Qu'est-ce que c'est?
L'Alliance Française (The French Alliance) sounds like some sort of millitary coalition aimed at fulfilling Napoleon's dream of taking over the world.
It couldn't be further from the truth. Well, maybe... No, no, it has nothing to do with it.
It's a nonprofit organization founded by Paul Cambon and Pierre Foncin, but probably the names of collaborators Jules Verne and Louis Pasteur sound more familiar to you.
Its goals, as stated formally, are to offer French language courses, to spread French and francophone culture, and to promote cultural diversity. What I think they really mean is "To save the French language from extinction in an ever increasingly americanized world."
But they are French, and as good French people tend to do, they think in French, so it looks more like this: "Sauver la langue française de l'exctintion dans un monde de plus en plus americanisé. Donnez-moi un autre morceau de fromage, s'il vous plaît."
Où est-ce qu'elle se trouve?
Though its global headquarters are in Paris, it's rather a big network that has nodes all over the world (just to make sure no one is safe from its influence).
Anyway, many differences exist from city to city due to the differential funding (those of larger cities get a larger share) and to the local flavor each place adds to them.
Most of them have a médiatheque, or at least a library, with French stuff.
Combien ça coute?
That it is a nonprofit organization doesn't mean the language courses are free: there are salaries to pay, reading material to buy and French flags to iron. Maybe somewhere they offer scholarships, but as a general rule a fee has to be paid in sound local currency.
Qu'est-ce qu'on doit porter?
To be let in it's mandatory to wear a black beret and a horizontally striped shirt. Well, not really, you can wear whatever you want. You could even go naked, though I'd advise against it.
If you smoke, you don't need to bring a pack of cigarettes, as a lot of people seem to smoke there (outside classrooms). If you don't smoke tant pis pour toi!. Happily, in some of its buildings there's a smokers' placard where they can keep the smoke to themselves.
Besides that, you just have to carry a notebook, a pen, your books and maybe a dico (in your first year you'll probably want a bilingual one, but later on - or that same year if you're up to it - Le Petit Robert or Le Robert Pratique are the way to go).
Et quand est-ce que je pourrai parler en Français?
You'll be able to talk with those sexy French and Québécois sooner than you think. Of course, it will depend on your involvement and your ability to learn. Achieving fluency takes time, but the Alliance's teaching level is recognized worldwide and it will do its best to help you.
In some places there are native French speakers as teachers. In others they welcome French speaking travellers.
After completing each level you can take the corresponding DELF (or DALF, for the C1 and C2 levels) exam (issued by France's education ministry) to show your knowledge to the world. Anyway, it is not mandatory to take lessons at the Alliance to go for it.
There's a lot more to say, but i can't, parce que ce qui se passe a L'Alliance reste a L'Alliance.