Kate Rowan: Comment ca va, Jonathan Sexton? Tips for an Irish star bound for Paris
JONATHAN SEXTON'S recently announced move to Racing Metro means that he'll have to get used to a whole new lifestyle off the field. Here's a few tips for how he should should adapt.
No - Let’s begin as we mean to continue with a French flavour:
Perhaps, there will be some joking that you may not be Top 14 bound in the light of French labour minister Michel Sapin claiming that France is “totally bankrupt” but I doubt these financial ills are inflicting French club rugby’s sugar daddies!
So, there may be fears of a glut of Irish departures but what about daily life when you get there after all the hype has died down?
Learning the language
Jamie Heaslip quipped at the Ireland team announcement yesterday that some of the squad had been enjoying banter around speaking French in the wake of this news. They do have a point; language is an excellent place to start.
When you arrive your first challenge is to not shy away from conversation. Start with the simple stuff; “Bonjour Monsieur, bonjour Madame…” Then build on that, as you get more confident, like kicking off the game well.
One hurdle you may encounter is if you start to converse with a local they are more than likely to stop you at some juncture and point out your mistakes and correct you.
This could be misconstrued as a touch of snootiness but that is not the case. If a French person sees you are making an effort with the language, they will be delighted but in seeing that you are learning, they will presume you will want to improve. What sometimes as an Irish person, you may consider Gallic rudeness in having the audacity to highlight your flaws, is in fact the height of good manners that your new French acquaintance is helping you perfect your grasp of the language.
At some point, the highly structured and intricate grammar is bound to give you a headache, so it is important to balance the serious study with a bit of fun. What better way than through the medium of French music!
Now, we may be moving on to a brighter future of Franco-Irish relations with the election of François Hollande as president last year. But let us not forget the legacy of his predecessor Monsieur Sarkozy. Well to be more precise, the musical legacy of the former first lady; Carla Bruni.
Some have maligned Bruni’s breathy delivery of lyrics but the comparative slow pace at which she sings is perfect for a student of French. The song Je suis une enfant composed by Bruni in honour of her husband, should elicit a few titters. Particularly, when you translate one of the lines directed at Nicolas as meaning she feels like a young one again “despite my 40 years, despite my 30 lovers!” Ooh la la!
Understanding the position of rugby in French society
If your planned move goes as reported, you will playing your rugby in Paris, where the sport is really at the periphery of society compared with the embedded culture in the South and particularly the South West of the country.
Without giving a history a lesson, for centuries France has been a centralised country with Paris being the focal point and hub of politics and culture. Yet rugby due to its Southern heartland breaks that mould.
Your experience of rugby in Paris will be very different than if you had chosen Toulouse or Clermont for example, where the team is a part of the fabric of the city. While in the City of Lights, it will be much easier to become anonymous. The advantage being it will be easy to escape from rugby and the disadvantage being you may feel more disconnected from the fan base or an overall rugby culture in the city.
As well as adapting to French society, you must adapt to the culture of “les rugby men” as many of your future colleagues may refer to themselves. Irish players may be used to the practice of shaking all teammates hands upon entering the dressing room, which is the norm at all levels of French rugby. However, If you want to mark out the difference between a work mate and a true friend, you will have to get used to exchanging kisses on the cheeks of those players and coaches you have a particular affinity with!
Adapting to French idiosyncrasies
Bureaucracy is a gripe many a foreigner will have about living in France. Structure throughout society and other aspects of life is something that is deeply ingrained in the French psyche.
When you get to speaking and understanding French with some degree of fluency, it is a joy to hear the exquisite ebb and flow of the language. The same could be said of the elegant fluidity that at times characterises French rugby. Yet both the language and rugby adhere to stringent frameworks. What at times in rugby, may seem like the effortless much famed French flair but has been drilled into players since childhood.
Much will be made about the riches and potential glory attached to this move but you also have the opportunity to experience and understand the many complexities and contradictions that makes it la belle France!