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ON MEETING AMERICANS ABROAD
And Discovering One's Own Country There
T HAS become a commonplace clad villa above the Arno. America
that one of the best spots in abroad constitutes a country whose
which to study America in population is always more or less our time is Europe. That is not transient. Its philosophy, as varisimply because of the obvious fact ous as the purse of its inhabitants, is that American method and the controlled always in some measure American tempo are becoming omni- by the fact that those inhabitants present in the food, the dancing, and are away from home. If you are the business of European life. It is fatuously determined while in Eubecause of the still more obvious, rope to be a European, seeing almost irritating fact that one cannot Americans will be a constant source any longer spend any length of time of irritation. It is hard, just when abroad without meeting one's fellow- you feel that you have become pro countrymen. It is no longer simply tem. a Frenchman or a Tuscan, to in summer or in Paris that you find yourself jolted back to Dayton encounter them. You may find or Detroit. But if you are frankly yourself in the heart of Touraine in more or less preoccupied even when February or at Nice in August, in the abroad with your own land, America high obscure hill city of Gubbio or in in Europe becomes another contisome village tucked away in the nent to explore. wildest of North Wales; the familiar In a certain sense you discover tone, profile, and gesture of a fellow- your fellow-countrymen for the first American are more than likely to time when you meet them away from appear. If you did nothing else for
nothing else for their usual haunts. Whether they a year in Europe but study the have come for a month to see the Americans you met, you would have whole Continent or have lived for a accomplished a year's important decade in one corner of it, what they work in sociology.
have that is characteristically AmeriIn a year abroad spent on various can stands out in almost brazen parts of the Continent one is sure to relief. You come to be aware, as meet every variety of American, never before, of the American voice from the notorious loud-mouthed and when you hear it suddenly in the quick-paced tourist to the expatriate shrill staccato chatter of an Italian dawdling out the decline of his life market-place. It may come as a on the disdainful height of an olive- jarring unmusical shock, this familiar drawling monotone, after the find and how to avoid them, these musical cadences of French or Eng- hurried idlers who make a loud lish speech. It may come as a fine summer resort of Paris and a loud homely suggestion of a hundred winter resort of Nice. There is mingled memories of home. You almost nothing in the way of atmay overhear a slang epithet that mosphere they could not find as well you have not heard in months, and or as badly in Atlantic City or in it will recall forcibly the intense the boom cities of Florida; wines, nervous definiteness of a civilization French dishes, and French shops are you thought for the time to have about the only differences that completely deserted. You may no distinguish their lives abroad from tice the tilt of a hat or the the lives they would find at equivamovement of a hand that in some lent places at home. Almost they unaccountable way spells America, or need not be studied at all in this a touch of bright brassy humor that connection, for in a profound sense could be none other than transatlan- they are not in Europe. tic in its source.
Time and again you come upon But Europe is filled these days America in a phrase, a joke, an with a younger America that is here intonation, or a gesture, and you are for good and serious reasons and has led to ruminate a little on your an almost pathetic earnestness in compatriots. What are they doing getting something out of it. You here, these energetic countrymen meet young men and women in all of ours who pass from Paris to parts of Europe staying for longer Madrid, from Amsterdam to Berlin, or shorter periods, and for more or as they might from Albany to Roch- less special purposes. An increasing ester. Why
Why have they come? number of fellowships for travel and What are they getting out of it? study abroad pour each year upon What makes them so immediately the Continent a whole stream of and irretrievably different from these youngsters in their twenties for a natives, among whom they move so wanderjahr. It is not the convenquickly and so hermetically, and tional grand tour. For these travel from all other travelers in these stipends are, even with the present foreign lands.
rate of exchange, not too large. Perhaps it is the new cheap rates Many of these post-collegians live to Europe or that Europe has ceased and travel in Europe even more to be merely a place to visit muse- frugally than they would live and ums or to buy hats. But there are travel at home. They are to be whole new classes of Americans you found in the most modest of pensions meet abroad who cannot be dismissed or wandering in the most out-of-theas conventional quick trotting way towns and museums. tourists or vulgar itinerant million- In Italy they are discoverable aires. Heaven and the irritated spending a month in Florence, trying Continental know that there are to swallow en même temps the whole still sufficient of these; more, doubt- of Renaissance art, the whole of the less, than ever. You know where to Italian language, and all of Fascism. In Paris you will have to look for sick. Many a student plowing them far from the mundane crowd, through Dante in a room in a pension in some pension, or in some family in Rome, or through Lamartine in a far from the Rue de Rivoli, deeper room in a pension in Paris, lives by a good deal in Racine than in spiritually half the time in his Montmartre. Nearly all of them letters to and from home. With all have the haunting presentiment that the help afforded by the university they may never be in Europe again, unions and the international comand they are counting their minutes mittees, the student abroad, or the as well as their pennies. There student-traveler abroad, very seldom is astonishing intensity and efficiency penetrates into the intimate domestic in their attempts to get all there is life of the country in which he and all at once. They never miss happens to be. One out of twenty doing or seeing the native and comes home having acquired a Eurevealing things of the places at ropean friend. Few of them in a which they happen to be. They year come
year come to know familiarly a will be sure to hear the classics at the European family. Very few of them Comédie Française, and be present certainly feel themselves Europeanin Siena for the summer festa. In ized at the end of a year, and almost Southern France they will not miss none wishes to become expatriate. the local wine or the local entremets. Long before the end of the year their All over the Continent they will eyes and imaginations are turned avoid English when they can, and in with childlike eagerness toward England they will try to speak it home. particularly well. There is none Where they do get to know or get keener than they for detecting the to be known by Europeans, they are unique qualities and characters of among our best ambassadors. They places visited, or reading themselves do much to disabuse the European of into sympathy with the objects of the notion that every American is a their pilgrimage. In their memories millionaire. They help to clear them and in their collected mementos they of the belief that most of us are are storing up Europe for life. vulgarians. To meet them abroad The young
student-wanderers is to have a sudden pride and a have, of course, the weaknesses of all kindled hope in the possibilities of tourists. They like, for one thing, American youth. It is to have a to feel that they have been where sudden sense also of the distinctive few others have ever gone.
