Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Legion Etranger and entranger indeed
From time to time the French Foreign Legion will set up a recruitment booth in front of the local shopping mall where Amynah and I do our grocery shopping. I’ve never popped in, but I was always curious: everything I knew about the Foreign Legion came from Snoopy cartoons.
Now that Amynah and I are entering into the home stretch of our time here in France, we’ve been looking for gainful employment back home (hint, hint, for anyone who wants to employ a writer or a neuroscientist. Or a dishwasher and a neuroscientist – I’m not fussy). As such, I looked a little more closely into the Foreign Legion. I wasn’t seriously thinking of enlisting (not least because they require a minimum of three-years of service) but I thought they might make for an interesting article.
And boy, was I not disappointed. Not only does the Foreign Legion still exist, it still operates more-or-less along the same lines as when it was founded – a way for young men in trouble to start their lives afresh. It is only open to foreigners: if you are French, you have to apply under another nationality (Canada and Switzerland are popular cover nations). You are not allowed to apply under you own name: the Legion gives you a new one when you sign up (thus foiling my half-formed plans to sign up as “Marc Renaud”).
At the end of your three years, not only will recruits have a new name, several murderous new skills, and proficiency in a presumably very salty French, but they will also have earned French citizenship: “If only we’d thought of that when we moved here,” said Amynah, to my horror. She was less keen on the idea when I told her that I would also have to deny our marriage.
The Legion has a long and distinguished battle history, and still attracts recruits from around the world, through their fairly slick website. It is possible to purchase books on the Foreign Legion there, as well as replicas of their famous kepi.
But, this being France, their offerings are considerably classier than that: alongside Legion branded t-shirts and ball caps, one can also buy their own wine and, my personal favourite, an official Foreign Legion Asparagus Serving Plate. Times have changed: you would never have seen Sergeant Snoupi allowing his troops such luxuries.