copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)                                             
Click Here to return to
American Woman Abroad
Content Page

Click Here to return to
the previous section




    HAVING exhausted, at least to her own satisfaction, the charms of the English castles, German schlossen, French châteaux and Italian palazzi, the American woman craves to know something of the intimate life that exists behind these ancient walls from some other point of view than that of the personally conducted tourist and the information that Baedeker can give her.

     If she did but realise it, Europe is as anxious to know the American as she could possibly be to become acquainted with it.

    The American girl has at last been discovered in Europe and the repute of her charms and her dollars have penetrated to the most out-of-the-way corners, where a few years ago not even the solitary traveller was seen. Europe watches with interest and curiosity the comings and goings of these "dollar princesses" who make no attempt to travel incognito in their triumphal progress across Europe.

     Hypnotised by her independence, charmed in spite of the shocks she gives to their traditions and conventions, they regard her as existing outside of the etiquette that governs their own femininity as much as if she had blown in from another planet. Also they are beginning to differentiate between the English "Miss" and the American "girl," and are able to class them, which is a better proof than can be put forth by steamship travel statistics of the increase in American travel abroad.

     They are at last ready to gauge her by her own standards instead of their own, a concession which shows an enlightenment as great as the Renaissance that followed the Dark Ages of history.

     The entry into social life is easy enough; all that is needed is time rather than opportunity. Money makes little difference, as the belief is current among all classes that all Americans are millionaires; this saves one the trouble of exactly defining her financial position. Indeed, they could not be convinced to the contrary, for does not the American school-girl spend money in so lavish a way that it scandalises the head of the average European family? The lack of calculation that Americans display in the spending of money is one of the most amazing traits from the point of view of a people who make every cent produce results in a tangible form.

     When curiosity has been satisfied and the novelty worn off there is little in common, the American finds, between herself and her foreign friends, and acquaintance seldom warms into friendship. Fundamental differences exist which can never be bridged over except by a superficial and formal structure of conventions and politeness, which is not strong enough to bear the burden incidental to a lasting friendship. Social international relations can never mean much, as America, in the essentials, is drawing further and further away from European ideas.

     This lack of assimilation is as noticeable in the British Isles as in a land where another language still further heightens the barrier. Sometimes it seems possible to demonstrate that the American has more in common with the French – at least in temperament, while again certain of us really come closer in touch with the Scotch; at least the English will tell one that what of our "Americanisms" are not to be found in Chaucer are lineally descended from the language of the Scot.

    English society welcomes the American, though they are as credulous about this dollar business as their neighbours across the Channel. It is but natural that the American should be most in evidence in English society. Theirs was the shore where the wave of travel first landed the social aspirant, but all signs point to the fact that the ebb tide is in the direction of the Continent. An amusing fact is that the social amenities between English and Americans seem to flourish more genially when they band together for mutual protection, interests and pleasures on the common meeting-ground of a foreign country.

     French social life is not only formal, but the entertainment to be got from it is thin. As with every move in their game of life things are done by rote and at no time is there any evidence of spontaneity.

     It seems impossible to be friendly with a Frenchwoman; her blend of sophistry and childishness in the wrong proportions is confusing to any just estimate of her character. When it is possible to pierce the veneer of formality she appears even more of an enigma. This is perhaps her real charm – her Sphinx-like quality; for what she really thinks ever remains a lock to which the outsider has no key.

     Conversation is cut after a set pattern which has come down from the time of the Louis' along with the arrangement of the drawing-room furniture. Beginning at the fireplace the chairs are arranged in two rows down the salon facing each other, the hostess sits at the top of the row and next to her the important guests, dwindling down in social importance to the end. It is all reminiscent of a children's game and scarcely makes for cordiality. This arrangement holds good in the most unpretentious household.

     If Madame is modish she will have adopted the custom of serving tea and the accompanying cakes and bonbons; if it is in the provinces it will more likely be some sweet syrupy wine and biscuits, or sweet crackers.

     If one gets to the stage of the causerie intime Madame will receive in her boudoir, extended on a chaise-longue. She won't mind asking the most disconcertingly frank questions about your most intimate affairs, from the size of your income to your opinion of your husband, which is all the more remarkable as they are rarely communicative about their own personal affairs with a stranger. This desire for knowledge is on a par with the curiosity that prompts one to prod the animals in the Zoo.

