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MANY OF YOU might be planning motoring excursions in Europe. Indeed, I realize that some of you already live there and don’t really need the following advice. However, maybe even you will find it of interest, particularly because my source dates from 1909.
Blair & Co. were bankers back in the days when Wall Street offered complimentary little guidebooks, not dodgy hedge funds, for example. The Biographical Directory of the State of New York, 1900, lists Clinton Ledyard Blair, Princeton ’90, and De Witt C. Blair, Princeton ’56, at 33 Wall Street. Full disclosure: I didn’t get the book free from them; I bought it for $7.50 here in southern California at a secondhand bookshop.
From its first line, the guide is forthright: “When you have laid aside your prejudices, donned your garments of travel, and set your foot upon the gang-plank of the steamer bound for Europe, it will not be our fault if you discover that you have forgotten something. If you have bought our little book, and read this preliminary chapter, you will depart for foreign lands with all your preparations properly made.”
’Nuff said, though what’s this about “bought”? The guide’s cover reads “Compliments of Blair & Co.”
Money—A Word of Explanation. There’s an extensive table comparing dollars with ten currencies throughout Europe, including old Austrian gulden and its 100 kreuzers with the new Austrian krone and its 100 hellers. In France, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy and Spain, it’s easy: “… gold coins of any of the five above-named countries circulate freely in all of them. The French twenty-five franc piece, called napoleon or louis, is current money anywhere in the Continent.”
However, the guide cautions, “In Germany, the reckoning is in marks and pfennige. The mark is about 24 cents gold, and there are 100 pfennige in it. When you give one pfennig to a beggar, he never troubles you again.”
Hotel Expenses. “The American will notice with some surprise that life in Europe is, as a whole, no longer much if any cheaper than in America. To live even carefully at a first-class hotel in any part of Great Britain costs about four dollars or four dollars and a half daily.” A trusty Inflation Calculator sets this at $96 – $108 in today’s dollar.
On gaining proper service, the guide advises, “Give one of your dining room waiters something, but give to only one. Never mind the head waiter’s sardonic frown.” Also, much to my surprise today, “By asking for “ice-water,” you can now get it almost everywhere.”
In general, “Treat servants in France and other Latin countries and in Switzerland as you would in America, but in Great Britain and Germany and Austria keep them at a distance; they do not understand democracy, and would impose upon you.”
Automobile Regulations. These depend on the country visited, and remember that we’re talking here about 1909. I imagine one might bring over one’s Ford Model T 5-Passenger Touring Car.
The only word on the British habit of driving on the wrong side of the road: “To avoid accidents the driver must observe the rule of the road and pass to the left instead of the right.”
In France, “The speed limit is thirty kilometres (about 19 miles) in the country, 20 kilometres (about 13 miles) in villages; in narrow roads or streets the car must not exceed the speed of a man walking. These rules are not strictly enforced if the car seems to be under complete control.” My more recent experience in Paris driving suggests less than this in terms of my control.
Driving in Switzerland is given rather more explanation: “Each car must carry a white and a green light in front and a red light behind, a good horn, and two brakes, each one capable of stopping the car within two metres (33 feet) [the authors mean ten metres] on a decline or when running at full legal speed.”
“The car must stop when meeting a horse that appears frightened or when a government stage-coach is met. There are a number of other regulations, some of them vexatious and unreasonable. Indeed, automobiles are unpopular in Switzerland, and in case of accident, no matter where the blame lies, the motor driver is usually held accountable.”
A Short Vocabulary. True to its word, the guide gives adequate preparation for dealing with these vexations in its Words and Phrases of English, French, German and Italian. My favorites are Que faites-vous?/Was Machen Sie?/Che cosa fate? (“What are you doing?”); M’avez-vous compris?/Haben Sie verstanden?/Mi avete capito? (“Did you understand me?”) and Faites ce que je vous dis!/Thun Sie was ich Ihnen sage!/Fate quell che vi dico! (“Do what I tell you!”)
Yes, that should handle matters just fine. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2016