Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Ultimate Travel Guide

In my line of work, I read a lot of travel guides.

Okay, that's not true. It usually has nothing to do with work, but I do tend to read a lot of travel guides and travel narratives (that's the bookstore category for "books people have written about their trips").

So when I saw a booktitled "The Clumsiest People in Europe, or Mrs. Mortimer's Bad-Tempered Guide to the Victorian World" I had to read it.

It turns out that in the 1850s, Mrs. Mortimer wrote a series of wildly popular series of geography books for children. They were titled "The Countries of Europe Described," "Far Off, Part I: Asia and Australia Described," and "Far Off, Part II: Africa and America Described."

This book, "The Clumsiest People in Europe," is an edited version of all three books. And I'll warn you, it's not for the politically correct among you. I mean, here's what she wrote about her own country: "What is the character of the English? What sort of people are they? They are not very pleasant in company, because they do not like strangers, nor taking much trouble." And she goes on. But if she writes that about her own country, just imagine what she's said about the rest of the world!
  • Spain: "There are robbers and murderers there."
  • Ireland: "Cottages: There are no huts in the world so miserable as the Irish cabins or cottages." and "Rags. This is the dress of the poor Irish."
  • Russia: "The women dress in a very clumsy manner."
  • Greece: "The Greks do not know how to bring up their children."
  • Egypt: "The worst quality in any character is hypocrisy, and this is to be found in the Egyptian."

And those are the nice things. She saves particular condemnation for Catholics.

It's an interesting take on the world, particularly from someone whose own travels were limited to a single visit to Brussels and Paris as a teenager.

The Clumsiest People in Europe edited by Todd Pruzan

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