     Formality is the highest form of politeness with the French. The more coldly distant in his manner is the Frenchman the more he is demonstrating his politeness and high regard. It is not good form to stare into the eyes of a respectable woman, thus he pays you the compliment in conversation of playing his glances all about you in an impersonal way which is quite an art; in this respect his society manners and those of the Arab are the same.

    In European society it is still de rigueur for the gentleman to kiss the lady's hand on entering and leaving the drawing-room. It is only a stage kiss anyway, but the Frenchman and the Russian particularly have set the fashion. French manners are the basis of good manners all over Continental Europe, tinged though they may be by local mannerism, and the manners of the Paris salon are still the standard for polite society.

     All French families of any standing have an ancestor that was beheaded during the Revolution, a fact which is as useful as the prefix de in establishing their aristocracy. "Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité" have a significance only in the political world; society and the woman, no matter whether under a president or a monarch, is never other than an aristocracy.

     To the Englishwoman must be awarded the palm of being the best hostess. The English entertain more intelligently than any other people. The Englishwoman is accused of being cold and indifferent towards the social entertainment of her guests, whereas instead of following up guests with attentions in a way that would simply emphasise the fact that they were only guests, she gives them the freedom of the house to use as if it was their own. Instead of being burdened continually by a feeling of responsibility on one hand, and obligation on the other, hostess and guest are mutually independent, and that real charm of intercourse – freedom – is maintained.

     The complaint is heard that the English house-party is as non-personal as life at a hotel; whereas the actual case is that the Englishman has freely opened his house to you and therein you have the same right for the time being as himself.

     One is invited to the English house for a certain number of days, told even what train to take. A carriage meets one at the station. Whether there be a house-party or not you are only first met by servants and shown to your rooms, from which you descend at your leisure, perhaps only at five for tea. It is etiquette to arrange a guest's arrival to coincide as nearly as possible with the tea hour, at which function, served in summer on the lawn and in winter in the entrance hall, one first meets her hosts and any other guests. One rarely sees the host before luncheon, after which amusements are devised for the guests, which they can accept or not as they like, but if your hosts see you at dinner and exchange a few words in the evening it is as much as can be expected in a big house full of people.

      The maid unpacks one's bag and lays out what clothes she thinks you may need without any tiresome questions and will further give one as much personal service as may be needed.

     The bugbear of English visits is supposed to be the tips. It is doubtful if their exactions are any greater than the same thing at home. English people themselves will tell one that they can't afford to visit their best friends on account of this same question of tips, and yet others who are on the visiting lists of noble earls declare that there is nothing to it; that they give the maid who fastens up their gowns ten shillings when they leave and that is all. There is something in knowing how to do it, but the guest across the water, ticketed by the sometimes inconvenient reputation for wealth, would probably not get off so easily. Some conscientious hostesses go so far as to put up notices in the guest-rooms to the effect that no tips are to be given, which suggest a cheap lunch place and is about as effective.

     The social season of all the European capitals extends well into the summer, and are all characterised by open-air pleasures that do much towards breaking up the ordinary conventional round.

     From Easter to the National holiday – the fourteenth of July – is the apogee of the social round in Paris, when the Bois de Boulogne becomes the open-air drawing-room of Parisian society, and the green Allée des Acacias becomes the stage for the gay drama of mondaine world.

    From four to six every one makes for the Bois by way of the Avenue des Champs-Elysées. Private automobiles and horse-drawn turn-outs, filled with the best-gowned women of the world, circle the winding drives of the Bois, but not so fast that the costumes cannot be noted. They make the round of the Bois, stopping at Armenonville for an ice or the customary "five o'clock."

     The most fashionable promenade is the "Sentier de la Vertu." Only the fine essence of esprit, or the delicate sense of irony underlying the French character, could have evolved this name of "path of virtue," for a park walk. Here the cream of the two worlds of Paris comes for a constitutional before lunch. High-born ladies, and the high-priced demimonde equally haughty, draw up in autos or low-swung victorias, descend and promenade under the fragrant blooms of the chestnuts or sit in the uncomfortable little iron chairs. In these chairs the curious onlooker may also sit upon payment of two sous, and study the moves in the social game at first hand. Here friends rendezvous, engagements are made for those flirtations that the Frenchwoman accomplishes with such charm and discretion; there are also others not so discreet. It is this intermingling of the two elements that produce one of the anomalies of Paris life.

