“A Year in the Merde, Muck and Mire”
It had been sitting on the table for weeks, but yesterday I threw it in my bag, took a seat on the Métro and started reading. Everyone says it’s hilarious, and so, here I go, reading ONE MORE BOOK ABOUT LIVING IN PARIS. Even me, who lives and breathes the City of Light, who pounds out random contemplations on an almost daily basis about what it’s like to avoid the inevitable cultural collide, can’t help but read ONE MORE BOOK ABOUT LIVING IN PARIS. Don’t we ever get tired of it?
The answer is no. Especially when it’s just so hilariously funny…and so amazingly true.
Stephen Clarke’s “A Year in the Merde,” while written from a British point of view (you know the two countries are still warring, even if historians say the Hundred Years’ War ended in 1453, it really NEVER did!), is simply one crack-up, chuckle, giggle, grin, guffaw, hee-haw, and howl to the next. I’m sure the other riders were wondering just what was making my face do such contortions, but I guess they could see the word “MERDE” in red, white and blue boldly printed on the cover, so perhaps they had a clue.
Clarke’s character, Paul West, who they call “Pol Wess” and who they immortalized on business cards as “Paul Vest,” is greeted in Paris at “La Rentrée” — the true beginning of the year according to the French calendar…the first Monday in September. In the U.S., we call that day “Labor Day” and no one works that day (big fallacy, right?). In France, this is the first day back at work from their long summer vacations and much to Paul’s surprise, found everyone, and I mean everyone, on the Champs-Elysées, kissing! (This is not mutually exclusive to men kissing women, you understand. Men kiss men, women kiss women and the cheeks are flying back and forth like mad.)
For Americans, Paul West gives us insight into the British culture, too. It’s a big help, because if you’re living in Paris, then a) you’re going to meet a lot of Brits and b) you’re likely to travel to London fairly often on the fast and inexpensive Eurostar.
One thing we discovered is that while we (the British and the Americans) sort of speak the same language, we don’t really; and while we sort of look fairly similar, we aren’t at all the same. The British are as different to Americans as the Italians are to the French. One good thing is that the British act as a sort of bridge between the French and American culture…Anglo-Saxon Europeans who live isolated on an island off the continent, who tend to behave as insular as Americans do, but have a more daily relationship with other cultures.
Anyway, “merde” is a term that pops up in Clarke’s story on a regular basis, not only because it peppers the sidewalks, but because it so perfectly describes what it’s like to live and work in a city that is a virtual mine field, from doggy poop, surly waiters, sexy women or you-name-it.
The French year is coming to a close soon, just about the same time New Orleans celebrates its first year after Hurricane Katrina, also in stuck in the “merde,” and what I’d also call the “muck and mire.” I can’t help but think of how we’re going to start off our new year to reduce the amount of doggy poop, cross the cultural divide and fix the problems of the world.
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris
Email [email protected]
P.S. To get your copy of “A Year in the Merde,” visit /parlerparis/books/booksaboutfrance.html
P.P.S. A special congratulations to Parler Paris Special Conference Coordinator Schuyler Hoffman who will be moving this month to New Orleans to take a post with Antoine’s Restaurant as Event Planning Manager and open a B and B on Rampart Street in the Faubourg Marigny! (Don’t worry, he will still be with us in San Diego for the Living and Investing in France Conference September 16 and 17! For more information, visit /frenchproperty/conference/LIF_SD_2006/LIF_SD_2006_home.html