It is character of that youth, and of its nice to come home having Ragusa special limitations and indubitable and Helsingfors as well as Paris and special virtues. They are a well London under your cap. They will set-up lot, these American studentoccasionally be contemptuous of travelers, for one thing, and display a their own country in the enthusiasm certain fresh antiseptic energy
that of visiting another, or be impatient marks them out when they appear of a foreign land in the homesick among
of Continental memory of their own. For like students. The American student other travelers they do grow home- of, say, twenty-three seems ridicu
lously naïve compared with some America. It gives them a
perof the eighteen-year-old students spective on it; it helps them to live among whom he studies when he
more fully as citizens of their own settles down for a while at a Con- country, and as citizens of the tinental university. He still has to world in whose fortunes that country find out the elements of subjects and is involved. ideas whose complexities they have It is hard to speak as highly of the long ago taken for granted. His summer migration of undergradContinental acquaintances are often uates. For them the new cheap amused by both his intellectual ocean rates have made possible a and moral innocence. The English quick lurid holiday in Europe. Many student's conversation will be sprin- an innkeeper on the Continent has kled with casual references to the mixed memories of American colclassic of his own and of ancient legian visitors. You wonder whether tongues; the German student will the average American collegian on mingle politics with metaphysics; his return has clear memories of the Italian student will move easily anything. But for even the most in the history of fine art and in the scatter-brained of them Europe must ways of the world. All this will be at least a visual experience. For bewilder and discourage the Ameri- those with any degree of intelligence can fresh from his B.A. For the or feeling, even a hurried trip through wandering bachelor of arts is inno- the Continent or England must make cent morally as well as intellectually. literature and history much less a A meeting with young Americans matter of hearsay when they return abroad sometimes prompts you to
in the autumn. The sound of French consider what babes may win de- or the look of Oxford must be for grees, and degrees with honor, from many of them an elementary lesson an American university.
in cosmopolitanism. But most of them, at least in the experience of the writer, do not try There are other Americans you to hide or belittle their naïveté. meet in Europe whose presence you Some of them, away for the first cannot so clearly account for. In time from the restraints of their usual many cases you are certain that environment, are in terrific haste to Europe is for them in the nature of remedy their state of innocence. some sort of flight from boredom, They ape a culture they do not yet from perplexity, from disappointpossess and a deviltry they do not ment. If you meet such cases in a care for. But you are struck pe- lonely place, a little off the beaten culiarly by their balance, their eager- track, where America seems very far ness, and their good sense. They away, you may, over a bottle of wine, , live in Europe usually as discriminat- learn why they are there. ing Americans, not as the esthete's The writer has met in the course of imitation European. They get Eu- less than a year at least a dozen men rope without succumbing to it. between the ages of twenty-five and Their six months or a year abroad thirty-five who have discovered at does not disenchant them with the end of several years in some business or profession that they did never permit themselves amid the not like it. They have come to respectable frigidities of a campus. spend their accumulated savings and There are business men who have a an uncertain length of time to try to surprising childishness and humility think out what they should do next. here amid the inconveniences of They drift through Europe from one a foreign language and far from place to another, not much caring their telephones and secretaries. All where, until their minds are made up their brusque efficiency is gone, and or their purses exhausted. For them in Sicily or at Cap d'Antibes they the charm of the Continent consists may suddenly confess a doubt about chiefly in the fact that it is three the distant busy preoccupations of thousand miles from home, and that their lives. they are for a time where they are
Some of the driftwoods seem known by nobody and where they bound to stay forever, if they have owe explanations to no relatives. any income and if they consider the Or you run into men who persist in rate of exchange. It is certainly the believing that they can come to low rate of exchange in the Latin Europe and leave their crucifixion of countries that is responsible for the spirit at home.
large semi-permanent literary colony There are older people, elderly you meet nowadays abroad. Nor is married couples, released by a small this literary colony simply a longfunded income, to wander aimlessly talking non-working Bohemia. Paris and not very happily from one and all of Italy are filled with indusfamous place to another. They do trious literary men who find it connot know when or if they are ever venient to live where American coming home, or why they are stay- checks will pay for taxis instead of ing, or quite why they came. They subway tickets, and where the reare pathetic castaways living aim- ceipts of one fairly successful book lessly in no world at all. There are will permit life in semi-luxury for a sad-eyed men and women of varying year. These also can hardly be ages who have come to forget some- described as really living abroad. thing or other, and in the loneliness For what is alive in them, their of distance they will tell you, per- spirit, is at home. Their intellectual haps, what they have come to forget food consists largely of American or how lonely they are.
books, periodicals, and press-clipEven people you think to have pings. Their social life consists known fairly well at home will in the largely in conversation with kindred stimulation and liberation of being Americans settled like themselves in a foreign country suddenly reveal for reasons of convenience in Europe. themselves as they would not dream But it is not the low exchange that of doing or dare to do in twenty explains the presence of the large years' conversation at home. There body of expatriates you meet all over are professors who will betray their Europe, especially in Paris and Italy. disillusion with scholarship or educa- These permanent exiles are a sadly tion, or who will lapse into sentiment interesting lot. They are interesting or sentimentalism that they would if for no other reason than that they