Based loosely on his own experiences and with names changed to "avoid embarrassment, possible legal action—and to prevent the author’s legs being broken by someone in a Yves Saint Laurent suit (or quite possibly, a Christian Dior skirt)," A Year in the Merde is the almost true account of Paul West’s adventures as an expat in Paris.
Brought to Paris by a French company to open a chain of British tea rooms, Paul, a twenty-seven-year-old Brit, soon finds himself managing a group of lazy, grumbling French employees, manoeuvring around a slick, treacherous Parisian boss, and lucking into a succession of lusty girlfriends (one of whom happens to be the boss’s morally challenged daughter). Immersed in the contradictions of French culture, he learns how to get the best out of the grumpiest Parisian waiter, how to survive a French business meeting, and how not to buy a house in the French countryside.
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His first novel, A Year in the Merde, originally became a word-of-mouth hit in Paris in 2004. Since then it has been published all over the world, and earned Stephen a nomination for the British Book Award for Best Newcomer. The follow-up, Merde Actually, went to number one in the Bookseller chart. In 2006, he published his guide to understanding the French, Talk to the Snail, which he divided into ten ‘commandments’ or chapters that include “Thou Shalt Not Work,” “Thou Shalt Not Love Thy Neighbour” and “Thou Shalt Not Be Served.”
During his research for Merde Happens, Stephen was interviewed by the American police twice, found one real pistol, was told to “have a good one” 127 times, and became allergic to cranberries.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The year does not begin in January. Every French person knows that. Only awkward English-speakers think it starts in January.
The year really begins on the first Monday of September.
This is when Parisians get back to their desks after their month-long holiday and begin working out where they’ll go for the mid-term break in November.
It’s also when every French project, from a new hairdo to a nuclear power station, gets under way, which is why at 9 a.m. on the first Monday of September, I was standing a hundred yards from the Champs-Élysées watching people kissing.
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.
"They made all us Brits redundant the day after the French football team got knocked out of the World Cup. No way was that a coincidence," he told me.
His theory was that the French are like the woman scorned. Back in 1940 they tried to tell us they loved us, but we just laughed at their accents and their big-nosed Général 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. That’s why they build refugee camps yards from the Eurotunnel entrance and refuse to eat our beef years after it was declared safe. 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.
Normally, I suppose you would be heading for disaster if the main motivation for your job mobility was the local lingerie, but my one-year contract started very promisingly.
I found my new employer’s offices—a grand-looking 19th-century building sculpted out of milky-gold stone—and walked straight into an orgy.
There were people kissing while waiting for the lift. People kissing in front of a drinks machine. Even the receptionist was leaning across her counter to smooch with someone—a woman, too—who’d entered the building just ahead of me.
Wow, I thought, if there’s ever a serious epidemic of facial herpes, they’ll have to get condoms for their heads.
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