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versailles

The Palace and the Peasant

We arrived in Paris a day early to visit the Palace of Versailles before the tour began. It was hot and crowded and I kept thinking how grateful I was that the 17thcentury dress code no longer applied. The immense scale of the buildings and gardens was overwhelming alone, but it was the obsessive attention to detail within this massive context that made the place seem so regal. While the palaces were incredible spectacles, they were difficult to enjoy amidst the tourist swarm. What I found more interesting was the quiet and peaceful Petit Hameau, which was designed to feel like a Norman peasant village, where Marie Antoinette could relax and play. Of course, it seemed inappropriate for a queen to pretend to be a peasant, but I found the village to be a wonderful escape from the culture shock of Paris.

Varieties of Polite

The first cultural difference I noticed was how quiet and reserved the Parisians seemed. For example: a teenage girl put her hand over her mouth as she talked on her cell phone. In America, I would have expected to hear the entire conversation like watching an actor on stage. Similarly, people didn't make eye contact unless they were talking with each other, and they didn't smile unless there was a clear reason to do so. This may not seem strange at first, but Americans smile a lot and we love to watch each other.

French Girls During The Great War

I have yet to see a really pretty woman in France. Of course we have been in the rural districts mostly and have had no chance to see many of the really élite but even at that we should have seen some passably fair ones but not so. I think the most of these stories written back about experiences with French women are false except probably in the larger cities. We don't get to any of these so we are perfectly safe from any temptation whatever.

Robert March Hanes, Letters Home, 1917

Too Much Art

I have seen this great magazine of painting three times, with astonishment; but I should have been better pleased, if there had not been half the number: one is bewildered in such a profusion, as not to know where to begin, and hurried away before there is time to consider one piece with any sort of deliberation. Besides, the rooms are all dark, and a great many of the pictures hang in a bad light.

Tobias Smollett, Travels through France and Italy, 1766

Designing History

...for the French are furiously given to local research and reviews, and to glorifying their native places: and when they cannot discover folklore they enrich their beloved homes by inventing it.

Hilaire Belloc, The Path to Rome, 1902

Listen to Me

The master of the house is truly amiable; I only find one fault in him, and that is not generally the fault of a Frenchman; he is more fond of hearing than of talking.

Martin Sherlock, Letters from an English traveller, 1780