I am going to say the dreaded word: Brexit.
Let’s rehash the referendum once more, Stephen Clarke-style. Brit in France, Paul West, is back in yet another Merde book. Except this time, Paul has landed a job in Brussels with Elodie, his ex who is an MEP for France. And it is weeks until the UK referendum.
If you don’t know Paul, he moved to Paris, originally for a year (A year in the Merde), and then stayed longer. This is when he met Elodie, one of the many women he dated. He is known for his bad French and complicated love affairs, which were at the heart of the previous novels.
And now he is at the heart of the EU for a few very decisive weeks. Where does he stand on the EU? “I know southern European countries are as stable as their plumbing, and we often have to deal with their shit.” But then, it does have its advantages.
According to his boss, it is paramount to sway the last few indecisive voters by showing them what the EU has to offer: He compiles lists of rumours of European laws, and works on getting grants for the local languages spoken in Europe. The point in all these tasks doesn’t always seem obvious, but Elodie is certain it will work.
“If these provincials all think they will get money from Brussels for extra teachers for their silly languages, they will vote to stay in Europe, no? We could even get money for that weird patois they talk in the north of England.”
Of course, this has nothing political. Not only is the referendum in the past and there is no way to sway voters one way or another anymore, but it is not a completely accurate description of MEP life in Brussels.
It is a cartoon; the committees, the private express trains, the endless company credit cards and drunk parties are over the top, and Paul’s love life still seems like a scene from Coupling, but with a pool of politicians all mainly conversing in a mix of French and English, there is scope for some linguistic jokes.
“No, I am an industrial bonker.”
He meant, of course, that he was a French banker with an accent.
“Do you change a lot for your bonking services?” I asked him.
“Yes, a good price.”
“I’ve heard that people love French bonkers.”
Helga, who must have realised what was going on, swept in and said something about ‘englischer Humor’. Pierre sniffed and turned away.
Merde in Europe, by Stephen Clarke
First published May 2016