I was going to write this in French, on the basis that anyone who’d be remotely interested speaks French, but I started to get bored about three words into the title and changed my mind. I was also going to structure it. Then I realised that il faut être résoluement post moderne, and structure is for pussies. So here’s my guide to taking the exams for the Quai d’Orsay.
1. I can see you. Yeah. You, right there. Trying to intimidate me with your little foreign drinks bottle, acting like you just got back from an important job in Foreignistan. Let me tell you, I’ve been intimidated by far better men than you, and they didn’t need a bottle of Russian orange juice to do it either.
You want high level strategic thinking? Well we’ve got this.
2. The language exam where you have to write a synthesis in a foreign language of foreign newspaper articles only looks intimidating. It’s basically a test of your copying skills. Quotes, stats, whole sentences. Jam ’em in there. If you’re really good the only parts you have to come up with yourself will be the conjunctions. Sure, you have to juggle them round a bit, but unless you just copy out an article wholesale it’s basically impossible to be too shameless. This is called having an esprit de synthèse.
3. Quite often in the multiple choice part of the language exam they put the easiest questions at the end. Yes, this is precisely the sort of team you’re going to be joining.
4. Just down the road from the exam centre there’s a Jewish sushi shop. I don’t know how often I’ve found myself eating sushi and thought “this needs more bagels”, but now at last the niche has been filled. Confusingly, it has a picture of a hotdog and chopsticks above the door. There’s also a place called “KRAPaillo”. I don’t know what they serve.
5. French handwriting. It hurts me physically to imagine the level of neurosis one must have to achieve to have such tiny, neat handwriting.
6. Everyone says that you can’t do this exam if your degree is in IR, because everyone knows that IR students are a bunch of hairy trustafarians who only signed up to the course in the first place in order to spend two years getting wasted and nailing exchange kids. Which is perfectly true, but they’ve reformed the test now, and the questions are far more IR-oriented. This also has the inestimable advantage of driving public affairs types into an intarticulate rage.
7. But you should probably read a few culture générale books or go to some prépa lessons to get an idea of precisely the sort of socialism-lite received ideas you’re supposed to support. Don’t worry, you don’t have to believe any of this stuff, you just have to write it down.
8. Learn the quote about the steam train from the last page of La Bête humaine. It works for any conceivable question on the subjects of war and progress. Good value for money, eh?
9. The thing to fear at all costs on the last day (culture générale) isn’t a difficult question but a boring one. I was stuck with something on reforming international institutions and sat there in front of the paper for half an hour staring at it like some flaccid libertine out of a story by de Sade looking at the 50th, 100th, 1000th piece of jailbait tail and thinking “Well it’s what I’m here for, I suppose…” Plenty of others left before the end.
God help me, I read my work through when I’d finished.