Let them drink beer

On the night of the World Cup final, while reporting in Mandalay, I suddenly discovered a passionate, unflappable devotion to France. This happened shortly after being invited to watch the match by three backpacker girls from Paris.


AND SO THAT was how, at an Irish pub, face painted in white, red and blue, all my years of not watching France struggle on football’s highest level finally paid off.

Vive la France! Va manger une agrafeuse, Croatie!

Time for an after-party! At midnight Mandalay is deader than Marie Antoinette, but I couldn’t let the backpackers down. A waitress told me about an open KTV joint east of town, and while no taxis were running, her neighbour could give us a lift. It seemed fine for our small band, and I made the arrangements as my new friends sang a chorus of “Champs-Élysées” re-written to be about midfielder N’Golo Kanté.

When our transportation arrived, two things happened. First, the bar finally closed and everyone spilled out into the street. And second, the waitress’s neighbour’s “car” turned out to be an entire cargo truck – which a pub-full of French people happily climbed into.

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So imagine, dear reader, a truck speeding past empty sidewalks and shuttered storefronts, overflowing with backpackers belting out La Marseillaise, pausing only to ask one another where everyone was going.

The only one who actually knew the answer to that question happened to be the only one who didn’t speak three words of the current common language.  

We ended up in an impossibly opulent KTV suite, all marble, mirror, gold and glass. The microphones were on and the lasers were flashing, but the party was more than happy to continue to sing a cappella. Their songs included Qui n’entre côte pas n’est pas français! (“Whoever is not jumping is not French”), and On nez, on nez, on nez les champignons! (“We are, we are, we are the champions”).

But after 15 minutes of no music, I spotted a few of the backpackers arguing with the management, demanding a discount for the room and threatening to walk out. Sacré bleu! A few more minutes of this and the mood would collapse faster than Napoleon at Waterloo!

But who cared? At that point I knew almost nobody’s name, my backpacker friends had other, French-speaking boys to flirt with, and I could only smile and say “oui!” whenever anyone tried to talk to me.

On the other hand, Mandalay deserved its French after-party. I may have only accidentally caused this bizarre mashup of French, Myanmar and Chinese culture, but I had spent the evening shouting “vive la France!, and damned if France wasn’t going to vive all night long.

I negotiated with management, cut secret deals for vodka and Sprite in the hallway (the backpackers were fine buying booze but refused to pay extra for mixers), fixed the settings whenever someone bumped the mute button or paused the playlist, and toasted until I was convinced I had learned to speak fluent French. 

I woke up with K150 left in my wallet and a hangover the size of Bordeaux. Maybe next time I’ll support Brazil.

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