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IN A CONTINUING EFFORT to assess how others around the world perceive us, these tidbits are gleaned from a definitive guidebook, Baedeker’s United States.
Various Baedeker’s United States have been reprinted, including an 1893 edition republished in 1971. Mine is a 1909 original, its full title being The United States with Excursions to Mexico, Cuba, Porto Rico, and Alaska. The quoted passages following are from this edition.
Preface. “The vast extent and rapidly changing conditions of the United States make the production of a satisfactory guidebook a peculiarly difficult task.”
Gee, I wonder what Baedeker would think of the last six years, 2016 to today.
“It is hope that the various monographs of the Introduction, though sometimes going beyond the recognized functions of a guidebook, will be found of material value to the tourist…. their general aim is to enable the traveller who studies them to give an intelligent appreciation to the political, social, industrial, and physical aspects of a great country that is much less accurately known by the average European than its importance warrants.”
Hip, hip, hurrah for this plug for American Exceptionalism.
Costs. “The expenses of a visit to the United States depend, of course, on the habits and tastes of the traveller, but are almost inevitably from one-fourth to one-third higher than those of European travel…. Persons of moderate requirements, however, by frequenting boarding-houses instead of hotels and avoiding carriage-hire as much as possible, may travel comfortably (exclusive of long continuous journeys) for $5-7 1/2 (20-30s) a day; but it would safer to reckon on a daily expenditure of at least $10 (2l).”
According to the CPI Inflation Calculator, $10 in 1909 equates to around $326 in today’s dollar.
“Passports, though not necessary in the United States, may be useful in procuring delivery of registered and poste restante letters.”
And, remember, of course, the phrase “I have no need of a passport; I am an Englishman.” You might try it even if you were not.
Traveling. “Coaches, usually called Stages, and in some parts of the country, Barges, have now been replaced by railways throughout nearly the whole of the United States…. The roads are generally so bad, that the delights of coaching as known in England are for the most part conspicuously absent.”
And there’s the likelihood of finding yourself on a stagecoach with an alcoholic doctor, a pregnant cavalry wife, a whiskey salesman, a prostitute, and the Ringo Kid.
Restaurants. “In New York and other large cities the traveller will find many excellent restaurants, but in other places he will do well to take his meals at his hotel or boarding-house.”
“A single traveller will generally find the à la carte restaurants rather expensive, but one portion will usually be found enough for two guests and two portions ample for three. The table d’hôte restaurants, on the other hand, often give excellent value for their charges.”
The Choices. “Soup, fish, poultry, game, and sweet dishes are generally good; but the beef and mutton are often inferior to those of England. Oysters, served in a great variety of styles, are large, plentiful, and comparatively cheap.”
“In America wine or beer is much less frequently drunk at meals than in Europe, and the visitor is not expected to order liquor ‘for the good of the house.’ Iced water is the universal beverage….”
“Wine is generally poor or dear, and often both. It is much regretted that, outside California, the native vintages, which are often superior to the cheap imported wines, seldom appear on the wine-list; and travellers will do good service by making a point of demanding Californian wines and expressing surprise when they cannot be furnished.”
Well, do be polite about it. We’re not all born-again Californians.
“Liquors of all kinds are sold at Saloons (public houses) and Hotel Bars. Restaurants which solicit the patronage of ‘gents’ should be avoided.”
And avoid stagecoaches unless you want a real adventure. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022
I’ve had non-California wines. I’ve been unimpressed by French, by and large, possibly because I couldn’t afford the price for name brands. Reasonably affordable and drinkable Italian, German, and Spanish wines do exist. Australian and Chilean are quite pleasant if not very good, more often than not. And “California” wine probably needs to be expanded as a category to “West Coast” or simply “US” or “American” these days, with the growth in new wine regions and Climate Change. I haven’t had any, but supposedly there are some quite presentable wines coming out of, even BC.