Stéphane Schorderet was a self-made journalist.
He was an avid sports player who was studying international law in university and had bills to pay as a student. So he started freelancing as a sports reporter for a local paper in France called Le Progrès de Lyon.
About a year later, the newspaper asked him to join.
“I switched from a student who was freelancing to pay [for] my studies to a journalist in full time,” said Mr. Schorderet, press and communication counsellor at the French Embassy.
“I was like a fish in water,” he said of his experience covering soccer, horseback riding and table tennis.
He reported on the French soccer team Auxerre for about six years. Starting his career on the team at that time was renowned player Eric Cantona, who went on to play for teams including the popular Manchester United.
Mr. Schorderet later decided to travel, and went to live in San Francisco for more than a year.
After returning to France, he joined the country’s foreign ministry as a press counsellor and served in Geneva and Portugal. He was in the latter when Timor-Leste, formerly a colony of the country, gained independence from Indonesia more than a decade ago. Mr. Schorderet also worked at the French mission to the United Nations, as an assistant to the deputy communications director at the foreign ministry, and as a press counsellor in Brazil.
“It’s a very interesting job,” he said. “You have to dip yourself inside the culture of the country, you have to meet the people.”
On the other side of the fence
Sitting in his office on March 19, Mr. Schorderet said that working as a journalist has helped him in his press counsellor job.
“I think it’s easier to speak with journalists when you know how they work,” he said.
He understands morning editorial meetings and the typical afternoon rush in newsrooms.
He said he believes in press independence and has much respect for journalists.
“For a lot of diplomats, they are very suspicious about journalists,” said Mr. Schorderet, adding that he considers conversations with journalists as dialogue.
If he calls a journalist to explain why a particular point is incorrect, “it’s not to have another article about what I said, but to help the journalist understand well the subject.”
At the embassy in Ottawa, Mr. Schorderet analyzes the viewpoints of the press and works to explain to Canadian media how France works and its positions.
He said he’s read statements calling France racist and that he would like to correct some “wrong ideas” about France or French people.
“It’s something that’s very important for me,” he said. “There is racism in France as in every country, but France is not a racist country.”
‘You can keep going, or you can stop’
“You have the decision of what you want to do with bad things that happen in your life,” said Mr. Schorderet. “You can keep going, or you can stop.”
The French envoy decided to keep going.
During his posting in Portugal 13 years ago Mr. Schorderet was in a motorcycle collision that left him in a wheelchair.
“It didn’t change my work life and it didn’t change my personal life,” he said calmly.
The French foreign ministry and the embassy in Ottawa were very accommodating, he said.
“The [ministry] always gave me the chance to follow my career as if I was not in a wheelchair,” he said.
The embassy had a small ramp built inside the mission to make it more accessible.
Mr. Schorderet has noticed the difference in accessibility in each place he’s visited. While Paris could use some more work, he’s seen that Canada is “very concerned about the access.”
He wishes there were more parking spaces for disabled people, but praised the accessibility of buildings and public transit systems.
In Brazil, he said people would always ask him if he needed help.
“I’m very independent, so I never ask to someone to help. But sometimes there are some nice people who ask me.”
Mr. Schorderet doesn’t let the accident hold him back and was proud to have gone on the Rideau Canal with his wheelchair.
As Mr. Schorderet rightly pointed out, it’s inevitable: “if you talk with the French, there is always a moment you will talk about food or wine.”
Brazilian food was great, he said, but he really missed cheese.
“I was very surprised when I arrived here because I discovered that Canada is also a cheese country. And for me, it was very important,” he said with a smile.
Six months into his posting and he is already a fan of Canadian cheese, maple syrup and ice wine.
He’s discovered a little shop in Gatineau, Que. called La trappe à fromage where he stocks up on cheesy delights.
Mr. Schorderet said he would like to travel through Canada, watch a hockey game live and visit a sugar shack.
“Maybe it’s a lot of clichés—hockey, [maple syrup]—but when you arrive in a new country, you have to start with the clichés.”
Mr. Schorderet is in Ottawa with his wife, two daughters and cat. It’s a well-travelled feline that was born in Geneva and lived in Paris and Brazil before ending up in Canada.
“In our family, I think I talk about my cat as a person—the person who is more impatient to see the spring coming is the cat,” he said with a laugh.