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A Year in the Merde

Book Review

book cover A Year in the Merde
Stephen Clarke
Hardcover,  276 pages
Bloomsbury
US $22.95

Stephen Clarke's A Year in the Merde is an "almost true" first-person narrative by Paul West, a 27-year-old Englishman who has been recruited by a French company to open a chain of British-style tearooms in Paris. The prospective expat writes:

"My good friend Chris told me not to come to France. Great lifestyle, he said, great food, and totally un-politically correct women with great underwear. But, he warned me, the French are  hell to live with. He worked in the London office of a French bank for three years.

"...His theory was that the French are like the women scorned. Back in 1940, they tried to tell us they loved us, but we just laughed at their accents and their big-nosed General de Gaulle and ever since we've done nothing but poison them with our disgusting food and try to wipe the French language off the face of the earth....It's permanent payback time, he said. Don't go there.

"Sorry, I told him, I've got to go and check out that underwear."

Over the course of the next year, Paul West does much more than admire Gallic lingerie: He tries to supervise employees who'd rather plan lunch than a marketing campaign, he becomes involved with a series of Parisian girlfriends (including his boss's daughter), he becomes immersed in the complexities of French real estate, and he endures the daily hassles of dealing with everything from condescending waiters to Métro strikes. Not that he's judgmental about the French; in the cover blurb, he's quick to say:

"There are lots of French people who are not at all hypocritical, inefficient, treacherous, intolerant, adulterous or incredibly sexy...They just didn't make it into my book."

A Year in the Merde is a rollicking, profane, and mercilessly funny book by a British writer who works for a French press group in Paris and has written comedy for the BBC. Whether you're a Francophile, a Francophobe, or simply an afficionado of Franco-British humor, you're bound to enjoy "Paul West's" first-person memoir of expatriate adventures in the Paris of today. (And who knows--you might pick up some useful travel tips in the bargain.)

To read short excerpts from A Year in the Merde, click the links below.

Read Excerpt 1: Paris tipping


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