However bright or on the ball you might be, abroad you tend to get it wrong. Apres Calais, les gaffes commencent.* South coast-born, Parisian manque, Michael Sadler set out to spend a year in the city of light to educate himself in the mysterious ways of the continent.
Triple-parking, buying a bunch of flowers, tasting wine at the Bon Marche, keeping one's end up at a diner bourgeois, keeping one's wicket in a liaison dangereuse afterwards, dealing with tripe, driving round the Place de l'Etoile, cracking Marguerite Duras, getting out of a sanisette - each challenge is broached with a mixture of distance (British) and relish (Gallic).
Along the way he falls in with a motley quintet of commercants whose principal pleasure in life is a regular cholesterol-boosting gastronomic blow-out in the back room of a wine shop. Amid the pigs' ears and tete de veau he finds not only an answer to Life but, more importantly, a sense of belonging.
'An Englishman In Paris' is Michael Sadler's account of this continental education. Both abrasive and tender, naïve and in the know, it is a sharp, hilarious and affectionate look at our nearest neighbours and the nature of foreignness. The author observes: "The French share with the hedgehog the reputation of both being extremely prickly to meet and of dying in large numbers on the roads." But while the latter may be sadly true the former, luckily, isn't. As the following epic shows.
*gaffe (f): mistake, blunder, punt pole.