David Sedaris’s Travel Stories

Friday night on a whim, I headed to the Palace Theatre in Columbus to see David Sedaris. Since he was here last year, I hadn’t planned to go, but changed my mind. This year, as I laughed those kind of laughs that start to hurt after awhile, huge chortles and the gawfaws–along with everyone else in the audience, I thought about how much his stories capture the aspects of travel that I love. The absurdities one finds oneself in, either because of a lack of understanding of culture or getting the language wrong. When humor shows up, that’s the best.

Last year, he read an essay about his experience in a doctor’s waiting room in France where he ended up in his underwear while everyone else was clothed. Last night, he read an essay that wove together details about pretension, ineptness and fluency when it comes to speaking a foreign language and trying to capture or butcher accents. The story moved back and forth between talking about a college professor who said Nicaragua in an overly accenty way and a friend who visited him in Paris and insisted on speaking in French even though the friend, Sedaris and the friend’s wife were all American and the wife didn’t speak French. As Sedaris read this story, it was with such gusto and flair I wanted to share it with everyone. Alas, he said that it’s not going to be on This American Life, the NPR show that he wrote it for after all. Since Sedaris is on a several city tour, perhaps if you live near one of them, you’ll have a chance to catch him.

One of the things I adore about David Sedaris, besides his writing and how he reads his work, is his generosity of spirit. The Palace Theatre was packed and he stayed after to sign books and take time to visit with each person who handed one over for a signature. What I noticed during last year’s and this year’s book signing is his knack for making each person feel like a friend, and it seems like he means it. This year, like last year, we talked about TJs Restaurant, an establishment known for dishes like the Barnyard Blaster. When I reminded him of this, he said that he always asks people where they’d go to eat after a night on the town. He also said he’d been trying to remember the name of the restaurant all day.

For your reading pleasure, here is the essay about the French waiting room. It was published in The New Yorker, September 2006. And here’s David Sedaris on NPR’s Morning Edition in 1998 reading his essay, “A New Yorker in France.”