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***Me Talk Pretty One Day

by David Sedaris

Reviewed November 18, 2004.
Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 2000.  272 pages.
Available at Sembach Library (814 SED).

I read an excerpt from this book in a travel humor collection.  I found it so hilarious, I wanted more.

Me Talk Pretty One Day is presented in two parts.  The first section had some bits that were so crude, I almost decided to stop reading the book altogether.  But I glanced ahead to the second part and simply had to go on.

The second part deals with the author’s move to Paris with his boyfriend.  This section is wildly funny.  The essay I’d already read deals with the members of his beginning French class trying to explain to a Moroccan what Easter is all about:

“‘a party for the little boy of God who call his self Jesus and . . .’

“‘He call his self Jesus and then he be die one day on two . . . morsels of . . . lumber.’

“The rest of the class jumped in, offering bits of information that would have given the pope an aneurysm.

‘He die one day and then he go above of my head to live with your father.’”

The more I think about it, the more I wonder how missionaries ever manage to communicate issues of faith in another language.  He also talks about always asking for more than one of any item at the store so he doesn’t have to figure out what gender it is.  I’ll have to try that next time I buy something at a German store!

Other funny chapters involved things I’d noticed myself.  For example, I was almost surprised to discover when I moved to Germany what a wonderful place it is to live.  As David Sedaris observes,

“Every day we’re told that we live in the greatest country on earth.  And it’s always stated as an undeniable fact:  Leos were born between July 23 and August 22, fitted queen-size sheets measure sixty by eighty inches, and America is the greatest country on earth.  Having grown up with this in our ears, it’s startling to realize that other countries have nationalistic slogans of their own, none of which are ‘We’re number two!’

“The French have decided to ignore our self-proclaimed superiority, and this is translated as arrogance.  To my knowledge, they’ve never said that they’re better than us; they’ve just never said that we’re the best.  Big deal.  There are plenty of places on earth where visiting Americans are greeted with great enthusiasm.  Unfortunately, these places tend to lack anything you’d really want to buy.”

Please note that this was written in 2000, so he wasn’t trying to weigh in on any of the current anti-French sentiment, just making a point about other countries of the world and the way we Americans sometimes look at them.

Another hilarious chapter observed:  “During the summer months a great number of American vacationers can be found riding the Métro, and their voices tend to carry.  It’s something I hadn’t noticed until leaving home, but we are a loud people.  The trumpeting elephants of the human race.  Questions, observations, the locations of blisters and rashes—everything is delivered as though it were an announcement.”

I had observed this myself after moving to Europe.  When I commented on it to my friends, one told me about the loud Germans she had heard at an American National Park.  So perhaps it is a tourist phenomenon.  Or maybe it’s a consequence of not speaking the language everyone else is speaking.  You find it easy to tune them out, and you feel compelled to speak above all that background noise.  I found myself interrupting my landlady now and then when we first moved to Germany because I didn’t even realize she was talking to her daughter, the German was so easy to tune out.

For whatever reason Americans do this, David Sedaris goes on to tell about meeting a man on the tightly packed Paris Métro who loudly complained about how that Frenchman (David Sedaris) smelled.  The man went on to warn his wife that this froggy was probably a pickpocket ready to steal her purse and pass it off to an associate.  All in loud, perfectly clear English.  David thought about speaking to the man in English but instead decided to enjoy “the opportunity to be somebody different, somebody quick and dangerous.”

I think I will try out the author’s recent book, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim.  The crude parts in this one were awfully crude, but they seemed worth getting through for the hilarious parts.  I found the perspective of another American in Europe especially amusing.


Copyright © 2004 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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