The Incomplete Education

Old Sep 1st, 2000, 09:02 AM
Posts: n/a
The Incomplete Education

There is a current thread that concerns things Americans don't know about Great Britian. I was pleased to learn something about who calls themselves British and how to pronounce certain place names.

I was wondering what other specific things Americans don't know about Europe that Europeans would like to explain to us. Do we habitually mispronounce things or not know well-known facts about history, art, or culture? If so, now is your chance to set us straight, once and for all. Let's not turn this into another bash-Americans thread. Just the facts, ma'am.
Old Sep 1st, 2000, 09:40 AM
Posts: n/a
Check out the 'United Kingdom & Scotland' thread. You'll find that nothing p****s people off like thinking that Wales / Scotland are part of England & parts of these islands are part of Great Britain / UK when they're not ( or aren't when they are ). No doubt people from Georgia, Alabama etc.
react much the same when someone refers to them as 'Yanks' ?
Old Sep 1st, 2000, 11:25 AM
Ben Haines
Posts: n/a

Now this is going to need more tact than I possess. But it's an honest question, and deserves an answer.

The United States have a rich and important history. As a natural result, Americans are taught little about the history of Europe. I recall the sorrow of a tourist guide in Moravia that pleasant, intelligent, interested, Americans had so little idea of his province's history that they gained little from a tour with him. So first thing would be to read a pleasant and light history of the country you're to visit. A recent America forum enquirer asked about just such a book on England, and a friend of mine who taught history at St Paul's School in London says try Sir Roy Strong's book. For central Europe I don't know, but I can say that you'll have more fun, and be more welcome, if you can describe, briefly, Charlemagne, Hussites, Hapsburgs, The Thirty Years War, and Napoleon.

The history of painting and sculpture probably needs less reading up, as if you go carefully around any great gallery in Europe, reading the labels, and especially the introductory labels in each room, you'll get a picture of the swing of history as you stroll. Or if you have the fortune to live within reach of Washington or New York you can have a good Sunday learning the history of European art, painfree, with a good lunch as an extra. And here my own ignorance shows: where else in the States ?

Americans in concerts and theatres in London are a pleasure to overhear. They know where they are and what's happening -- often better than I do.

I don't much care if they muddle "English", "British", or "United Kingdom", but if would were I Scots, Welsh or Irish. Put more generally, it is good to gaze at a political map of Europe and see what the state and national boundaries are. Somebody on a forum other than Fodors two days ago referred to "Czechoslovakia". Oh dear.

Of course you mispronounce things. So do Welsh, Yorkshiremen, new-Essex men, Jamaicans, Indians, the French, and really everyone who hasn't been to Cambridge as I have. But I'd be a fool to complain-- the present arrangements mean than I can wander all over, speaking English, and get on fine. Or could: in fact I rather like using other tongues, as when I speak French or Urdu I become a slightly other person, with more gestures. O la-la.

Place names are worse again. Not only you get them wrong, but so do fellow Londoners. A road than I can see through my window as I write is Pepys Road. Anyone who lives within half a mile of it knows it is "peppies road". All other Britons call it "peeps road". I have decided to tolerate this.

Americans are a bit confused over the Monarchy. Like Canada, Scandinavia, Spain, Holland and Belgium we keep a Head of State who is not a party politician. The Queen has the right to be consulted, and that's about it. Anything else she'd like to do she has to ask the Prime Minister first -- and he sees her weekly (except in August). I think that after asking she can still get away with such points as the proper colour for robes for choirboys who are not singing in a Royal Peculiar (don't ask), but that's her limit. A weird leftover, yes, but I do prefer not to wave flags at party politicians. It goes to their heads so, poor dears.

If you'll give me another topic I'll gladly give you another ill-judged opinion. But really, please don't give all this much weight-- we're glad to see you.

Ben Haines, London
Old Sep 1st, 2000, 12:03 PM
Posts: n/a
I agree with your comments about too many travelers (from the US, and perhaps from other places as well) seeming not to know much of the history of the places we travel to (I'm not always sure we know enough about our own history either, but that's a debate for another day). No, of course it's not a requirement, but a little history review certainly does seem to help put the palaces and the ceremonies and the paintings into perspective. Just the phrase "The Civil War" means very different things to the Americans, the English, the Spanish, etc.
Of course,that assumes that people are interested in having that perspective. "Clueless", who asked the current question, is someone who is interested, but others can be happy
just checking off the famous places and moving on.
Old Sep 1st, 2000, 12:36 PM
Posts: n/a
I think Ben Hains deserves some kind of mention for incredible tact!!!
Old Sep 1st, 2000, 01:15 PM
steve Mueller
Posts: n/a
One reason that European history can appear confusing to Americans is that it seems less "static" than US history. Many contemporary European nations have existed for only a century or so, and continue to fragment and reconsolidate. Governing institutions have evolved dramatically from the Roman Empire to feudalism and the divine rights of kings to democracy. The various political and military alliances have shifted in a seemingly unpredictable manner (e.g., the history of Italy). Also, two millenia are much more difficult to keep track of than four centuries.

In contrast, US history can be largely interpreted within a fairly stable political and sociological framework and within boundaries that expanded in a relatively straightforward manner (contrast to Burgundy, for example, which is part of England, then France, then Spain, then somebody I can't remember, then it's no longer Burgundy because its now Belgium).

One way to better understand European history is to occasionally approach it from something other than a nation-by-nation basis. Greater insight can sometimes be gained by understanding the institutions and ideas that have transformed much of the continent. Examples include histories of the Catholic Church, the "Barbarian" Invasion, the Crusades, the Byzantium Empire, the Hapsburgs, the Peasant Revolts, the Protestant Reformation, the Industrial Revolution, both World Wars, and the European Union.
Old Sep 1st, 2000, 09:53 PM
Posts: n/a
Holland does not have a queen, the Netherlands has.
Old Sep 2nd, 2000, 12:09 AM
Ben Haines
Posts: n/a

This is enjoyable. Many thanks to Clueless.

I support Mr Mueller's point. The names of the Dukes of Burgundy are hard to remember, and there's little gained (except their euphony -- Charles the Bold, Phillip the Fair). Of more interest are the great sweeps in the history of religion, thought, and economics. The more so as these carry straight on into the histories of the USA, Canada, Australia, and NewZealand.
Americans mostly have a Christian church membership, pretty well always have a love of liberty (though I'm not going to define liberty), and always live within a system of capitalism moderated by humane laws. Until the American Revolution these were European ideas and European movements. In the local museum of some old city you've never heard of there is a grubby charter, unreadable, in Latin, dating from the year dot. The label says that some emperor or other has granted the city rights to its own mayor, courts, and taxes. So what ? So ten thousand people have won a tiny step towards the freedoms that you and I now see as central to good government. That grubby paper is part of the ideologicalhistory of the United States.

Sjoerd: Touche. Moreover, the Scandinavians have not one monarch but three.

Thyra: So there you are: I've upset four nations in one sentence. Tact ?

I look forward to developments.

Ben Haines

Old Sep 2nd, 2000, 04:19 AM
Posts: n/a

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Do Not Sell My Personal Information

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 06:58 AM.