[Article taken and translated from: https://www.vice.com/en_us , article date: January 31, 2014 ]
“At the end of last year, I decided it would be good to join one of the only armies made up of a majority of foreign nationals. A one-way plane ticket, a few layovers and 22 hours of travel more later I found myself in Aubagne, France.
At the end of last year, I decided it would be a good idea to join the French Foreign Legion. I was stuck in Birmingham, Alabama, selling insurance for peanuts, living in a shitty apartment next to work, and always chasing college girls (I mostly settled for college dropouts .)
I was making bad decisions and I knew it. One evening while I was in a bar I used to frequent, I heard these two old war veterans emphatically state that if they had to do it again they would have joined the Legion - they "would do it right away , whore".
Like the many hopeful candidates who view the Legion as an opportunity to start over, I decided to give it a shot. Looking back, I don't know what pushed me over the edge. All I knew was that France seemed about as far away from Alabama as I could have gotten.
The French Foreign Legion is one of the only Western military forces made up of a majority of foreign nationals. It was created almost 200 years ago for the same reason as Australia, namely to give a chance to those who were not born in favored countries and ideally to give them a goal that also serves the interests of France. .
So the Legion sends you to war, to fight for a country you hardly know. You have parachuted into God knows where and you have a chance to reinvent yourself.
Throughout history, the Legion has served as a second chance for people who needed to start afresh. For those who want to and can get by, a whole new start and a new identity awaits them, with a freshly minted French passport. The only catch is that you have to sign a five-year contract.
Although I had a pretty good idea of what was in store for me thanks to Jean-Claude Van Damme's film "Legionnaire", I still didn't really know what it meant to be a legionnaire when I decided to leave. my old life for the Legion.
Unlike the US Army, you cannot call ahead and discuss your plans or concerns with a fatherly recruiter. The best you can do is show up at the front door of Legion Headquarters with your passport and fingers crossed. Don't get me wrong, I was as well prepared as possible.
I had quit my job, moved out of my apartment, and stored most of my material possessions in the United States. I was in good shape and I was full of good will. A one-way plane ticket, a few layovers, and 22 hours of travel later, I found myself on the ground in Aubagne, France.
After a few beers at a local tavern, I felt recharged and mentally prepared myself to pause the reality I had built myself up to then.
Eventually, I worked up the courage to show up at the door. I met other future legionnaires there: a skinny, chain-smoking Moroccan and two Spaniards who seemed to have left the Eurotrash version of Fight Club. Soon, a Russian who might have been on his way to a gulag in Siberia joined the waiting party.
Before letting us in, an armed legionnaire - the first I have ever seen in person - checked our passports. The seriousness of my somewhat impulsive decision was finally beginning to come into its own. He quickly arranged for each of us to do at least four pull-ups on the canopy outside so that we didn't waste anyone's time afterwards. Then we were inside.
After handing over our belongings, we were shown where we were going to live for now – a run-down building reminiscent of an Eastern Block housing project or an Art Deco prison.
The next two weeks consisted of a succession of physical and medical examinations and a host of work sessions. We killed time by sharing cigarettes. Every time your name is called for your next test, you obediently rise to your feet with unimaginable urgency and spring to attention.
If at any point you don't pass a test or a medical issue arises, your belongings are returned to you and you're gone in minutes.
There's an old joke that goes something like this: "FOR SALE - French Rifle". Dropped twice, never fired." For those unaware, the joke alludes to the tendency of the French to surrender and/or be occupied by other nations.
Like many good jokes, it relies on a fairly misinformed stereotype: no one thought French soldiers were incompetent during Napoleon's time. Anyway, a word of advice: as humorous as this joke may seem, don't mention it to future French soldiers in Aubagne. It turns out that some of these guys take themselves pretty seriously.
The sample of guys I met in the Legion were eclectic to say the least. Unless you are attending a UN session, I cannot imagine another scenario where you would be in a room with more countries represented. And the personalities you meet at the Legion are far more interesting than those you would find at the UN.
At one point, using shitty sign language and an even shittier "interpreter", an Egyptian man asked me if I could pee in a jar for him. Apparently he was caught off guard by the prospect of a drug test and had smoked hashish days before committing. Since I had never met this guy, I politely feigned ignorance and declined. I never saw him again.
The next battery of tests was intended to determine if we were smart enough. First, a series of SAT-style reasoning assessments helped disqualify some less cerebral candidates.
Then came an interview that was basically a long "Why do you want to join us? Like any job interview, this was an exercise in telling them what you think they want to hear. After that , a psychiatrist tried to make us sweat by questioning our intentions and pointing out our flaws.
Finally, after countless hours spent lingering in uncomfortable conditions, the only thing that stood between us and a position in the Legion was what was called the "Gestapo". Rumor has it that by then the Legion knew all about you. The word "Interpol" is often used: any financial, criminal, family or professional information is supposed to be a cakewalk.
Call it a hunch, but I think that's bullshit. Don't get me wrong, I believe someone, somewhere has access to all of this information. But a sweaty, apathetic French administration in a dilapidated, quasi-bureaucratic rat hole on the outskirts of Marseille is not that someone or that somewhere. Anyway, they called me in for questioning.
The idea is to bully you into telling them everything you've done wrong since you were born. Like countless cop assholes before them, they employ the old tactic of "if you lie, I'll know, so tell me the truth and I'll let you off easy."
My interrogator had my long-forgotten cell phone and laptop in front of him, the contents of which had already been searched. By serendipity and good timing, I didn't have anything too juicy to hide either.
I've heard stories of once-private nude photos that have been enthusiastically criticized, browser search histories that have been scrutinized, and sexual orientations that have been relentlessly questioned by the Gestapo. In my case, I think my fluency in the French language was a blessing in disguise, as my guy seemed to want me out of his office.
Alas, it all boiled down to a subjective cut in the end. There were 36 of us who passed all the tests, but only 18 of us were going to follow the real training in the distant and mysterious "Farm". I was confident, but sure of nothing.
I was hoping I could move on, but a drink and a real bed sounded great to me as well. Behind door number one lay sleep deprivation and corporal punishment, while through the cracks of door number two beamed the prospect of an immediate French holiday.
Long story short, I ended up being kicked out without further ado. I was given an almost insulting amount of money (a pleasant surprise actually, as I wasn't expecting anything), returned my meager belongings, and found my street clothes within minutes. No explanation was given to me. Only a "Thank you for trying, never come back".
Now I can make informed inferences based on who passed and who didn't. Our selection has nothing to do with our performance throughout our various tests. If you were French or if you had already undergone infantry training in the army of your respective country, you were admitted.
The rest of the guys who were given the green light to continue seemed particularly poor and desperate – they came from places where options were few, where the prospect of a $50,000 salary and possible French citizenship would motivate them. willingly endure almost anything.
All in all, I'm happy with the way things turned out. I learned a bit of French and was able to stay in Europe long enough to find my bearings. Today I'm in Bucharest, where the beers are cheap and my English skills are in high demand.
I even made friends with a local girl who had never heard of Alabama. Turns out you don't have to join the French Foreign Legion to get by after all."