“I got to the point where I’d see a baby in the bakery or grocery store and instinctively ball up my fists, jealous over how easy he had it. I wanted to lie in a French crib and start from scratch, learning the language from the ground floor up. I wanted to be a baby, but instead, I was an adult who talked like one…”
-David Sedaris, in Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000)
Just as I had been feeling better about my French, I had to go and cross a border. In Liechtenstein, I ordered a Bavarian cream horn “to-go” by pointing at what I wanted in the pastry case and then pointing towards the door. In Germany, I winked to say “Hey, thanks!” after using hand signals to fine-tune a complicated coffee and sandwich order. Defeated after an afternoon of this in Stuttgart, I returned to the hotel and finished reading David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day. The book proved to be a tremendous laugh and made me feel more confident about going out in public with the German vocabulary of a two-year-old.
This collection of Sedaris essays is as artful as it is amusing; I often found myself reading with a huge grin on my face or laughing out loud. The essays in the first half of the book vary in subject matter, starting with “Go Carolina,” which is a story about the author’s work overcoming a childhood lisp, to “The Youth in Asia,” which is about his family’s Great Danes, to “The Great Leap Forward,” in which Sedaris hilariously recounts his odd-job experiences in New York. The essays in the second half all somehow relate to Sedaris’ forays into France with his new boyfriend Hugh. The title essay, “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” for instance, is about Sedaris’ experiences as a forty-one year-old in a Paris language school.
A theme does emerge. This book is a collection of stories about an author’s audacious attempt to build something beautiful of words. Sometimes, for Sedaris, that ends up on the page as these right-on/off-beat phrases such as “a pair of pot roasts the size of Duraflame logs.” And at other times, we see him struggling in French to explain the Easter bunny: “‘He come in the night when one sleep on a bed. With a hand he have a basket and foods.’” I didn’t want to put the book down when it ended; instead, I wanted to say, as Sedaris does at the end of the book’s title essay, “‘I know the thing that you speak exact now. Talk me more, you, plus, please, plus.’”