I read this book right after reading Bill Bryson's I'm a Stranger Here Myself. It seems to me that there is a recent theme in new books that centers around humor at the expense of a person who is experiencing culture shock. Since this seems to be the recent theme, I suppose there's no harm in writing yet another book review with a theme of culture shock.
Davis Sedaris' Me Talk Pretty One Day combines two of the world's greatest cities- New York and Paris- with humor, all in one book that is incredibly hard to put down. The book is comprised of a series of humorous personal experience pieces, the first half of which take place in Sedaris' native New York City and the second half of which take place in Paris, where he moves to temporarily with his boyfriend Hugh.
The first essay in Me Talk Pretty One Day sets the fast and funny pace continued throughout the rest of the book. It also sets the theme of "culture shock" in one's own county, because Sedaris comments on many experiences in his youth that made him feel alienated from other people in his own environment. In it, Sedaris discusses the speech impediment (aka "lisp") that he had as a child and still has to this day. The efforts of his speech teacher to correct the lisp were never successful, but Sedaris' descriptions of them are hilarious. He writes about the kids who were in his speech therapy class, saying, "None of the speech therapy students were girls. They were all boys like me who kept movie star scrapbooks and made their own curtains... 'One of these days I'm going to have to hang a sign on that door,' [my speech teacher] used to say. She was probably thinking along the lines of SPEECH THERAPY LAB, though a more appropriate marker would have read FUTURE HOMOSEXUALS OF AMERICA".
Even when Sedaris writes about such mundane things as restaurant menus and crossword puzzles, or such serious things as Euthanasia, he is so funny and absurd that you begin to wonder if he takes anything about life in New York City seriously. However, just as you are wondering this, he sweeps you off to Paris to read his wacky comments on life there. Sedaris never did learn French fluently, nor did he do all the touristy things such as seeing the Louvre and the Eiffel Tour. Instead, he watched American movies in English in French theatres because "I've never considered myself an across-the-board apologist for the French, but there's a lot to be said for an entire population that never, under any circumstances, talks during the picture... I can't remember the last time I've enjoyed silence in an American theatre".
If you have ever been to a foreign country, whether as an American who is embarrassed by the other American tourists that surround you, or as a member of a different nationality who makes fun of the American tourists, you will laugh along in complete understanding with Sedaris' comments on the two types of French that Americans speak: "the Hard Kind and the Easy kind. The Hard Kind involves the conjugation of wily verbs and the science of placing them alongside various other words in order to form such sentences as 'I go him say good afternoon'... The second, less complicated form of French amounts to screaming English at the top of your lungs, much the same way you'd shout at a deaf person or the dog you thought you could train to stay off the sofa".
Me Talk Pretty One Day is guaranteed to give you an insider's look at culture shock in one's own country and abroad. It will also give you an insider's look at life in New York City and Paris. But best of all, it will give you this dose of culture shock (and if you've read I'm a Stranger Here Myself, make that your second recent dose), with a strong dose of humor. And that makes everything just a little bit better.