Europe as a Playground


ON a peak day in the summer of 1927, 13,300 people went through the door of the American Express Company’s Rue Scribe office in Paris. Three hundred thousand Americans went to Europe in 1928 and spent three hundred million dollars there. Who are these thousands, and what do they go for?

The students constitute probably the largest coherent group among them, and certainly the one which has in recent years received the most attention. When the American Immigration Act of 1924 was about to put a stop to one of their highly profitable carrying trades, the steamship companies belonging to the North Atlantic Conference, at the suggestion of the United States Lines, cast an inventive eye upon their steerage accommodations, and Student or, as it later came to be called, Tourist Third came into being. Since then the inexpensive trip to Europe, popularized as an indispensable part of every collegian’s education, has been a consistent item in the business of the regular tourist companies and has also been specially arranged through organizations like the Open Road and the Confédération Internationale d’Étudiants. Summer conferences, such as those of the various Youth Movements, International Student Service, or the World’s Student Christian Federation, have offered an objective for those whose aim was otherwise purely travel, while for those who contemplated a longer or more sedentary stay there have been founded the various international summer schools, particularly the Zimmern School at Geneva, and the summer courses for foreigners offered by the Universities of Paris, Vienna, Berlin. The American University Union in Paris reports in recent years an annual total of 5000 American students in Paris, for two months or over, registered with it alone, and the great majority of art students are probably not included in this number. The postwar trek of young Americans to France is doubtless the greatest student migration in history, and similar, if smaller, movements are discernible in Germany, England, and elsewhere. A trip to Europe, either during or just after college, is coming to be as much a matter of course to the average American student as the Continental Grand Tour was to the young aristocrat of eighteenth-century England.

Europe as an educational centre, however, appeals only to the very young or to the very academic. What is its appeal for the rest, for Americans grown slightly older?

The other hundred thousands come to Europe to satisfy a wider range of wants than the collegians. The most blatantly conspicuous are the Americans who come to Europe on a ‘bust.’ They want the Riviera; they want to go to Aintree and the Derby, to Auteuil and Maisons Lafitte. They spread themselves on the beaches from Deauville to the Lido; they cause St.-Jeande-Luz to be turned into a Southern California combination of pink stucco and revolving signs. For them are maintained the boîtes de nuit around the Place Pigalle, and the Nacktplastik of the cafés of Berlin. They support the cosmopolitan and hectic world of cocktails, jazz, and haute couture.

Less blatant but more numerous than those who come on a bust are those who come on a junket. The last few years have witnessed organized trips to Europe by brothers of a common interest when that interest varied from Advertising through the American Legion to the Bar Association and the Garden Club. For them Europe is permitted to have few surprises. From gangplank to gangplank they move, somewhat bulkily and with occasional flurries over lost wives, husbands, or tickets, along paths foreseen by the Programme Committee. They are docile in these managerial hands because anticipation of the future lectures on Europe that they will give before the brethren in the home town makes it dangerous to miss anything on the regular itinerary, and because side trips are extras and always cost more than one thought.

Then there are the sightseers. There are the global sightseers, for whom nothing less than all is enough. Before leaving the States they have made a schedule for every day and almost every hour. True to this written word of what is worth while, they journey quantitatively over Europe, with their Baedeker in one hand and the list of Rest Tour hostels in the other. They are mostly school-teachers, professional workers from the lower salary grades, or retired business men and their families from the smaller American towns. Their trip is often the trip of a lifetime, the end of a long saving. The importance which it has attained through years of anticipation makes it accompanied by a moral necessity to be worth while. The familiar doggedness of travelers who continue sightseeing after fatigue has deadened all possibility of enjoyment is the evidence of how hardearned their trip has been. The seriousness with which they travel is at the bottom of the comi-tragedies that mar such moments as the one in which they discover the institution of paying for theatre programmes, or the 10 per cent tip. Having earnestly tried to do too much on too little, be that little time, money, or understanding, they return to God’s Own — and in their opinion Only—Country permanently and with a sigh of relief.

In contrast to the global are the intensive sightseers. They are usually coming abroad for the second or third time. Their first trip was a quantitative survey; now they have picked out the corner that appealed to them most and are bent upon ‘knowing every inch of it.’ Provence, Cornwall, Devon, Norway, the Harz Mountains, are likely places of selection; they walk much of the way and gossip in the wayside inns to the extent which language allows. They return heavily laden with sketches, photographs, or post cards, according to talent.

A further group is the specialized sightseers, members of the musical, literary, or artistic intelligentsia whose trip culminates in a single performance at Bayreuth, Salzburg, Oberammergau, Stratford, a Brittany pardon, Santander. They start inexplicable vogues for obscure cafés in Paris; they form clubs of all those who have visited certain remote Italian hill towns where the trains do not connect. They pride themselves on their avoidance of other Americans and hint darkly at the importance of their European acquaintances. Much of their patter has the patina of the artificially ‘antiqued.’

