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Talk to the Snail: Ten Commandments for Understanding the French Hardcover – December 26, 2006


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Talk to the Snail: Ten Commandments for Understanding the French + A Year in the Merde + In the Merde for Love
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; First Edition edition (December 26, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596913096
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596913097
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #228,312 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In Clarke's newest nonfiction on the French and francophiles (after A Year in the Merde), he offers actually 11 witty commandments for understanding the French. He tackles the stereotypical experiences tourists encounter, explaining why French waiters always ignore you, why everyone's always on strike or why Frenchmen are never wrong about anything. He explains the customs: how to decide when to kiss versus when to handshake, how to romance a French woman or how to be cuttingly rude while seeming polite, and how mispronouncing certain words (the noun "un baiser" means "to kiss"; the verb, "to screw") can get you in trouble (other expressions, like "je t'aime," can't be said often enough). Within Clarke's humorous anecdotes lie grains of seriousness. Why, for example, do the French constantly correct everyone's attempts to speak their language if they also want it to be accepted as a global language? And is it not significant that the French term for bedding someone, "conclure," translates as "to conclude"? In the end, this is an entertaining bon voyage present for anyone heading to France. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

"Clarke renders the flavor of life in Paris impeccably: the endless strikes, the sadistic receptionists, the crooked schemes by which the wealthy and well-connected land low-rent apartments…Clarke's eye for detail is terrific."--Washington Post
"Call him the anti-Mayle. Stephen Clarke is acerbic, insulting, un-PC and mostly hilarious."--San Francisco Chronicle
"Combines the gaffes of Bridget Jones with the boldness of James Bond…Clarke's sharp eye for detail and relentless wit make even the most quotidian task seem surreal."--Publishers Weekly

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Customer Reviews

This book is very, very funny.
John
I saw this in the train station in Avignon, but I did not buy it, choosing to save my money in case of an emergency on the way home.
Debnance at Readerbuzz
Fun book for those who enjoy France.
N. Kay

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 47 people found the following review helpful By John R. Hoag on February 6, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Dead-on introduction to French culture with wry humor. American readers may be uncomfortable with some of the correct reporting of how French intellectuals see us. But the author is right. On the other hand, the phrase book sections are comic relief of the finest sort. And he saves the real truth, and the best, for the last. Highly recommended before any adventure in France as a way to stave off stress.
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Eric John on August 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This book is reasonably well-written, but I don't know where he comes up with much of this stuff. For the record, I live in France and have French in-laws and I have been here on and off for ten years, so I think I'm in a position to make some constructive criticisms. Here are just a few:

1. "Don't cut your salad on your plate" - My French wife tells me this is an OLD rule based on the fact that the REAL silverware would have a bad reaction. The rule doesn't exist anymore and hasn't for a very long time. However, what he says about a salad not being a salad without dressing, is true. The salad dressing, or"sauce", is considered an art in itself.

2. "Eating only with a fork is a new fashion in Paris" - Ludicrous. My brother in-law edits a hip, gourmet magazine in Paris and he's never heard of it.

3. "Lycee is laissez-faire and unstructured" - Hardly! I teach high school here and the students work their butts off: as much or more so even than most university students in the States. Believe me, high school here is ANYTHING BUT unstructured.

That said, it is true they are treated more like adults and are able to smoke and drink wine and beer occasionally. But the drinking I witnessed as a high schooler in the US makes them look like "the good kids". This chapter seems more like an opportunity for the author to use the laissez-faire cliché, than anything else. The list goes on, but I'll stop there.

So, If you want a laugh and a few good insights, then I recommend it. But if you are looking for factuality, then take a pass.

A much better book on the subject: 'The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography', by Graham Robb.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By RonAnnArbor on July 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have loved Stephen Clarke's novels but this humorous take on the French, all things French, and especially all things NOT British is a classic.

I spend a lot of time in Paris, and his observations are absolutely spot on. While he primarily writes about how the French see English speakers (i.e. the British, not necessarily Americans) his observations apply to both.

If you have never visited France, some of what he writes might seem rude. It is about as accurate in observation as I have read anywhere, however. Hurrah to Stephen Clarke! More! More!
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By John on June 24, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book is very funny. I laughed out loud. I think one interesting thing about it is, we can learn as much about other cultures (Anglo) as about the French. By highlighting what we find "odd" about the French, the author highlights what we value in Anglo culture. This book is very funny, and you can learn a lot about the French (they smoke a lot and tolerate passive smoking, they are individualists, they don't follow traffic lights or laws, they drink too much wine, but it is good wine, they brag about sex, they love their language, they love centralization (despite the fact that, individually, they reject the idea that the laws apply to them). They consider Anglo culture a "threat", even if that is a bit preposterous. They eat well. They take Friday afternoons off. I learned a lot in a very short time. This book is very, very funny.
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Format: Hardcover
TALK TO THE SNAIL: TEN COMMANDMENTS FOR UNDERSTANDING THE FRENCH provides an entertaining, even funny examination of the French psyche to help Americans understand French culture, and comes from one who has lived in France for 12 years. His exploration reveals ten 'commandments' for understanding, drawing from both his own experiences and from history and proving particularly pointed when contrasting British and French systems. Any collection where readers hold an affection for the French must have this set of pointed cultural insights.

Diane C. Donovan

California Bookwatch
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Arthur Digbee VINE VOICE on February 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent and funny guide to France and the French. Clarke has constructed his book around a series of commandments that the French supposedly obey: thou shalt eat, thou shalt be right, and thou shalt be ill, among others. "Thou shalt eat" obviously discusses French attitudes to food and drink, and the behavior around those attitudes. "Thou shalt be right" discusses French haughtiness, among other topics. "Thou shalt be ill" looks at how the French enjoy being sick, and enjoy getting suppositories when they are.

The book is fun to read, and I'd recommend it for its humor alone. However, it would also serve the more serious purposes of improving your cultural literacy if you are going to travel, work, or live in France. Clarke would give you a good understanding of why things work they way they do, and he often offers advice on how to get by in the face of frustrations. Many things that frustrate outsiders make sense if you wrap your head around them and understand them in their full cultural context.

Clarke even provides a "useful sentences" guide in each chapter. Some provide generally-useful vocabulary (how to ask a doctor, "Will it be refunded?") while others are just jokes ("What do I do with this suppository?"). These guides, along with the text in the accompanying chapter, would help you in the very serious business of asking pointed questions of a potential landlord or real estate agent, for example.

The book posts relentless fun at the country and its people. It would be tiresome if Clarke hated the French, but it's clear that he loves the country and this fondness makes the whole package work. Though Clarke is British, he has decided to make his home in France. Fortunately, he although enjoys poking fun at the foibles of his adopted country.
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