Tonight, the US Captains hosted dinner for our French Captain friends. As part of a way to build camaraderie between our two forces, we often invite one another to social gatherings. (Well, as social as one can be while on a locked-down forward operating base.)
For the American forces here, it’s not that big a deal. Usually just a meal and some conversation.
But, for the French, it’s always a party. This is probably because the French, unlike the Americans, are not prohibited from drinking alcohol while deployed. (American military members are subject to “General Order Number One” … no alcohol at all while deployed.)
I invited my Public Affairs friend, a French Captain, to join us for dinner tonight. He and his friends brought some “hot wine.” Hot wine is wine the French use simply to cleanse the palate before enjoying a meal.
As we gathered in the American dining facility, the French poured paper cups of wine and passed them around. We Americans were placed in a peculiar predicament, because it’s against the rules for us to drink, but we were hosting a dinner in which our French guests kept asking us to drink with them.
We kept politely declining, trying to adhere to General Order Number One. I nursed a can of soda, waiting patiently to eat. It worked for a while, until the French wanted to propose a toast to start the meal.
I haven’t read the book on etiquette, but I’m pretty sure it’s a no-no to participate in a military toast by raising a can of A&W root beer. So, I allowed them to pour me a “finger” of hot wine, solely for the purpose of toasting to welcome them and begin the meal. (I returned to my soda after the toast.)
The French drank for the following hour or so. After eating, they began singing.
No, I’m not talking about singing the latest pop tune by Britney Spears. I’m not talking about Karaoke, either. It was just accapella, drunk-guy singing. I learned that when presented with some wine, a steak and some friends, the French like to loudly sing patriotic military songs as they drink. It was actually kind of fun.
Eventually, they asked us, their American hosts, to sing a song. Unable to think of anything else, I lead the US Captains in a verse of the Air Force song.
“Off we gooooo, into the wild, blue yonder. Flying hiiiiiiigh, into the sun. Here they cooooome, zooming to meet our thunder. At ‘em boys, give ‘em the gun. GIVE ‘EM THE GUN!”
Had I been singing this in front of some Americans, I could have seen myself being embarrased. But, for some reason, it was just kind of normal to be with a group of Soldiers who were sharing a meal and singing together.
I admit it kind of freaked me out at first, but as the night went on, I realized that having a drink and singing is just their way of making a night enjoyable.
At the end of the night, the French raised their cups to our collective of French and American Captains, offering a farewell toast to the “Front United Captains of Kapisa.”
It took me a while to catch on to the name… the French have a sense of humor, too!