Of Hares and Hounds

Expats: that crazy, adventurous and down right bizarre group of humans who flee their home countries only to flock together in the hopes of creating a little bit of home in a foreign territory. I’d hoped to steer clear of big English speaking groups here in France, but this weekend I tumbled head first down the rabbit (or should I say hare??) hole that is eccentric expats and their gallivanting.

I have fallen into the clutches of the Hash House Harriers.

Described on their website as “Drinkers with a walking problem”, the Hash House Harriers (or H3) began in the 30s when a group of expats living in Malaysia formed a group for walking off their hangovers. It involves a designated “Hare” running ahead and leaving a trail of flour to follow. This trail often involves false trails and other deceptions to make the course more challenging for the “Hounds” who follow along behind. The trail ends with all participants standing in a circle, drinking beer and dolling out punishments (or “down-downs”) seemingly indiscriminately. Anyone who falls victim to the “down-down” has to do exactly that, down a beer as fast as they can while the rest of the circle sings/chants. They also seem to love singing “swing low, sweet chariot” with rather obscene hand gestures.

This phenomenon has now spread all over the world and no matter where you live, it’s highly likely you’ll be able to find a local H3 gang tromping through the countryside, yelling “On-on!” every time they spot a glob of flour. You may also notice them referring to each other by odd and usually crude nicknames (the penalty for using someone’s proper name is of course a “down-down”).

Being what is referred to as a “hash virgin”, I was expected to stand in the centre of the circle and receive my own “down-down”: what a civilised way to finish off an hour’s walk through the mud. But it was a great way to warm up as the temperature plummeted to below 10 degrees and I was only wearing a tshirt with an oversized man’s shirt on top (obviously I had not been aware of my outing when I’d dressed that morning.)

It was a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon, and of course a lot more interesting than the lesson planning I was supposed to be doing. I even got to speak a little French while sliding about in the mud so there’s a bonus.

Hooray for expats and their weird and wonderful ways!

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