A Year in the Merde

by Stephen Clarke

Paperback, 2006





Bloomsbury USA (2006), Edition: Reprint, 304 pages


A Year In The Merde is the story of Paul West, a 27-year-old Brit who is brought to Paris by a French company to open a chain of British "tea rooms." He soon becomes immersed in the contradictions of French culture: the French are not all cheese-eating surrender monkeys, though they do eat a lot of smelly cheese; they are still in shock at being stupid enough to sell Louisiana, thus losing the chance to make French the global language, while going on strike is the second national participation sport after p?anque. He also illuminates 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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member tututhefirst
A light piece of fluff destined for the library sale bin. The story of a very self-centered Brit who goes to 'work' in Paris for a year, and his discovery of and sarcastic take on French workers, French food, French women, the propensity of the French to go on strike for anything, and his misadventures as he tries to make himself understood with his schoolboy French. Heavy on the sexual adventures, light on brains.

Recommended only if you need something to take your mind off impending dental surgery.
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LibraryThing member mamzel
I guess this book would be funnier to a Brit than to a Yank. After all, France and England have been neighbors for centuries and have rarely been able to get along. I was just glad that for once it was not an American who was the ugly tourist.

Mr. Clarke went to Paris as a young man to advise a company that wanted to create tea shops in a country of coffee drinkers. That he couldn't speak French beyond the basic greeting didn't get in the way of him deriding the French who had a better grasp of English. He had a very high opinion of his abilities in bed and in a span of less than one year, managed to leave the hotel he lived in and move into no less than 4 women's apartments, starting with his boss's daughter. Another thing that annoyed him greatly about Paris was the fact that he always found dog poop to step in and soil his shoes. The only reason I finished the book was because I hoped to find he embraced the French way of life but I was disappointed.

The fact that this man has apparently published a series of books about his exploits and experiences in Paris makes me believe that the British may never get over themselves.
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LibraryThing member Brianna_H
A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke is an uproarious roman à clef following a year in the life of Clarke’s alter ego, Paul West. Paul West is a Brit who has been transplanted to the City of Light to help a French businessman open English tea shops throughout Paris. Paul’s struggles to understand and master all things French, including the French work ethic of his colleagues (which places more importance on vacation planning than on anything truly work related); the confusing manner in which the real estate market operates; and the most perplexing thing about France – French women, will have you laughing throughout the entire book.

Besides being a humorous account of French assimilation, A Year in the Merde is also an insightful look at how the French view British and American citizens. Clarke is especially discerning when recounting the start of the American led Iraq war.

As the inside flap of the book says, “This book is for everyone who can never quite decide whether they love – or love to hate – the French”.
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LibraryThing member manadabomb
This is a fictional story about an Englishman brought to Paris by the VD company to open up some English tea rooms. This is pretty much a typical fish out of water story, with the English guy, Paul, trying to figure out how to get along with Parisians and learn the language and get laid. The latter being his main goal.

There were some laugh out loud moments and this was a pretty quick read. The plot was okay, somewhat disappearing with Paul's quest for French woman.… (more)
LibraryThing member Deesirings
This is a story about a British guy, Paul West, who goes to work in France for a year. He describes his time in France, from the perspective not of a short-term visitor but as someone who works and lives there.
This was a really fun read for me, a bilingual French-Canadian who works in a place where Canadian descendants of both the British and the French converge and must work together. Canada may not exactly replicate either British or French culture, but there are similarities.
For much of this novel, though, I kept forgetting it was a novel and kept reading it as though it were a memoir. I don't think it made much of a difference in level of enjoyment. But it does perhaps speak to a moderate lack of plot, especially for the first half or more of the book. It was amusing nonetheless.
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LibraryThing member cmeatto
The Hundred Years War is in full force in this pseudo docu-comedy of an Englishman working in a postmodern French office. The Office meets the Baguette.
LibraryThing member amf0001
Starts off well, with interesting and witty cultural differences observed, but devolves too quickly into a day in the life of Paul West who comes across as something of a git, once you get to know him. Could have been much, much better, and yet I read it in 2 days... Not a keeper but not a waste of time either.
LibraryThing member shawjonathan
My travelling companion read three of Stephen Clarke’s Merde books in quick succession between Paris Gare de Lyon and La Grande Motte on the Mediterranean. Not only did she laugh frequently, but she would read bits out prefaced with phrases such as, ‘Ah, this is what was going on the other day.’

We were in France at the start of September and the phrase la rentrée was everywhere. We’d gathered that it signified the equivalent of our Back to School, with added intensity gained from the fact that an awful lot of enterprises shut down for summer holidays and open again at rentrée. But this book explained it from the point of view of someone working in Paris, and certainly enriched our grasp of its meaning – a time for resolutions and new beginnings, etc.

Then there was the mysterious siren we heard exactly at midday in a small village during our walk on the Loire. Completely mystifying until – in [Merde actually] – we learned that at midday on a certain day every month all the airraid sirens of France have a practice run and are completely ignored by everyone except ignorant tourists. (We can vouch for the ignoring bit.)

I was confirmed in my impression that one asks for un carafe d’eau rather than simply de l’eau at a cafe unless one wants to pay for mineral water.

