The Third Leader: Rugby and the meaning of life

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The Independent Online

Ah, the French. What insights their phrasebooks unwittingly offer into the national psyche. The guide to "survivors'" French, for rugby fans attending the first rugby World Cup in France, is intriguing in this regard.

Once beyond routine show-me-the-way-to-the-stadium stuff, one is struck by the phrase "Je suis célibataire", for example. As this translates as "I am unmarried", one wonders with what circumstances in mind this came to be included in a "survival" kit?

The boring answer is that a fan may need to say this to a nurse if, on consuming too many "pressions" after a match, he hits his head on a "trottoir" and, on awakening in the "hôpital", is asked about personal circumstances. But does not this phrase also suggest that our Latin neighbours remain alive to the chances of romance erupting even at unlikely moments?

One can imagine the scene. After the beautiful (but deeply lonely) cleaner shuffles into our hero's hotel room, to change the towels, say, his fingers fumble for the phrasebook and the words "Je suis célibataire" emerge from his lips. Her head turns – lip trembling – a dream come true. Has she not always dreamed of escape from Paris and a new life in Hull? Applause! End of story. Or not, because the authors have added in other phrases to expedite budding romances. Why else include "Vous connaissez un endroit bien pour danser?" (Know where we can go for a dance?)

The French can deny it all they like, but we have unlocked the hidden message of this so-called rugby fans' phrasebook. It is about love, actually. Very French. And you heard it here first.