I had lunch last week with Stephen Clarke as a clever ploy to get him to sign my copy of his latest book, "Talk to the Snail: Ten Commandments for Understanding the French" which I, quite appropriately, bought at the Eurostar’s Waterloo station in London. It’s been riding around Paris with me in my purse, handy for those long metro rides across town or when waiting for a bus. Good thing I stopped caring a long time ago if I got strange looks for laughing out loud in public. Not your typical expat rant full of clichés, this book is hilariously clever at poking fun of not just the French, but also at his British and American readers. Everyone is fair game, so hopefully we can all laugh at ourselves as well as at the French.
Thankfully, Stephen still signed my book despite the fact that I invited him to a nearby bistro that has pretty much nothing but meat on the menu (good thing he thinks fish are vegetables). At this time of year one tends to pick places based on whether they have tables available on the sunny terrace, not the food itself. Out here in the virtually tourist-free 13th, no one seems to recognize Stephen. If the French did, they wouldn’t say anything, tellement discret they are.
Once we had met on the terrace of a café just behind the Louvre, and, like it had been staged (I’m still suspicious Stephen!) these two women walked by holding his book, "A Year in the Merde". They stopped at the corner, looked at the book, and then back at Stephen, who says to me, "I think they have my book." Suddenly the women squeal and come running over to the table for an autograph. They were from Canada, where he had just done the book tour and talk show circuit. I took their photo together and before leaving they asked him, giggling and nodding in my direction, "We haven’t finished the book yet, is that Alexa?" I think he replied something along the lines of "You’ll find out," before I realized that the women actually thought the characters in the book were real! "I don’t bother trying to correct them anymore," says Stephen. In any case, it was wonderful to witness one of those rare "author spottings". Hard to tell who was more pleased, the ladies or Stephen.
So go out and buy Talk to the Snail, and then keep your eyes peeled for the tall Englishman lounging on a Parisian terrace…