A foreigner arrives in a new country to start a new life. He falls foul of strange new customs. His experience trying to assimilate gives rise to a series of amusing anecdotes. Cultures clash, hilarity ensues, memoirs are written, books sold. Mark Twain made it a staple publishing formula, wandering the globe with his notebook and a healthy sense of the absurd. More recently, the likes of Bill Bryson, Clive James and Peter Mayle have made a killing from poking fun at cultural peculiarities. First-time author Stephen Clarke continues the tradition with A Year in the Merde, a 'novel' that follows the fortunes of a 27-year old English professional, Paul West, who's been sent to Paris to set up a chain of English tea rooms. Where protagonists of other culture-clash literature have tended to be detached observers, Paul is a corporate import. He's an expatriate professional, transferred to the overseas headquarters of his company, parachuted into a foreign office environment and left to negotiate a minefield of international workplace relations. Clarke says Paul represents a new breed of expats in what has become an increasingly mobile global workforce. 'In the olden days, if you were an expat you were more of a colonist,' he says over a toasted baguette in a Paris cafe. 'You went into a foreign country and surrounded yourself with the creature comforts of your former life and ended up living in a kind of colonial bubble. 'These days, there's no bubble. You get thrown straight into the new culture, right in at the deep end - and it's definitely much more a case of sink or swim.' Clarke, 45, speaks from experience. An Englishman, he moved to Paris 10 years ago to edit a monthly magazine for French people learning English. And like the main character in what he calls his 'semi-autobiographical' tome, the author was confronted by major cultural differences - most of which he dissects with great humour in the book. 'I don't think most people who are put in these situations by their companies are sufficiently prepared,' he says. 'The expectation is that you will continue to do your job as efficiently as you did it in your home country.' What is the expat to do when confronted with a clash of working cultures? Cede ground to the professional mores of his adopted home? Or stand fast, hold tight to his convictions and barge on through? Learn to box clever is Clarke's advice. 'You have to look at the way they operate, appreciate that you're working in their country, under their rules and regulations, and adjust your behaviour accordingly. At the same time, you devise ways of getting around it, such that your way of doing things eventually prevails.' According to Clarke, English as a mother tongue can be both a burden and a blessing. Attempts to assimilate with the locals by speaking their language at work is often met with resistance. 'They want to learn English, and are being told by their companies to practice their English, so you sometimes find yourself in the absurd situation of having a conversation in dreadful English, despite the fact you speak their language much more fluently than they speak yours.' Year in the Merde, although essentially a catalogue of differences between the English and French, has found resonance among a wide range of readers. As well as peaking at No7 on the British original fiction best-seller charts, it's been sold into five international markets - including Australia and the US - and has been optioned by a film producer. The success is made all the sweeter by the book's decidedly humble beginnings. Convinced that no publisher would touch the musings of a 45-year-old Brit in France, Clarke originally presented the book as a memoir, writing under the nom de plume of his protagonist, Paul West. He then paid to have 200 copies typeset and printed, created a website for a fake publishing company and visited bookstores door-to-door asking if they wanted to stock a copy or two. One did, the copies sold, publishing houses got the whiff of a potential seller and the truth about the book's real authorship eventually emerged. 'These days in the publishing industry, if you want to get a novel published you have to be already famous, really beautiful or really young,' says the author. 'So, I decided to invent this young, good-looking Englishman in Paris and lent him some of my own experiences. 'The fact that so many people are able to relate to those experiences,' he says, 'is extremely gratifying.'