14 August 2021

What does it mean to be European?

In 1948, an English novelist wrote thus about an American young woman: "She was the standard product. A man could leave such a girl in a delicatessen shop in New York, fly three thousand miles and find her again in the cigar stall at San Francisco, just as he would find his favourite comic strip in the local paper; and she would croon the same words to him in moments of endearment and express the same views and preferences in moments of social discourse. She was convenient; but Dennis came of an earlier civilisation with sharper needs. He sought the intangible, the veiled face in the fog, the silhouette at the lighted doorway, the secret graces of a body which hid itself under formal velvet. He did not covet the spoils of this rich continent, the sprawling limbs of the swimming-pool, the wide-open eyes and mouths under the arc-lamps ...".

A few pages later, this same writer tiptoes a little closer to impropriety: " ... he heard steps approach ... Feet, ankles, calves, came progressively into view. Like every pair in the country they were slim and neatly covered. Which came first in this strange civilisation, he wondered, the foot or the shoe, the leg or the nylon stocking? Or were these elegant limbs, from the stocking-top down, marketed in one cellophane envelope at the neighbourhood store? Did they clip by some labour-saving device to the sterilised rubber privacies above? Did they come from the same department as the light irrefragible head? Did the entire article come off the assembly-lines ready for immediate home-service?"

And, in or before 1956, Waugh ... for it is he ... wrote: "Consider the influence of the USA. There are few families without American connexions today and American polite vocabulary is very different from ours. We fight shy of abbreviations and euphemisms. They rejoice in them. The blind and maimed are called 'handicapped', the destitute, 'underprivileged' ... remember too that the American vocabulary is pulverised between two stones, refinement and overstatement ... "

My fantasy of an exquisite civilisation would include the return of the habit of women wearing hats ... preferably with a veil ... skirts at least mid-calf ... and no glottal stops ... and no fillers ...

I sympathise with the French view that their language is a barrier against transpontine influences. And I discern advantages in the fact that it is regulated by a committee of the Academie.


Greyman 82 said...

Ladies and hats. I believe there is no woman on God's earth whose attractiveness wouldn't be improved by the wearing of a suitable hat.

Banshee said...

Um... that's pretty funny. He's talking about "the subset of American girls who tried to dress and act exactly like girls in the movies, and by that I mean specific stars only."

But yeah, that's pretty far off from any kind of true. There was a lot more diversity of dress, etc. in that time than there is now.

I suppose there was more similarity of corsetry than in most European countries, and maybe that's what he was spotting; because there weren't that many US supportive undergarment companies and they all went for a uniform look back then.

The US is all out there to be seen, but most foreign observers still don't really get us. And every other country has similar experiences.

Tony V said...

Well, WE didn't give you the glottal stop!