Le Métier – an unfortunate term

Le Métier is the title of a new book by Team Sky’s Michael Barry. The book looks wonderful, with big photos and fine print. Only I can’t help wondering if the book’s title isn’t a massive blunder. Why? Well read on…

“Faire le métier” : combien de fois dans ma vie ai-je entendu cette expression fourre-tout qui signifie tout et son contraire ? *

So writes Laurent Fignon in his autobiography. Literally le métier in French means “work” or “job” but in cycling it has another meaning. When Christophe Bassons was asking Philippe Gaumont about a move to Cofidis in 1997, Gaumont replied “tu dois savoir que chez nous, tout le monde fait le métier” **. Gaumont was saying that everyone was doping at Cofidis.

Faire le métier means to do your job, to be professional to the point of being competitive with the others. In the pro peloton, le métier means doping.

So is Michael Barry alluding to his time spent at US Postal, Discovery and Columbia and the methods used there?

No, I fear this is just another case of the English appropriating French culture, only to miss out the subtleties. Just as Rapha got the French flag upside down, now it looks like publishers Rouleur have a book with a title in French that implies doping to anyone who knows French cycling.

Now I’m imagining that the title is meant to portray Barry’s career, his professionalism and, by using the French, some of the sport’s romance and mythology along the way too. After all, “The Job” would be too boring. But there’s a world of difference between je ne sais quoi and je ne sais rien.

For a book claiming to give an insight into the world of cycling this is a terrible title, put simply you might as well call the book Le Dopage.

Finally, I wish Barry well and presume neither he nor his publishers realised this blunder. As I say above, the book looks good. But once again, if you want to borrow something from a foreign culture, get it right… otherwise that foreign culture is exactly that, it’s foreign and something you don’t understand properly.

* “Do the job”: how many times in my life have I heard this catch-all phrase which means nothing and everything at the same time.
** If you want to join us, you can. But you’ve got to know that with us, everyone “does the job”

13 thoughts on “Le Métier – an unfortunate term”

  1. Interesting points made. I would hope that Mr Barry would know what it meant as he's a Toronto boy. Maybe it is a word play as to be honest I had never heard this phrase, not one used really in the English press.

    But Maybe you are right and it's taking the word on face value and not realising the cycling roots. Hopefully Mike might be able to explain why, especially as one of the riders with a reputation as being clean it would be such a shame that any doubt would be cast upon his name.

  2. Maybe it's a case that he heard people telling him "Il faut faire Le Metier" when he arrived from Canada and didn't understand what they really meant. I think there was an allusion to that in one of the press quotes from the book.

    If so he wouldn't be the first anglophone rider to arrive in Europe and not understand what they were trying to persuade him of.
    Will Fotheringham's Rouleur article in the current issue (16?), also talks about le metier without reference to doping which is striking given that he raced in France for a while.

    Or maybe he's reclaiming it from the dopers or showing that there are many facet to le metier, not all of which one needs to be adept at to do the job properly?

  3. Rich, I did think twice before pointing this out. It promises to be a good book and in pointing out the unfortunate term I didn't want to undermine Barry's name.

    Alex, I like the idea of reclaiming the term. Le métier should be about "living the dream", not the behind the scenes meaning. Only it's a French term and an anglophone book isn't going to fix this.

    I do fear they've simply misunderstood the term. To reverse the example, imagine a French book on dog grooming called "Le Doggy Style".

  4. Now you mention it, I see what you mean. I think Paul Kimmage mentioned the same word, it's hardly secret slang. There are other titles in French that would be good but don't come with a loaded (no pun!) meaning.

  5. I interviewed Michael Barry recently and we spoke about the book and when I asked him about the title and what it meant he said, in it's simplest form it translates as "The Profession".

  6. Hi Anonymous

    Yes, that's the simplest translation and the one used by most people in France.

    I'm not suggesting he was implying anything, only I am a bit surprised that the publishers didn't raise an eyebrow. At best it's just a naive mistake.

  7. As Alex Murray says above "maybe he's reclaiming it from the dopers or showing that there are many facet to le metier", it would be nice to use the word in the literal sense.

    Landis has been namedropping and his name has fallen out.

  8. Faire le métier translates in context better as ‘to be professionally and do everything required to succeed’. It doesn’t necessarily translate to doping unless its used in that context ie

    Il fait le métier = he is professional in the way he carriers our his job

    Its common use does not extend to a suggestion of doping practices, in French ‘de faire le métier’ is seen as a positive thing; an example of how a young pro should behave.

    (background to my comments, I lived and raced in France for 3 years, speak fluent French and my degree is in French & Sociology)

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