     Not far away is the bridle-path – the "Allée des Cavaliers " – where not a few "Amazones" (to use the rather exaggerated French name) are cantering along with their escorts. The craze for things English since the "entente cordiale" went into effect has put the Frenchwoman on horseback, but she is not really fond of it, as the Englishwoman's strenuous exercise has little attraction for her. Under every woman's arm, or running shiveringly beside her, is a tiny toy dog. These "toutous," which they invariably call "petite coco chérie," are as much the inseparable companion of the Frenchwoman as her hat.

     On Sundays the Bois is deserted by the society element in favour of the bourgeoisie. The Bois is no longer chic on that day; it is the family day, when all the middle-class world of Paris takes a camp-stool under one arm and a lunch basket under the other (no wasteful hiring of chairs for them) and literally spends the day, coming early and staying late.

    English social life is just the reverse of what usually holds good in France. The English family makes its home in the country and moves into town for a brief period, instead of living in the city and making the country the incidental part of the social season. Consequently the stay in London is purely a social business which the English family feels called upon to go through with as one goes to a fashionable resort, and this point of view makes possible the growing custom of simply taking a suite of rooms in one of the big hotels instead of opening a town house. Besides it makes for economy, and the sight is becoming common of titled ladies sweeping around hotel corridors afternoons in full court dress on their way to a "drawing-room" in the season.

     Hyde Park does not make such an extensive nor beautiful pleasure ground as the Bois, but no matter what may be the weather London society still uses it as a parade ground. The Englishwoman goes along Rotten Row every morning, followed by a correct groom at the regulation distance. The riding hour on Rotten Row is the most popular of the day, and here can be seen the smartest of the smart set and the best-groomed horsewoman in the world as she shows up at her best.

     The correct equipage, with pompous coachman and footman in powdered wigs and high-stepping pair, still remains the traditional gentleman's vehicle; the automobile by no means conveys to the minds of the crowd the same amount of pomp and circumstance as is evoked by the traditional coach and pair, particularly if there be an earl's coronet emblazoned thereon.

     Neither is the plebeian numbered hack for hire allowed on the drive during these hours when society takes its airings. Ways are provided for the visitor to get over this difficulty; the hotels will hire out to one an imitation private carriage; all livery stables provide for this contingency, and even the Bloomsbury boarding-house keeps, or can get, a "private brougham" that can be rented by its guests and pass the scrutiny of the policeman at the Albert Gate.

     Hyde Park on Sundays sees that peculiar English society function – the "church parade." This is a more intimate occasion, and the "Sentier de la Vertu" of the Bois would not be out of place transferred to London, for everybody hastens here after church to promenade, prayer-book in hand, among the budding crocuses and narcissi in a silver-grey spring noon. There is none of the contagious gaiety of the French crowd, but the decorous, well-bred English throng is able to hide any dubiousness under a Sabbath-day varnish. "Look respectable and you will be happy" is the English creed.

     Friends sit in groups on the penny chairs, discuss plans for the coming week, engagements, temporary and for life, are maneuvered by mammas, and the Sunday church parade is often used to introduce a daughter to the social world. After this every one goes home to a roast-beef dinner. The French course dinner is not, even in fashionable circles, succeeding in separating the English family from its favourite dish.

     By five o'clock the carriages are so densely massed that it is only by courtesy it could be called driving. Royalty drives out with the rest. The rumour that the King is coming causes all the carriages to line up courteously to allow the passage of the royal landau drawn by two horses, marked as to its royal functions only by the royal red coats of the coachman and couple of footmen at the back.

     If one wishes to enter the social life of a French community the burden of taking the initiative rests with the newcomer. She is expected to make the first calls, but these are promptly returned. After the second round of calls the stranger will know where she stands, for if the acquaintanceship is not desired the call is not returned. The French have a system that provides for this. The proprietor from whom the house may have been leased or bought, or, in the case of a doctor or a professional man – his predecessor, furnishes them with a list of the desirable people who occupy the correct social standing. Thus in the end the power of selection lies with the majority, which may be logical though it places the stranger at a disadvantage.

