“Dear, might we ask them as you have the map?”

With most international travel for leisure largely impossible again this August, I thought, well, let’s at least have some fun with travel for a post:

[From Twitter.]

I have traveled a lot for some thirty years and that outburst does not surprise me. Traveling I have heard a lot of silliness and stupidity – much of which, frankly, I had hoped had long ago been confined to Cary Grant films of the 1950s. Unfortunately, though, I have been proven wrong about that time and again. (One post back in 2018 details just one short trip’s examples.)

However, while there was a time I would have joined in a chorus of other Americans in “apologizing” for that behavior, I have stopped feeling the need to do so because years ago I came to the conclusion that was only HER behavior and only she is responsible for HER behavior. Traveling I have seen a lot of ignorant and obnoxious behavior from lots of people of a myriad of nationalities. That does not mean that such people are representative of those nationalities.

We tend to forget this in 2021, too. International travel that includes an American woman in a Shanghai airport is still a relatively new thing. It is really only a couple of generations old. Large international airports are a creature of the second half of the twentieth century.

[Awaiting a flight at JFK. Photo by me, 2017.]

Before jet planes made it possible to fly from London to New York in 8 hours, relatively few people traveled compared to today. For about a century before 1960, most people who did travel across oceans used powered ships. The Atlantic crossing on a 19th century steamship has not been vastly-improved on time-wise compared to now – it remains about a week.

Before steam began to appear on a large scale on trans-Atlantic ships between the 1850s and 1870s, if you wanted to cross the Atlantic, you traveled by sailing ship. (The first “hybrid” steamship – the SS Savannah – used mostly sail with some steam because it could not carry enough coal to fire the engine the entire journey. It crossed from America to England in just under 30 days in May/June 1819.) Given the reliance on wind power only, and there being no radio communications (if a ship got into trouble, the only help available was if another ship happened to be within sight and nearby), crossing the Atlantic before about 1850 was most safely undertaken between April and October. The sailing journey usually lasted between four to eight weeks (much as it does still in our 21st century).

That large time and money commitment – it was not cheap – also dictated who traveled. Traveling for “amusement” was only for the idle extremely rich. Most travelers were traveling for family reasons, emigrating, involved in government, on business, or perhaps even then in education. (There were a handful of American students – only men, of course – at European, especially Scottish, universities starting in the 1780s.)

[The top of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello home, seen from “Mulberry Row,” a path along which slave cabins had stood. Photo by me, 2011.]

Great examples of how travel was conducted in the late 1700s in Europe was left to us by the fortunately always writing something down Thomas Jefferson, the eventual 3rd U.S. president. He sailed from Boston, Massachusetts to Cowes (on the Isle Of Wight), England in an abnormally quick 20 days on a merchant ship in the summer of 1784. Accompanying him were his 11 year old daughter and a young Black male enslaved servant.

After a short wait, the three crossed over to France to reach his U.S. government foreign affairs post in Paris. He lived subsequently in Paris until late 1789. Knowing he would likely have no such opportunity ever again once he returned to the U.S., during those five years abroad he traveled, usually alone, around within Europe whenever he could manage it.

Transported over mostly poor roads usually in a horse-drawn carriage, spending nights at various inns (some of them NOT very comfortable), it took him a week to cover a distance that could be covered today by us by car in a day or two. Often with a guidebook in his hand, upon arriving somewhere new he stopped at the local choice tourist sights as soon as he arrived; he once wrote he liked to see a town’s main tourist attractions immediately so he could say that he had at least seen them. (Sound familiar? LOL!) During one such journey, he opened a letter to a French acquaintance this way:

[From The Portable Thomas Jefferson (Viking portable library), ed. by Merrill Peterson, 1978. Click to enlarge.]

Interesting to note this too. By our standards today, and regardless of how kindly and loving they may have been, in the 1780s most men were outright sexists. So as was the norm among American (and European) men such as Jefferson, usually he wrote to women (married or not) “differently” than he wrote to men. In particular he did not usually emphasize “serious” politics in letters to women; with “ladies” he concentrated on the apolitical, focusing on topics such as “romantic drama” (there, for example, to this Frenchwoman, the image in others’ minds of him perhaps being some suicidal Englishman), the arts (as we also see above), and domestic (meaning familial-type) matters.

Above he is in Provence. He would continue into northern Italy (although “Italy” as the country we today know did not then exist). He hoped to get to Rome, but he did have a job to do and had to turn around and return to Paris. (So although fascinated by ancient Rome, things Italian, and loving the Italian language, while he got close he never actually visited “The Eternal City.”)

In that same letter, he is scathing and sarcastic about a “modernizing” French government project that he says is damaging ancient Roman ruins. This “review” might not have been out of place in a current day TripAdvisor post:

[From The Portable Thomas Jefferson (Viking portable library), ed. by Merrill Peterson, 1978. Click to enlarge.]

Sadly, yes, is “progress.” Note too how he positions his opinion there? As our 21st century is to us, their 18th century to them was of course the height of modernity. (Can you imagine such shocking and ignorant treatment of history in THIS, the 18th century no less?) LOL!

[An 1814 sneak peek from Capture The Cause. Click to expand.]

Stereotypes do come from somewhere, of course. 😉

Have a good day, wherever you are. 🙂

7 thoughts on ““Dear, might we ask them as you have the map?”

  1. As a sometimes proud, other times not so proud American, I can attest to the ignorance and rudeness of way too many of my fellow countrymen and women when it comes to international travel. My god, a Chinese person who doesn’t speak English! Say it ain’t so! Then again, there are tens of millions of Americans who were born here who can’t speak the language properly either. What’s their excuse? And I have to live among them. It’s no wonder that I much prefer international travel to domestic trips, and the residents of countries like Portugal, Britain, South Korea, the Philippines, Spain, Ireland and so many other places than I do “mah fella Americans’.

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    1. If it is any consolation, we hear it from lots of other people out there too. I remember reading a few years ago of Beijing urging Chinese tourists to behave better abroad. Nice to know it is not just us at times. LOL!

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      1. Forgot to mention, born in Queens (Flushing), grew up in Queens, moved to Chicago after college, then Oakland, and Minneapolis for the last 35 years. Mum (91) is from Edgware, Middlesex, and have half the family around GB. Cousins in Lake Country, Durham, Trowbridge, Hendon and Haddenham.

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  2. At times. But it usually is. 🙂 We are in such a hurry as a people, always insistent upon being at the head of the line, demanding so much more than we deserve. Oh well. All I can do is be kind, patient, and show people that it’s not all of us. And leave the country as often as possible. Would love to set up shop in Lisbon or Porto, but too many family issues here for the next few years at least.

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