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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8 Replies to “A Year in the Merde”

  1. I love that book! I haven't read all of his Merde series, but, I want to get around to it. Glad you enjoyed and gained something from it!

    Oh and yes, the streets of Paris are lined with doggy merde. I nearly broke my neck sliding on some! lol

  2. @Habebi – I thought it was just so hilarious! I think it took me 2 days to finish. Can't wait to read the others. The dog doo thing is almost as bad here in the NL so be sure to cover your shoes with plastic bags when you visit lol!

    @Pinay in Dutchland – This is actually fiction, but the guy clearly knows what he's talking about! I also need to get my hands on some true stories. Planet Germany and Almost French are two I've heard a lot about.

    @Suzanne – It was an absolute riot! I highly recommend it 🙂

  3. The Merde series is a blast, especially the first book. I still need to get hold of the 3rd one; but in order to understand it well and have a good laugh, one should be aware of the French way of life and also the British sense of humor.

  4. Hi Tiffanny

    I enjoyed My 'Dam Life by Sean Condon. He was an anustralina expat living in AMsterdam for 3 years. Although I think it slows down by the ending and has some pacing problems, at some points I laughed so hard that people siting next to me on the tram gave me the funny look. All in all, I liked it.

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