     In many respects the French are slower to open up their home to one than the English, for they rather shrink from a new element that may possibly disturb the calm routine of their domesticity.

     "Chez elle" – with herself – that untranslatable synonym for a woman at home in France, expresses something even more intimate than the English home. The soft cream tint of the French house, with its formal row of pale-grey shutters, always closed, the high walls that enclose the garden and the high iron gates, backed with wooden or iron doors – all seem symbolical of the closely guarded inner life of the French bourgeoisie.

Society Dines Out of Doors

     Even in France chaperonage is relaxing to some extent; the same is true of even its most conservative strongholds, though freedom for the young girl, as it is understood in America, does not exist as yet anywhere in Europe. In that most sophisticated social life, that of the French upper classes, the influence of the young person, once practically nil, is beginning to be felt. She no longer keeps her eyelids lowered when spoken to by a man, and at dances she boldly allows her partner to lead her out for a breath of air on a balcony – but still not for long. The old French ruling that a young girl should not walk out even with her brother – for how should the wicked world know that he was her brother – is becoming obsolete, and family groups of brothers and sisters do go in company together on picnic outings and daylight amusements. The cry of the French girl for liberté is being heard, it is true (and that she makes it at all is a forward move), but not much attention is being paid to it. The curiosity and wistfulness with which she regards the American girl with whom she is brought in contact is amusing and pathetic, and she is not heard criticising their boldness as frequently as do English girls.

     Young people's society is rather insipid for the American girl, once her curiosity is abated; running amuck of its trivial formalities and intricacies of language does not make for pleasure. Truth to tell, she gets on better with the European man.

     The American man rather expects a pretty girl to entertain him, in return for much candy, automobile rides and a general putting himself usefully at her disposal. But the European man is trained to be agreeable to women and the practice of the small arts of conventional intercourse is a result of a large part of his training – in many cases the major part. The freedom and self-poise of the American woman fascinates him quite as much as his deferential attitude and charming manners do her. This, enhanced by the golden halo that he invariably sees about her head, inspires him to put forward his best efforts to entertain her.

     Not a little of the interest that he inspires in the American girl often comes from a brilliant uniform and an authentic title. This, to begin with, makes him frame in so exceedingly well with the rest of the picture in her imagination, and it is the same imagination that he touches in many ways. He draws his heels together with a military click and kisses her hand deferentially at meeting and parting. No one does that at home – in public at least – and the little ceremony invests one with a certain importance. That his conversation takes a daring turn is often because of unwitting encouragement by one who is conscious of her ability to shut this sort of thing off if it passes the limits. But a radical difference between home and abroad is that the American man can be made to feel ashamed of himself – the foreigner – never.

     It rather worries the Englishman that the American woman talks so much. He does not understand this voluble flow of talk, whether about something or nothing, that she knows is necessary to her popularity at home, and it sometimes happens that he is slow to appreciate her amiable efforts to please. She is not so much of a novelty to him as to the men of Continental Europe; besides he is in the habit of taking the lead and being listened to, and he finds it a little wearisome to follow the conversational thread through the mazes and quick turnings given to it by the versatile American woman. But if given a chance he will take pains and can play the part of an agreeable host. Properly chaperoned he will invite her to tea in his "chambers" in London or at Oxford or Cambridge (if he be an undergraduate) and pour tea himself; but she will not be expected to go to the hotel or restaurant alone with him for tea, nor to the theatre, without some kind of a shadowy third, though it is true that being an American covers many indiscretions.

     But the afternoon tea is the pivot around which the social life of England revolves, a function that can be made intimate or formal at will. Tea is served in the afternoon, not for the visitor but as a part of the daily routine, and one expects it quite as much as a matter of course as the shakings of the hand. Nothing is quite so pleasant as the tea hour before the open fire, when the rain, the slow, sure, continuous rain of the British Isles, turns everything misty-moisty. The teapot is kept warm under its padded cosey, the buttered muffins are hot in their covered dish, the plum cake is all plums. It is the hour when the English friend unbends to intimate talk under the shaded lamps. America is transplanting the custom, but it can never be the same as in England – the atmosphere-and the climate – both are lacking.

Click to continue to the next chapter of The American Woman Abroad.