Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


EUROPEAN TRAVEL at the beginning of the twentieth century wasn’t nearly as straightforward as it is today. There was no European Union and, of course, no euro. Borders mattered. Frenchmen were different from Italians; Germans were different from the rest.

As if the EU is one homogeneous family of nations today….


At left, The American in Italy: Being a Pocket Interpreter and Guide to Italy and its Language, Containing Travel Talk and Idiomatic Expressions, with Correct Pronunciation, Italian Grammar at a Glance, 1910; middle,The  Briton in France, Being a Pocket Interpreter and Guide to Italy and its language, Containing Travel Talk and Idiomatic Expressions, 1910; and The Briton in Germany: Being a Pocket Interpreter and Guide to Germany and Its Language, Containing Travel Talk and Idiomatic Expressions – P, each by D.J. Rees (London University).

These guidebooks are great fun to read today. They give a lot of still useful information on getting around in their respective countries. Written by the same evidently talented linguist, D.J. Rees (London University), the guidebooks offer insights into the three countries—and differing perceptions of them on the part of the author.

This is apparent as early as page 4 of the French guide in a unique Personal Remark: “The French people pride themselves on their politeness and nothing so offends them as a lack of the same qualities in others…. With regard to dress, it is necessary to remember that French taste is frequently outraged by travelers entering churches or attending the theatre or opera in tennis clothes or deer-stalking attire.”

The French guidebook is also unique among the three in citing a downside: “On visiting France always take your own piece of soap.”


The Bill of Fare/La Carte du jour/La Carta del giorni/Die Speise-karte. This and other images appear in all three guidebooks.

Italy gets the best Meals summary: “Visitors to Italy will find the cooking usually very good, and meals can always be obtained at very reasonable prices. English people should avoid asking for beef-steaks or roast-beef, as these delicacies are of very inferior quality.”

However, later in the Travel Talk portion: “Che cosa mi conconsigliate per il seguito?/What meat do you recommend?” “Il roastbeef è molto buono/The roast beef is very good.”


Dinner/Diner/Pranzo/Das Mittagessen. I like the ambience displayed, but don’t believe him about the roast beef.

On eating in Germany: “The meals in Germany usually consist of an early plain breakfast, Frühstuck; consisting of coffee and rolls; an early dinner at midday, Mittagessen; and a late dinner or supper at around 7, Abendessen…. Beer is the great drink of the people and is exceedingly cheap. English beer may be obtained, but is dear.”

And likely not warm.

Curiously, the French guidebook makes no special deal of the country’s cuisine. I’d bet Professor Rees once tried Andouillettes de Troyes.


The Railway/Le Chemin de fer/La Ferrovia/Die Eisenbahn. In those days, people dressed when they traveled.

The Travel Talk portions of the guidebooks translate identical English phrases. Their accompanying pronunciations confirm why some Englishmen seem to speak all languages with an English accent.

Guess the language (and the meaning): “Doh’-vai lah stahts-see-oh’-nai, pair fah’-voh-rai?”Dēr bee-ai der prer-mee-airr klahss, seel voo plai.” And “Ist dies in shnell-tsoog?”

For the scholarly type, each book has a Grammar at a Glance, which does an excellent job of straightening out genders, plurals, adjectives, verbs and that lot.

Last, for the off chance that one finds oneself at a loss for words, each guidebook ends with a list of Interjections. These include Helas! (Alas!), Per bacco! (Good heavens!) and Gottlob! (God be praised!).

That should just about cover it. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2014


  1. Bob DuBois
    October 30, 2014

    Okay, the first phrase is Italian, and , I believe, says,” where is the station,please?”
    The second phrase is French, and says something like,”the first-class beer, please.”
    And the last phrase is German and says,” is this a fast train?”.
    Now, tell me how far off I am.

    • simanaitissays
      October 31, 2014

      Very good/tres bien/molto buono/sehr gut. All but billet (bee-ai/ticket). I suspect Rees would have said bee-aihr/beer?

  2. David Miller
    October 31, 2014

    Parla Inglese? Do you speak English?
    Parla Inglese adesso? Are you speaking English now?
    (Taken from Tom Rush)

    • simanaitissays
      October 31, 2014

      David, I like the implication lurking in the second one. (Do you mean THAT to be English?? )

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