What's French for "Crazy Brits"?

By David Kessler

In this installment: Rugby fans in Paris.  Mistaken for an Aussie.  The chase.  "No Troubles, Mate".  What's French for, "Crazy Brits"?

Who knew that Paris had so many expatriate rugby fans within its borders?  The French love the sport as much as they do football - maybe more, depending on which city you ask - but as I walked through the Marais district one evening this past November I had no idea of this, no idea that England had just won the Rugby World Cup championship, and no idea that I was about to meet one non-French reveler directly.

I was there visiting 2 French friends whom I had met traveling earlier in the year, and when I asked them about the loud group of revelers across the street, wearing Scottish St Andrews flags tied around their necks like capes, they explained that both England and Scotland had been advancing through the initial rounds of the World Cup, and that games were being televised just down the street from where we were, at Paris’ only Scottish pub.  We would spend a happy evening in The Auld Alliance a few days later, but on this day we walked past it listening to the whoops and hollers around us.  I'm not a rugby fan so the matter might have ended there, but one reveler came running down the sidewalk toward us and grabbed the hat off my head as he passed by!

I was wearing my Tilly hat - a good traveling hat which I've taken everywhere, and which looks a little bit like an Australian outback when its sides are pinned up, which is how I usually wear it.  Did I mention that the team England had just beaten in the finals was Australia?  At that moment I didn't know this myself, nor did I know that it was an extremely close game, or that it was England's first ever championship win and that Brits around the world were going crazy.  All I knew was that my hat was rapidly disappearing into the Marais district.

I dropped my camera bag on the sidewalk, said, "Watch this for me" to my friends, and took off in pursuit.  He had a good lead and much longer legs, but he also had my hat so I was inspired - I love that hat.

He ran toward the square, and all the sights and people I had just seen now went by in reverse order and at high speed.  As we passed the St. Andrews capes they called out to him as if they recognized him.  "Great", I thought, "he's a rugby fan, and he thinks my hat is the ball."  I was matching his pace, but after a block of sprinting I hadn't gained on him much at all.  We were about to reach the large, busy area around the St. Paul Metro stop where it would be difficult to follow him.  What do you yell in a foreign country when a drunken rugby fan mistakes you for an Australian and tries to get away with your hat?

Before taking this trip, I had tried to learn some French.  My time to prepare had been short and very busy, but I had spent most evenings flipping through a small dictionary learning various words, mostly at random: toast, bus stop, snowman, otter, Turkish delight, backpack, umbrella...  I had 70 or 80 memorized before heading over and a surprising number of them came in handy.  Now I was trying to remember one more of them while I ran.

"Voleur!" I shouted, finally remembering the word for "thief", and 2 things immediately happened.  First, everyone around us looked up to see what was happening - my intention in choosing that bit of vocabulary.  Second, the man threw my hat straight up in the air and without stopping called out, "No troubles, Mate" in an English accent.  The hat landed at my feet and I stopped to pick it up, calling out, "keep running!"  I didn't mean this as a threat as I now realized that he was just having some drunken fun.  Also he was much larger than me and I hadn’t figured out what I would have done if I had caught up with him.

Hat in hand I walked back towards my friends.  They were both completely flabbergasted and protested that neither of them had ever seen anything like that happen in Paris before, ever!  Of course before I could reach them and listen to them kid me about how I must somehow inspire such events, I had to pass by all those people on they street who had looked up when I shouted.  They all wanted to know what had happened and each group of them gave a concerned look and asked me questions in French as I passed.  I knew what they were asking without needing to understand the words, but wasn't sure how to answer.  Still catching my breath I began "Mon chapeau...  umm..."  and realized that I wasn't sure how to answer the question in English let alone French, so I rolled my eyes in the direction of the chase and said, "Anglaise".  This was all the concerned citizens around St. Paul needed to hear to nod understanding and then go back to their façade of unconcern.  I walked back to my friends with a watchful eye and a good firm grip on my hat.

England - 20, Australia - 17...   David - 1, Crazy Brit - whereabouts unknown.

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