A Year in the Merde


I have been a bad expat. In the year and some odd months since I left my home country to start my life in a new one, I had not read one single solitary expat book. There is certainly no shortage of them, I just had this attitude that if it wasn’t based on or written by an expat in the Netherlands, I wasn’t going to waste my time on it. Why should I care about what it’s like to live in a country I’m not living in? Yes, I know what you’re thinking and yes I agree and am appropriately ashamed of myself.

However, my schoonouders (lit: clean or beautiful parents; meaning in-laws) gave me a copy of Stephen Clarke’s A Year in the Merde as a Sinterklaas gift this past year and I finally gave in and read the thing. So glad I did! Although a work of fiction, Clarke has clearly lived in France and experienced the country, the city of Paris and it’s people to the max. It is delightfully funny and a true account of a foreigner’s experiences and observations. The story focuses on Englishman Paul West who is sent to Paris for a year through work to help establish a chain of English tea rooms in France. The title refers to the copious amounts of dog doo to be found on the streets of Paris (if you think it’s bad in the Netherlands, try walking through France – I speak from experience).

From the phonetic construction of English spoken by the French in the beginning of the book to his own broken French towards the end, you’re right there with Paul through thick and thin. Most accounts of the French people are stereotyped with a hint of reality to the stereotypes. Afterall, all stereotypes have their origins in truth!

In short, this is a book that comes highly recommended by yours truly. It is certainly one you won’t be able to put down. And if you’ve already read this gold nugget by Stephen Clarke and want more, rest assured that Paul’s adventures in the merde do continue with Merde Actually (In the Merde for Love in the USA) and Merde Happens.

Have you read any of the books in Clarke’s Merde series? If so, what did you think? Do you have any other expat books you have heard about or enjoyed that you would like to share?

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Alles is Liefde

A few weeks ago I saw my first Dutch movie. Though I had watched loads of episodes of Sesamstraat, Nijntje, and Barbapapa, I have been reluctant to watch my first Dutch feature film. Ok, perhaps nervous is a much more appropriate adjective. But that day in class, I was given no choice.

The way things work at the ROC language courses where I’m doing my inburgering is that new students start at various times of the year, attend classes for a full year, and then leave. To celebrate the last day of those lucky few who had put in their year’s worth, our teacher brought in cakes and other goodies and the last two hours of class were set aside to view a film.

I remember seeing advertisement posters for Alles is Leifde about this time last year, not long after I had left all behind in the US to come live with Hubs. It looked like my kind of movie – sappy romantic comedy with a happy ending – but I gave no more thought to it than that as there was no way I would have gotten any of it at that point had I gone to see it. I am happy to say that, a year later I was ready for it. Nothing went over my head and it was a film I thoroughly enjoyed. Not to mention the fact that this was a milestone for me… my first Dutch movie.

So, about the movie. There really is no better way to describe it than to call it the Dutch answer to Love, Actually. Alles is Liefde translates to ‘Everything is Love’ and, just like Love Actually, the film focuses on several people that are all somehow connected and their relationships. While Love Actually takes place during Christmas, Alles is Liefde takes place during Sinterklaas. Now, there have been other movies that have been terribly done knock-offs of Love, Actually. This is not one of them. I thought it was very well done and lots of fun. It’s a wonderful feel-good movie and, I’ll admit, it made me cry. Though I don’t think anyone noticed!

The film sports Bekende Nederlanders or BN’ers (Famous Dutch People) Paul de Leeuw and Carice van Houten. Mr. de Leeuw sings and hosts his own talk show in addition to acting, and Ms. van Houten who wowed audiences with her performance as Carmen in Komt een Vrouw bij de Dokter may be familiar to non-Dutch audiences as Tom Cruise’s wife in the 2008 film Valkyrie.

If Dutch is not your native language, level B1 is needed to fully understand the film, though A2ers should also be able to find it enjoyable. My success with this film now meant that I had no real reason to continue to shy away from seeing Komt een Vrouw… a review of which will come soon.

Did anyone else out there catch either Alles is Liefde or Komt een Vrouw? What did you think? What was the first film you ever saw in another language?

Purchase the DVD now on Amazon.co.uk (click here to purchase via Amazon.com).

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