The importance of being a good sport

O.T.LesGets

Sport is something the French take very seriously. It’s not only the taking part and the strong competitive spirit, but also the whole ethos of what you’re going to wear. The ‘sporty’ Frenchman chooses his wardrobe for every sport, whether it be golfing, fishing, hunting, gardening, running, socialising in the village hall or relaxing at home. Even when we see a fisherman going down to the stream at the bottom of our land, which is barely a stream, he appears dressed up to the nines wearing huge wading boots. Whether he or she is a beginner or an expert they still like to be kitted out in all the top of the range gear, maybe they think it’ll help them play or do the sport better.

Living in France for a decade, one can tell which season it is by what sport is going on in the countryside. In spring the fishermen appear with all their gear going off to fish, in summer, all the tennis courts are full and the golf courses are packed. The first sign that winter is on its way is early autumn when the hunters come out dressed in all the gear with their rifles in hand, keeping their dogs at bay. Winter is the season of snow and it’s the time for skiing. There is a ski resort an hour and a half away from where we live, and on a clear day the snow capped mountains can be seen on the horizons. It’s a delight to see, it warms up chilly days.

One of the fastest growing sports in France is golf. There are golf courses appearing everywhere. It isn’t as popular as it is in England. The golf course that my parents belong to is a very social one. The course is nine holes and the landscape is beautiful. On a clear day, from the fifth hole, you can see the three beautiful châteaux in the area. As well as French members, a number of foreigners who live in the region belong to the club. Apart from in the summer, there is none of the waiting for other players that is so familiar to golfers from the UK. Every Sunday, from March to the end of October, and on Wednesday mornings in August, there is a competition, which is open to everybody, members or non-members, with each competition being sponsored by a local company or shop.

At the end of each competition there is the official prize giving followed by an enormous buffet. The buffet is at the end of the day, when you can relax and talk about your game, whilst feasting on the appetizers that are on the table. There is usually some pâte, a large piece of cheese, some bread, pizza’s or quiches, sausage rolls, nuts or crisps, and afterwards apple or plum tarts or little gâteaux are offered round. Visitors who are on holiday and play at the club, say the club’s sense of openness is unique and the atmosphere is hard to be find anywhere else. Everybody knows one another. The club is like a group of friends. During the year the club organises several fun days. Every Bastille Day, July 14th, they always do an entertaining day; you play golf in the morning, have lunch, and then do another activity in the afternoon. Last year, you played nine holes of golf in the morning, in mixed groups of three, giving everyone a good chance of winning. A barbeque was laid on for lunch, with freshly roasted duck. In your groups, in the afternoon, you were giving fishing rods and bait, and with these you had to catch fish out of the pond. It was fun, everybody enjoyed themselves. At the end of the day, the winner naturally gets the main prize, but everyone else receives an award just for competing.

About the third Christmas we lived here, my mother and I bought my father a crossbow. He didn’t have any knowledge of how to use it, but thought it would be an interesting hobby. We learnt there was an archery club on Saturday mornings by the lake and my father decided, the first Saturday of the new year, he would take himself down to learn how to use and be safe with his new crossbow. The club consisted of all different types of archers, beginners, advanced and intermediates with lots of targets around the hanger to shoot your bows at, with people showing you what to do. The clubs elders always stood at the back, watching over everybody. My father went for a couple of weeks and really enjoyed it; he vaguely knew one of the instructors, so that made life easier.

One Saturday, after he had shot his round of arrows, my father thought he had to say something to the group of men out of politeness. After he had finished shooting, he wandered up to the men, thinking what he was going to say. Whatever he said, he felt it had to relate to archery. In his pigeon French, as it was in those days, he said gesturing the ‘V’ sign, “Do you know what this means in English?” The men replied “Yes, victory Winston Churchill”. My father said “No”, and then he placed his right arm on his left forearm and lifted his lower arm up. Showing them the ‘V’ sign again, my father said, “This means the same as that”. The men all gave my father a blank stare and didn’t respond. My father went on to explain that in the hundred years war, on the battlefield the English archers would wave their two fingers to the French as if to say, ‘you haven’t caught me yet’. Again the men gave no response. “You know”, my father said, “Poitiers, Argencourt, Crécy”, not realising these were all the battles in which the French were defeated. My father got no reaction out of the men again and he wished he had never said it. When he went back the next week, he had the scenario fixed in his mind, he shot an arrow through one of the windows, and never went back again.

© Sarah Weston 2006

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