview published in Gould's company publication, NavCom World.

"They (in the United States) tend to be very specialized in specific areas. In France, these responsibilities are often more mixed."

Gould representatives have been equally well received both at the Marcy en Baroeul City Hall and at the radio factory, which is built on the site of the former Chateau Rouge, a favorite vacation spot for Napoleon Bonaparte's wife, Josephine. City officials made members of the Gould delegation honorary citizens, and Milakov thought it would only be proper to return the favor.

So in May, when Thompson/CSF officials visited El Monte, the City Council deemed them honorary citizens. Not long after that, Milakov developed the idea of making sister cities of Marcy en Baroeul and El Monte.

If Marcy en Baroeul accepts the offer--which seems likely--El Monte Mayor Don McMillen will travel to France at Gould's expense to speak directly with the mayor and City Council of Marcy en Baroeul.

This fall, the French city's mayor would come to El Monte and complete the agreement.

"It's to the businesses' advantage to do it (support the sister cities program). There are a lot of pluses to the program," said McMillen, adding that he was looking forward to his first trip to France.

Tom Millet, interim director of El Monte's Chamber of Commerce said: "The last time we spoke informally, we said it would be nice for someone traveling in Europe to drop in on their sister city and say hello."

Grace Black, coordinator of the city's Cultural Committee, said it would probably be more of a "professional or business arrangement" between Gould and Thompson/CSF, but "there could also be correspondence, pen pals and group tours."

Black, who said that having more than one sister city is becoming increasingly common, said representatives of Zamora, El Monte's sister city in Mexico's Michoacan province, "are very, very excited about El Monte getting a second sister city."

Said Millet: "I don't think that at this point they feel threatened by it, but we will talk with Zamora before we make a decision."

Despite both cities' interest in forming a partnership, some cultural differences remain. One aspect of this country the French found odd was America's relatively short history.

"We talked about the history of the Santa Fe Trail (which is about 150 years old), which they thought was humorous--their culture began in AD 1000," Milakov said.

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