M is for MAGOUILLE
Dastardly schemes and wicked plots a plenty, Legionnaires tend to bring a startling bag of tricks along with them through the gates. Some involve bemusing combinations of both improvised stretching techniques and drinking games, but most concern themselves with the ancient art of a quick buck. Students selling toasties from their bedrooms pales starkly in comparison to the antics of King Louis Philippe’s finest. Tales have trickled through via the North Atlantic drift of certain Brazilian ex-Legionnaires offering to "prepare" potential recruits from their homeland for life in the Legion by way of instruction in both marching and singing, as well as handy "hints and tips" on how to sign-up, all for a token fee of up to $500.00!!!! In other news, a familiarly rounded and recently retired Romanian Chief Sergeant would collect the weekly "cotisation" (subscription dues) off trainees at regiment, insisting it went towards a washing machine for their use and a small party celebrating the end of their induction course. Most lads I’ve spoken to recount harrowing tales of partying on tap water in dirty underwear come the end of regimental training (although maybe that was just their preference? Hey, it takes all kinds).
N is for NONCHALANT
Indifference is the name of the game. You see, a very fine balance must be struck between not getting overly worked-up and not appearing like you just don’t give a damn. Seem too stressed and the commanding officers will chip away until you crack in two. Seem too laid back and pretty much the same result ensues. Take saluting a higher rank than you, for instance. Snap to attention like a jarhead jack-in-the-box and you’ll be considered WAY too stressed, and "carré". However, fail to salute a higher rank and you’ll be doing push-ups in a pool of your own perspiration well into the night. Play it cool, but don’t freeze over. Get it? No? Welcome to my world.
O is for OUI CAPORAL! OUI CAPORAL! OUI CAPORAL!
This is undoubtedly the most commonly used phrase in a Legionnaire’s first year of service. The more intelligent corporals can find endless amusement in asking confused recruits rhetorical questions that’d bring a tear to Ally McBeal’s eye, sniggering endlessly at the inevitable answers in the affirmative. God only knows how many times I was asked something in basic training and replied with a trembling "Oui Caporal!", not having even slightly understood the initial question. At least for the important stuff, like translating contracts and financial documents, they have a translator on han….. Oh, wait….
P is for PERE
"Mama Papa c’est fini, la Légion est ta famille"
Encouraged to discard all familial ties at the beginning of our service, there remains one parental figure permitted to preside over our spiritual development here in the Legion. Take a bow, General Paul Frédéric Rollet (better know as "Le Père de la Légion"). Rollet served through First World War as well as in Algeria with the Legion. He then became the inaugral Inspector of the French Foreign Legion, a post he had an instrumental hand in creating. He helped modernise (at the time) the Legion and devoted a total of 33 years service to its cause. Portraits of General Rollet can be seen throughout various regiments, the most famous being this one here (and NO, it’s NOT Fidel Castro as one friend politely inquired having seen this picture in the background of a photo of me).
Q is for QUALité, pas QUANtité
The famous statistics on acceptance into the ranks of the Legion vary from source to source. Some say 1 in 8, others 1 in 10 that make it through selection and go on to basic training. Of course I cleverly pick my moments to either explain the true nature of selection/rejection, or to just sit back and pretend I’m in the top 10% of bad-asses signing their lives away. Inexplicably, I seem to have decided that this moment lies firmly in the former category! WTF???
Granted, it IS technically true that roughly 1 in 10 get selected to go on to basic training and hopefully become fabled Legionnaires, but this usually has very little to do with physical strength, hair colour, number and coolness of tattoos, or of course one’s favourite Godfather movie. Instead, guys are booted out on a daily basis during the 2 week (ish) period of pre-selcetion due to:
* Medical problems - Poor hearing/eyesight, dodgy knees, etc.
* Lying - In interviews, failing to mention children, criminal record and
* Epiphany - Voluntarily going home having not liked the look of the place.
* Low IQ - Receiving an unacceptable score in the IQ/psycho-technical
* Insanity - Expressing approval of "The Godfather III".
It’s by no means easy once through, and becoming a Legionnaire is no walk in the park (well, technically it is, but a very steep walk with little sleep and lots of blisters), but once one ducks behind the thin veil of misleading statistics the waves calm ever so slightly and light illuminates the less sensational yet highly respectable truth.
The Alphabet ball’s back rolling straight towards the finish line. Next one’s comin’ atcha soon!!