If your visions of living in France are more focused on the Eiffel Tower than piles of dog poop on the sidewalk, then A Year in the Merde might be a bit shocking for your sensitivities.
Yet, for anyone that has traveled through France (or any foreign place), this book promises to be a laugh out loud funny summary of the challenges and achievements of learning how to thrive in a different culture.
What Is A Year in the Merde?
You can forgive yourself if you don’t know the meaning of the French word ‘merde’ as it’s not one that many teachers make a priority to teach.
‘Merde’ in French translates to ‘shit,’ meaning that author Stephen Clarke takes a unique perspective of French culture for his book.
His inspiration for the title is a metaphorical nod to the stressful living situations that the fictional character Paul West faces while trying to expand a business into Paris.
As a novel, A Year in the Merde is a humoristic account of Clarke’s nine months working internationally in France.
The book is split into nine chapters, each of which deals with one month of this time abroad and the issues that he faces during that time (September 2002- late summer 2003).
The chapters of the book are titled as follows:
SEPTEMBRE: Never the Deux Shall Meet: Paul’s perspective on why the French distrust anyone who can’t speak French.
OCTOBRE: One Foot in the Merde: Paul’s account of touring through the less touristy parts of Paris, and all the dog poop he steps in.
NOVEMBRE: Make Yourself Chez Moi: A chronicle of the struggles of finding an inhabitable apartment in the city.
DÉCEMBRE: God Save the Cuisine: Paul struggles to compare French and British food.
JANVIER: A Maison in the Country: Paul attempts to buy a cheap cottage in the French countryside. It doesn’t go well.
FÉVRIER: Make Amour, Not War: As the Iraq War becomes all-consuming, Paul attempts to take a French lover.
MARS: The Joy of Suppositories: Paul takes advantage of France’s generous medical system.
AVRIL: Liberté, égalité, Get Out of My Way: Paul learns that the French like English speakers more than he first assumed.
MAI: 1968 and All That: Paul realizes the importance of finishing the work year early, or risking being ‘in the merde.’
Marketed as an ‘almost-true’ account of Clarke’s time in the famous city, A Year in the Merde might make you think twice about spending time in France, but only for a second.
His relatable stories and all too true accounts of his struggles in Paris make his stories highly relatable, and anyone who has spent time living in a country that wasn’t there own will find themselves appreciating the candid way that Clarke covers his achievements and challenges alike.
From narrator “Paul West’s” struggle to manage his lazy Parisian coworkers to the improbability of setting up a successful chain of British tea rooms or trying to have even one successful date, A Year in the Merde is a story that will ring true for almost every international worker.
An Inside Look into French Culture
If you want a behind the scenes look into the contradictions of French culture, A Year in the Merde is the book to start with.
This expatriate’s book talks through Paul’s realizations that not all French people are obsessed with cheese, and that the ill-fated Louisiana purchase is still a sore spot for some citizens.
Likewise, the book can serve as an educational tool for people pursuing a Parisian life in the near future.
By learning from Paul’s adventures, you can be better prepared to deal with grumpy waiters, survive boring business meetings, and learn essential tips for how not to buy a home in the French countryside.
Originally a self-published book that was written in French, A Year in the Merde has been translated into English and is currently sold in eleven countries.
Expats and native French citizens love it alike, meaning that the expatriate’s novel is likely to be a hit with anyone that’s spent time traveling.
Similar in tone and topic to Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, this novel will give you an inside look into the experience of someone who can’t ever decide whether he loves or ‘loves to hate’ the French people he lives and works with.
Whether you plan to move to France or find it a fascinating culture to study from afar, A Year in the Merde will provide some comic escapism that all succeeds about educating you about some of the most peculiar aspects of French culture in the process.