A year in the merde

"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."

I think it was Anno who recommended this book "A year in the merde" in one of her posts and I had written it down on my "to read" list. A satire on the cultural differences between the British and the French...had to be good.

The narrator Paul West arrives on a one-year contract in Paris to start up a range of English tea-rooms for a French meat concern. Right from the start he starts mocking the horrible accent of his French colleagues and I thought "what a jerk, at least they try to talk English to you...you only know 2 French phrases from your Berlitz tape".

Along with him I mocked the French morning office ritual where everyone parades by everyone kissing good morning, only to be repeated in the evening when they go home again. Immediately I had flash-backs to my months spent in Strasbourg and to the long breaks at the coffee machine after the also long lunches from my French colleagues in The Hague. When Paul West gets fed up about the long inefficient meetings in which nothing at all gets decided and all gets discussed over again and over again, I was knodding. And obviously no decisions are written down so anything that might have been decided is open for interpretation and new discussions again later on. Oh yes, nasty flashbacks again. And the love of endless talking is already obvious when you dare to turn on any French radio. They don't talk in between the music...no no they play a song now and then in between the talking.

But I also snuggled at Paul West's culinary ignorance and wanted to slap him in the face when he pulled up his nose for excellent cheeses etc. He truly is a jerk only out in Paris to score French girls but he clearly didn't understand how to approach them. There's surely lots of English people who respect women but they were not featured in the book either :p.

His language confusion was lost on me since I'm not used to translate English to French and vice versa so I am less aware of the similarities in some words that do have a totally different meaning. I was reading a Dutch translation of the book which showed as they sometimes had to leave the original French or English word in order to show the confusion. So reading it in English is probably better.

Don't expect any political correctness in this book, but the intrigues quickly spin around and grow. I finished the book in 1,5 days as it reads super smoothly and is excellent relaxation literature.


Poetikat said…
My husband still hasn't opened his copy and I don't have the time right now, but it sounds like something I'd enjoy - either along with the author, or as you have indicated, wanting to slap him in the face! Either way, it sounds like fun to me!


P.S. You CAN see me on vpike. Send me an e-mail here: poetikat46@yahoo.ca and I'll give you the link.
oker said…
Oh ja, dat komt me bekend voor. Ik was au-pair in Parijs en kreeg het boekje: talk to the snail! dat daar een beetje aan doet denken. Van het Merde boekje heb je ook nog een deel 2 en 3, waarin het verhaal ongetwijfeld verder gaat.
Ik werd er persoonlijk gek van de eindeloze praatprogramma's, arrogante reacties op mijn pogingen tot Frans spreken of simpelweg weigeren om in het Engels over te gaan en de snob cultuur. Het werd hem niet tussen Parijs en mij.
Virtualsprite said…
Sounds interesting. I'll have to check it out. I've never been to France, but here in America we have similar meetings. They are the bane of my existence.
zusjesenzo said…
Lijkt me een heel interessant boekje. Mag ik het eens lenen in de zomer? Ik denk dat dat voor mijn leerlingen ook wel eens grappig kan zijn om daar passages uit te lezen.

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