Apart from these useful snippets of information, and interesting bits of language artfully disguised as comedy, the book is a well-executed romp. I don’t plan to read the others, but if you’re travelling to France you could do a lot worse by way of preparatory or companionable reading.
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LibraryThing member tonyalex
This novel deeply explores the differences between the British and French cultures, which I found very interesting. It also goes into the frequent problems that France faces, such as the waste workers strike, that account for the title of the novel. The novel also addresses the problems on the Iraq war, and Blair's views and Chirac's views which I found very enlightening. Some of my favorite parts in the novel are the response by the French to those American's who have anti-French sentiments, they were definitely funny. While I don't find this novel to be one of the best ever written, I definitely enjoyed it for its relation to the Iraq war and the portrayed work ethics of the French.… (more)
LibraryThing member Cecilturtle
Rather crude; over exaggerated - but that's also what makes it funny. An entertaining read, but no more.
LibraryThing member cooperca05
Funny, funny, funny. The French way of looking at life just amused me. For instance, 'Buying my own bit of France seemed to cause a subtle change in my mentality. I found that I understood a lot more about Parisians' attitude to work. Workdays became a mile irritant inserted between weekends. Fridays afternoons were little more than a short period after lunch during which you checked the Internet for traffic jams on the routes out of town.' - LOVE IT!… (more)
LibraryThing member PennyAnne
Quite funny in parts, very quick read, not much substance - and I got heartily sick of reading about his sexual exploits!
LibraryThing member MillieHennessy
Having just returned from a vacation in Paris, I found Clarke's commentary on the French and their culture to be very accurate compared to some of my own experiences--it made the book funnier for me. I thought Paul West was a hilarious mix of snarky Brit and gentleman. It was a quick read, and I enjoyed it very much. That being said, I won't be seeking out the sequel, In the Merde for Love, because I'm satisfied with the way things worked out in the first book. While I enjoyed Paul West as a character, he didn't generate a desire in me to know "what happens next." I would read more of Clarke's work though, just not this particular series. I am happy having read this as a stand-alone novel.… (more)
LibraryThing member shawnday
The best of the lot. Ribald and flush with vivid characters. Highly recommended.
LibraryThing member callumg
The best travel book that I read in a long time.
LibraryThing member basiltherat
An humourous look at French culture, educational and funny :>
LibraryThing member llima.orosa
Thought this was a really funny insight of how a "foreigner" becomes a local. Would love to read more by this author.
LibraryThing member SamSattler
I think every traveler to France (no matter how competent they THINK they are in the language) experiences at least some of the things that Clarke recounts in this travel memoir. And depending on how traumatizing the experience ultimately was, we let our friends and family hear all about it when we get home. But few of us tell it all via the dry wit that Clarke consistently exhibits in A Year in the Merde. I actually lost count of how many times I laughed out loud.

This one is great fun for those who know know a bit of the language, including some French slang, but I think that even those who haven't been to France or who know more than a few basic words in French should enjoy this one.
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LibraryThing member BookConcierge
Audio book read by John Lee

This is a “true story” of one Brit’s experiences working for a French company in Paris in 2002-2003. Paul West is hired to open a chain of “typical” English tearooms in Paris. We quickly learn that he barely understands, let alone speaks French, he’s saddled with a team that isn’t at all enthusiastic about working on the project, and he can’t even seem to order a normal size cup of coffee. Still he manages to luck into a pretty good living situation – rooming with his boss’s daughter in subsidized student housing. As he traverses the streets of Paris and cultural nuances of the French, he soon finds himself stepping in the “merde” … both literally and figuratively.

I was hoping for a Peter Mayle style, but was disappointed. Clarke certainly tackles the French political climate, the people’s attitudes towards work, food and/or sex, the unions, and the love/hate relationship with all things English. There are some humorous scenes, but nothing laugh-out-loud funny. John Lee does a great job with the various characters and their differing accents. Three stars is a little generous, but (*shrugs with arms extended, palm up*) it did remind me of what I love (and hate) about France.
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LibraryThing member nyiper
Cute-ish. I was actually hoping there would be lots more about actually running the tea house(s) but showing all of the problems, differences, with living in a different country was really the story and Paul West certainly seemed to run into every single one of them. A second book could be the problems of running his "own" tea house.… (more)
LibraryThing member maximnoronha
Stereotypical. Mildly amusing, at best. I am always a bit wary of books that come highly recommended, especially when it comes to humor, and I told the person recommending as much No surprise then that this was a bit of an anti-climax. Having said that, easy and quick read. Came off faster than a band-aid.
LibraryThing member Miguelnunonave
Quite funny insight into the French psyche and habits from a British male perspective. Crude, light and entertaining - not much more. The subject tends to wear off towards the end of the book... It gets tiresome. Not sure if I'm tempted to read any of the sequels.
LibraryThing member raizel
Funny in parts; some language and translation discussions; interesting view of a culture (in this case, Parisian) from the outside looking in. Also, seeing one's own culture as an outsider after living elsewhere for a few months. The French like to go on strike. The plot sort of goes full circle (or spiral), fitting for a story that should cover a full year---although, since everyone goes on vacation in August and there are a lot of four-day weekends before that, it only goes from September to May.… (more)
LibraryThing member anglophile65
Funny - Initially I thought it was non-fiction, but soon figured it out that it wasn't. Good writing and humour.
LibraryThing member njgriffin
I've had this book for years after it was recommended by a friend, can't remember which one, as being very funny. Finally got round to read it one day as I was reminiscing over my time overseas. This is a hateful book which tells the apparently autobiographical story of when the author spent a year in Paris as an over paid twenty something forced to sleep with a string of beautiful young Parisian women while all the time being completely smug about how superior he was. Would rather be dragged naked through a field of broken glass than spend 5 minutes in his company. Don’t know why I finished reading it. I suppose I sort of hoped that there would be some sort of moment of self-realisation at the end. It is one of the few books that found their way into a donation box this year. (with all due respect to whomever recommended it in in the first place )
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