Sunday, August 8

Identity Crisis

So you’ve joined the French Foreign Legion. Don’t worry, it’s not that bad. Sure, they shave your head, change your name, date and place (town, anyway) of birth, starve you for a month, make you execute bizarre and nonsensical orders (like change from sports gear to work combats to parade wear in 3 minutes or else….), give you 90 second cold showers with a bar of soap, walk over your hands while you do push-ups for somebody else’s mistake, smack you full force on the back of the head when you make one yourself. But at least you get to keep your nationality. Your national identity. The one thing that sets you apart from the other desperate, last-gasp cut-throats fighting shoulder to shoulder on the front lines with you (ie. Little 19 year old Brazilians come to France to "make sex with horny european girls").

So what exactly does it mean to be Irish here in the Legion?

Well, as most of the Irish readers would agree, being Irish in a foreign country is almost always met with startling warmth, friendliness and positivity. Here follows an amusing tale to prove said point.

I had only just arrived through the formidable gates of Fort du Nogent in Paris before falling in with a group of 6 or so Brazilians (yep, they’re a frequently encountered bunch alright) huddled in a corner of the TV room. One particularly chubby fellow, upon hearing I was Irish, became extremely animated and started blurting out some incomprehensible jibberish. I smiled politely, not having the slightest idea what he was trying to say. Later that evening however, I was brought up to speed, and in the most unsettling of circumstances.

I was in my shower cubicle with the door closed when suddenly a thunderous banging descended on the waifer-thin partition. It was my little barrel of samba trying once more to communicate. "SAN AD CANROW , SAN AD CANROW". What in God’s name is going on here, I thought. Did I miss some crazy shower-initiation in my research of the Legion?? What the hell does this guy want?? I shouted back "Yeah, right mate, haha, Yeah" all the while thinking "Jesus, don’t let a bar of soap slide under the divider and between my toes" (and I hadn’t even brushed my teeth!!). The confusion continued for another minute or so, but then all of a sudden the clouds parted, the earth fell silent and the angels began to sing;


Well strike me down and tickle me mickey, Sinéad O’ FUCKING Connor!! I couldn’t help but burst out laughing; half in sheer comedic bliss at the insanely surreal situation in which I found myself, and half out of hysteric joy at the passing feelings of mortal fear and dread. What a first night!

So my amazonian karaoke partner eventually bowed out (ironically after the psycho-technic tests) and on I went to become a full-fledged Legionnaire. The skin has since thickened sufficiently from constant references to "EERA" (I.R.A.) and more mischievous superiors addressing me as "Johnny English" and "Rosst Bif" (Roast Beef). Not surprisingly, few at the time seemed to take much notice of my coming from working in a bank to directly joining the French Foreign Legion right around the time the toilet chained was violently tugged with the world economy nestling snugly in the bowl. They just wanted to talk numbers, failing to comprehend the difference in salary and just what the hell my motivation was for volunteering. (Answers on a postcard please).

However, being Irish remains a highly favourable weapon in the arsenal over here (despite 3 fellow countrymen having deserted during my time, leaving me our proud little nation’s perpetual sole flag-waver for now).

Then again, those who know me well enough know I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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