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I have just finished 'A Year in the Merde' after having had it for several years and having started it and put it back down! I'm glad I picked it back up again though as it is a very funny about Anglo French relations, misunderstandings and, of course, the wonderful food and lifestyle of Paris!
The story is about Paul West who goes to Paris for one year to organise the proposed opening of a chain of English tea rooms and blunders around in a typical Englishman abroad adventure which shows us how some of the stereotypes of the English and French are actually still alive and kicking!
We have a Paris populated by beautiful women, workers who do nothing but kiss each other on the cheek or go on strike at the drop of a hat, and descriptions of food, drink and the Parisian lifestyle that make you want to drop everything and move there immediately!
The story is not guaranteed to improve Anglo French relations, and the main character can come across as somewhat sexist and sex mad, but the author's love of France and the French shines through, making it a love letter to Paris and all its maddening bureaucracy and romance!
Written by Stephen Clarke, 'A Year In The Merde' is unlike other titles in its travel book category. Drawing on ten years on experience in living in France, his story about a young English Businessman, Paul West, spending a year in Paris is a true jewel.
The book follows the ups and downs of Paul West as he tries to settle into French life, from peculiar delicacies to workers striking (apparently "the second national participation sport after petanque). And all the while, Clarke injects an individual, edgy humour into his characters.
'A Year In The Merde' is particularly interesting, not least because of its fascinating insights into the Parisian and French ways of life. As a learner of French myself, I learnt more useful colloquial French than you could ever learn in a classroom.
This book is ideal for anybody with a love of France or French culture but who doesn't know it in depth. It will almost act as a culture shock to some, shattering the idealistic view of some French habits, but at the same time it is deeply entertaining and ultimately educational.
A Year in the Merde, which translates to A Year in the Shit if anyone was wondering, is in my opinion a fantastic book and one that I will definitely read again.
The book written by Stephen Clarke was published in 2004 and is said to be 'an almost-true account of things that may or may not have happened to him in the ten years he lived in France'.
The story within is told through the eyes of Paul West a successful businessman who arrives in Paris to help set up a chain of English tea shops. His French isn't the best in the world though improving and then team he is tasked to work with speak little English and that they do speak is barely understandable. On top of learning to not only understand his colleagues but also to work with them Paul must come to grips with the Parisian way of life: the length of the work, the countless holidays, the grumpy waiters and the endless strikes. He must further fathom out French bureaucracy and learn how to make amour (love) not war.
As you may have guessed from the above this book is humorous through and through and has been classed as the 'must-have comedy-of-errors diary about being a Brit abroad' and this is certainly something I agree with. The straight talking style of the book is one that any true Brit will appreciate and the way Paul must deal everything remotely foreign that is thrown at him also causes the reader to empathise.
I will admit that this book has moments were it can seem anti-foreign and especially anti-French but it is simply telling things the way they in many respects. This may seem like I'm condoning anti foreign sentiments but please don't think this because the book itself isn't anti-foreign but simply showing the difficulties of moving to a foreign country. Ultimately Paul learns to fit in with the Parisian way of life, he finds things he likes as well as things he doesn't and this gives the book a very rounded feel.
I'm not really sure what there is left to say about this book although I don't feel like I've written much despite the book being one that I really enjoyed reading. I suppose that's all that is really left to say is that this book is certainly a must read in my opinion. It is perfect for reading on the beach or whilst sunning it in the back garden as it isn't difficult to get into and is written with a style and pace that lifts the story and makes the reading time seem to fly by.
In closing then I thought I'd pull a couple of quotes out of the book so that you can see why I found this a pleasure to read.
+++++"OK, but it's not English," I had to insist. "It's like when you call a campsite 'un camping' or a car park 'un parking'. You may think it's English, but it's not."+++++
+++++On April the first, you understand why the French admire the British sense of humour: we have one.+++++
I was working away from home and popped into the charity shop to pick up some reading material- one of the books I picked up was A Year in The Merde by Stephen Clarke. I had never heard of the book or the author before, but as The Times critique on the back cover said "Edgier than Bryson, hits harder than Mayle"- that was all the incentive I needed to make my purchase.
Stephen Clarke was a journalist working in Paris for ten years, so much of the content is drawn from his own experiences, albeit that it is not autobiographical.
The main character takes up a job in Paris and we get a month by month description of his life from Septembre to Mai. Writing about work, working relationships, transport, loves and describing the arondissements of Paris.
It soon became the book that I couldn't wait to read another chapter of and was keen to hear about the next workers strike- (at one time or another everyone in Paris seems to stage a walkout).
The author only planned to sell or give away 200 copies for family, friends and the odd fan- but before he knew it it was a surprise hit.
The surprise must only have been to him, as I am sure anyone reading it would agree it is a very entertaining read. It also teaches you something about life in Paris- without being in any sense a tour guide.
I shall be making notes on a few of the tips - like never again to order a cafe au lait in Paris - that tells the waiter you are a tourist and you might well be ripped off- you order a cafe creme - that's what the locals ask for when they want a coffee with milk-who knew?
Reading the bio of the author it was no surprise that he has been a comedy writer, as in places the writing was very amusing- don't get me wrong you won't laugh out load but you definitely smile, (a lot).
I always think that it is hard to recommend a book to a stranger-so I will say that the if you like Bill Bryson and enjoy reading a comedy of errors then give this a go.
I will definitely be looking out for anything else written by the author and hopefully I will be reading it on a eurostar to Paris.
Having moved to France, I picked up this book and fell in perfectly to the trials and tribulations of this fellow Brit who must handle blending in to all the sublte quirks of a different culture. This is quick fiction with some fun, and a bit of info too. Not really a survival guide tho! You could pick up his other book: Ten Commandments, which is more helpful.
I enjoyed this quick, light read with its intelligent, witty style and occasionally great sentences defining some amusing traits between England and France. Im not a great fan of these stereotype-enforcing cash-ins, for example with English characters that are at times laddish and idiotic, but this one escapes just about, and rings some truths. Although with some emphasis on sleeping around, the adventures of Paul West are less informative and more down-to-earth, with more edgy sort of antics than are usual, thus more an amusing read. Not sure I've learned a lot tho.