Quite distinct from any of these groups, who spend their days taking trains, boats, and even buses in the usual way, are the voyageurs à dernier confort. Clad in the expensive simplicity of Bond Street and certain Edinburgh tweeds, they can be seen boarding the Golden Arrow for London, or stepping, at Le Bourget, into the Lufthansa Special for Berlin. They leave in their liveried Daimler for the château country or for the English lakes, and the gleaming porcelain of newly installed bathtubs marks the successive stages of their way. What they see is not international life but international luxe. The people they meet, the accommodations they require, the things that they eat and drink, arc the same everywhere. The only differences they experience are carefully selected differences in climate.


Supplementing the sightseers are the collectors. The libraries and other places of reference of Europe, and the offices of such European personages as are remotely willing to be interviewed, are filled with collectors of data, abroad either on research fellowships or on sabbatical years. They collect facts, or, in the absence of facts, tendencies. Up to the time of publication they are humble searchers. After that they are authorities.

The researchers collect facts. Other people collect things. It is estimated that, in 1929, $30,000,000 worth of antiques, furniture, silver, and old masters, were shipped to America from England alone. In the course of the last ten years some dozen English houses have been bought as a whole for transfer to the States. A far greater number have become, for a longer or shorter period, the residences of Americans abroad. Some of these are properties of first importance, like Warwick, but even the smallest cottage may have an American as its renting aim. A whole special vocabulary of advertising has grown out of the American desire to live in an ancient English home; no other demand would stimulate descriptions such as this: —

To BE LET FURNISHED: Genuine 14thCentury Residence, full of oak beams, open fire-places, stone-mullioned windows, completely modernized, yet retaining all its oldworld atmosphere, and representing a home of exquisite charm. Hall, three reception, ball room, with minstrels’ gallery, 10 bed, four bath rooms, good offices, servants’ hall. Garage for two, and stabling. Electric light; Central heating. Co.’s water. Telephone. Modern drainage. Independent hot water supply. The pleasure grounds comprise lawn, tennis court, herbaceous borders, parklike orchard, well-stocked kitchen garden, old fish pond, and park, in all 90 acres. Rent according to period.

The collecting spirit may indeed go further than the acquisition of an English estate, to annexation of its accompanying title through marriage with the owner. Nor is the struggle for court presentation and aristocratic alliance confined as much as it was a generation ago to the British Isles: France, Italy, and even Russia have gained increasing prominence in this field during the decade since the war.

A final group of Americans who are in Europe as consumers are those whom Europeans diagnose with the intended compliment, ‘You are n’t a bit like Americans.’ These share with the others the attitude that Europe is a very ancient seat of culture, but they are distinguishable from the rest by their belief that tradition is not external. They too go to visit the ancient monuments and marvel at the ruggedness of Durham and the graciousness of Chartres. But they see these structures as the incarnations of a spirit, of an inner vitality which transcended the material thing it built. It is that spirit, and not the concrete evidences of its work, which is to them the unique and infinitely precious reality of the culture of the West. But they take it in various ways. Some of them, hypnotized by their vision, stand transfixed on the spot on which it came. They stay on in Europe, and their lives thereafter are repetitions of the pilgrimage of Henry James. Florence, Paris, London, are full of aging expatriates who ‘could n’t live anywhere else.’ Others who have seen the same vision take it differently. To them a tradition seems not only essentially an inner but essentially an indigenous thing. They feel a final impotence in a life lived only to absorb, however much inner sensitiveness the process may beget. Their aim is finally to carry into creation their own authentic and indigenous vitality. They reverence the European tradition, all that it has meant in faith, beauty, and intelligence, and all it means to-day. They treasure the enrichment, above all the sense of form, which come to them abroad, but they know that to stay too long is to become a parasite. So, after a time, they go home.


The scenes at the customs on the New York docks would lead one to suppose that the yearly hundred thousands went abroad only to buy, but the souvenirs of many returning Americans are memories rather than bangles, and not all of the memories are impersonal in character. In the course of their wanderings each year a certain number of Americans meet a certain number of Europeans. The attitude which they develop out of these meetings is important, for it is carried back into the States and contributes largely to the formation of national sentiment. The fact that the European acquaintance of a great many Americans is confined to the porter, the taxi driver, the agent of the American Express Company, and the servants of their hotel, does not prevent their including whole countries in their generalizations: the French have become a grasping and dishonest people because a concierge failed to account for five francs fifty in some provincial auberge; the Germans have been painted blacker than in the murkiest war propaganda because a fattish gentleman from Bavaria once disputed an American’s train reservation; and the inveterate rudeness (not to say frigidity) of all the English, without exception, has been based on the undesired opening of one railway carriage window.

