Divided Loyalties in the Six Nations

Come on England – Come on France!

I am sitting here watching (well half watching!) England play France in the Six Nations along with the very excited men in my life – even the three year old is jumping up and down cheering as if he knows exactly what is going on. If he does, he is doing much better than me!

What strikes me as odd about this situation is that all of the children have now lived in France longer than they did in England – indeed the youngest was born here. They go to French schools, have French friends, play for French sports clubs – they even like to drink their hot chocolate from a bowl. And yet, they are more patriotic and proud to be English than just about anyone I know. And, from talking to other expats, it appears that this is a common tendency among expat children – there is something about living away from your home country (however happy you are to be abroad) that makes us suddenly become fiercely loyal to Britain; huge fans of the royal family, marmite, warm beer and Bruce Forsyth. Well maybe not the last but you get the drift. Memories of England are suddenly rose-tinted and we are back living in the ‘great days’ of the Empire. Thus here we are in a very French part of France, in our very French house, living our very French lives and yet cheering on ‘our boys’ in white (with the pretty red rose) back in grey and rainy Twickenham. It does all seem rather surreal!
Here in this part of south-west France, rugby is THE sport and French fans are fanatical about their local teams. Rugby is one of the most popular sports played in France, with more than 200,000 registered players playing at its 1,700 clubs and the level of interest in the support at club level is very high. Unlike England, where rugby is strongly associated with the middle classes and public schools, French rugby possesses no elements of elitism. In France, the game has solid foundations among the farmers and labourers of the southwest; even if the Parisian clubs have a reputation for attracting playboys and city-slickers. Matches attract significantly higher crowds than in the UK and unlike in England, Scotland and Ireland rugby has an equal following to football. In France it is rugby that is the beautiful game.
One of the most successful clubs in the history of French rugby is our local(ish) team in Toulouse, Stade Toulousain who have won the French Championship 16 times. They have won the European Cup on three occasions, making them the most successful European rugby side of all time: www.stadetoulousain.fr
Personally, I am not really sure who I want to win; if the English win, I will have very elated children and miserable neighbours, but if the French win, I will have happy neighbours and dejected children. I guess the most I can hope is that, whatever the result, there is a sense on both sides of what the French call ‘le fair play.’

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