The generalizations of the pure sightseer are unfortunate, but they form, after all, only by-products of his main interest, which is either in the scenery or in the monuments of Europe, or, at most, in the people as the picturesque but remote personages of a frieze. A whole series of other impressions, however, is continually being formed by travelers who wish not only to see the country but to know the people. Their attitudes, and the means by which they reach them, point a finger at one of the gravest modern problems.

In the days of the Grand Tour, the sons of the aristocratic English houses spent a year or more, about the time of their majority, traveling in France, Italy, or Austria and spending protracted periods of time in the homes of the class which corresponded to their own. The milieu from which they came differed from that to which they went only in the subtleties of its content; the form of the two was much the same. The aristocracies of the eighteenth century had a culture which was European rather than national. Today all that has altered, or rather been supplemented by something which, numerically, far outweighs it — the democratic mass trip. A great deal of quiet interchange still goes on between families of international culture, and in the world of ideas there is a small but growing group of Americans who have the freedom of the city that is not built by hands; but the coming of consumers’ democracy is causing large numbers of the American middle class to seek to join in the advantages of international acquaintance. As a result, efforts are now being made to create artificially and en masse contacts which were once a taken-forgranted and exclusive perquisite of a certain level of social life. A peculiar difficulty in making these contacts arises from the historical fact that it is the bourgeois of the various countries who has always been the prime maker of nationalism. Aristocrat and proletarian alike have had international leanings; the middle class has stood out as the group to whom the domestic and familiar ways of doing things have always been most dear. Creating contacts for a middle class abroad therefore presents difficulties from the very start, and the type of thing which has been so far done has achieved only a moderate success.

In the student world, the American collegians who go abroad on trips have opportunities of meeting students of other nationalities at summer conferences. These meetings have a wide variety of results. Those that last only for a few days are usually successful in a superficial way. It is quantitatively inspiring to think that one has foregathered in Europe with representatives of students of twenty or thirty other lands; to have heard a Bantu speak his own language or to have talked to a real Communist from inside Russia is quite an interesting variant on a summer’s tour. But when the agenda of a conference turn from the easy and picturesque internationalism of a concert of respective national folksongs to joint discussion of a common theme, difficult differences begin to appear. Groups which a moment before had seemed innocuous entities as singers rapidly turn into mass representatives of apparently irreconcilable points of view; Anglo-Saxon pragmatism, Teutonic dogmatism, French individualism, begin to be noticeable; and, if an open split is avoided, there is rarely time to do more than dilute these group conflicts in sentimental emotionalism of the handsacross-the-sea variety.

Nor are the difficulties always cleared up in the case of a longer stay. The student who goes to the Sorbonne and becomes a ‘Babe in the Bois,’ or the American Oxonian who turns æsthete and spends the rest of his life doing ‘arty’ bookbindings to what must be the posthumous discomfort of the virile Cecil Rhodes, are familiar figures, as are also the students who return from all over the Continent, bitterly antieverything, and recounting dreary tales of disappointment and rebuff. In the absence of an adequate common preparation, mutual exposure of national middle classes in an effort to produce mutual liking is evidently not enough.

Much the same situation is true of the voyagers who are older and less specialized than the students. Efforts have been made by such organizations as the English Speaking Union or the various Quaker hostels in European capitals to provide contacts for the traveler with an interest. The American Committee at Geneva offers assistance every summer, particularly during the session of the League of Nations Assembly, to visitors wishing to see the mechanism of international life. But all of these organizations are most successful in those of their activities in which the traveler is a spectator.

When it comes to a question of participation, of entering into one aspect or another of the life he finds abroad, the colonial attitude which, all declarations to the contrary, is still latent in the New World comes out. It is a rare thing for Americans to take part on a par with other persons in the intellectual life of Europe. The world of give-and-take of reasoned points of view, of the development of ideas unrelated to immediate practical application, is to them an unfamiliar and even terrifying world. They do not trust themselves to find their footing in it, and if, occasionally, they make a venture, they are inclined to ‘prepare their ideas beforehand’ in the form of a set speech. This does not mean, however, that the only Americans abroad are the producers and the consumers. The world of ideas will not be avoided by Americans when it can be organized by them. A shrewd observer once said that the American attitude toward Europe was one of cultural inferiority but administrative contempt. Once Americans can become executive secretary or founder of an organization dealing with an idea, they feel themselves again at home; they can then limit their direct responsibility to arrangements, and they are willing to spend more time and energy bringing various European intellectuals together to discuss an idea than could ever be found even among the Europeans who think it most important. Alongside of the American producer and the American consumer in Europe must be placed the American coöperator, who treats it not as a market, nor primarily as a seat of culture, but as a mission field.