The Shame of Francophilia.

I’ve gone back to Karamzin’s «Письма русского путешественника» [Letters of a Russian Traveler; see this post] and am now accompanying him on his stay in London (big, surprisingly clean and quiet, women beautiful, buildings not as impressive as Paris); I just got to this linguistic rant I thought I’d pass on to my readers:

Yesterday a rich Englishman, the consul Baxter, invited me to dine at his country house near Hyde Park. While waiting for six o’clock, I took a stroll in the park and saw a multitude of Englishwomen riding. How they gallop! It is pleasing to see their boldness and adroitness; each is accompanied by a riding master. It was a fine day, but suddenly it began to rain. My Amazons all dismounted and took shelter under the shade of ancient oaks. I took the liberty of speaking to one of them in French. She looked me up and down, twice said “oui” and twice “non” — and nothing more. All well-brought-up English people know French, but they prefer not to speak it, and I now regret extremely that I have such a poor command of English. What a difference from us! Among us, everyone who knows how to say “Comment vous portez-vous?” mangles the French language without any need, solely to avoid speaking Russian with Russians, and in our so-called good society you may as well be deaf and dumb without French. Is it not shameful? How can we have no national pride? Why be parrots and apes at the same time? Truly, our language is no worse for conversing than others; it is only necessary for our clever, fashionable people, and especially beautiful women, to seek in it expression for their thoughts. The funniest thing, for me, is to see our wits who want to be French authors. Poor things! They are happy if a Frenchman says to them, “Pour un étranger, Monsieur n’écrit pas mal!”

Вчерашний день пригласил меня обедать богатый англичанин Бакстер, консул, в загородный дом свой, близ Гайдпарка. В ожидании шести часов я гулял в парке и видел множество англичанок верхом. Как они скачут! Приятно смотреть на их смелость и ловкость; за каждою берейтор. День был хорош, но вдруг пошел дождь. Все мои амазонки спешились и под тению древних дубов искали убежища. Я осмелился с одною из них заговорить по-французски. Она осмотрела меня с головы до ног; сказала два раза oui, два раза non – и более ничего. Все хорошо воспитанные англичане знают французский язык, но не хотят говорить им, и я теперь крайне жалею, что так худо знаю английский. Какая розница с нами! У нас всякий, кто умеет только сказать: «Comment vous portez-vous?», без всякой нужды коверкает французский язык, чтобы с русским не говорить по-русски, а в нашем так называемом хорошем обществе без французского языка будешь глух и нем. Не стыдно ли? Как не иметь народного самолюбия? Зачем быть попугаями и обезьянами вместе? Наш язык и для разговоров, право, не хуже других; надобно только, чтобы наши умные светские люди, особливо же красавицы, поискали в нем выражений для своих мыслей. Всего же смешнее для меня наши остроумцы, которые хотят быть французскими авторами. Бедные! Они счастливы тем, что француз скажет об них: «Pour un etranger, Monsieur n’ecrit pas mal!»

The backstory here is that Karamzín himself was accused of aping the French; see this LH post (“While ejecting hundreds of Slavonic words, Karamzín introduced numerous Gallicisms”). For the use of French in Russia, see the LH posts History of the French Language in Russia and Language in 19th-century Russia.

Incidentally, after this passage he goes on to complain that the English drink too much.

Comments

  1. David Eddyshaw says:

    “All well-brought-up English people know French, but they prefer not to speak it”

    Hah! fell for that old line, eh?

    Mind you, I used to have an English colleague who was in fact married to a Frenchwoman. I recall him being asked if he spoke French, to which he replied, “Yes, but only if the French person knows no English, and there is nobody else present who knows French.”

  2. marie-lucie says:

    “… being asked if he spoke French: … Yes, but only if the French person knows no English, and there is nobody else present who knows French.”

    Replacing French with Spanish, this was how I spoke Spanish for a long time. I learned it mostly from reading, and I could manage speaking Spanish reasonably well if I knew that the language was the only possible means of communication, but was tongue-tied if I knew we could have spoken French or English. Later I got to know a number of Latin Americans, and finding myself often in an all-Spanish environment I became more and more confident until I had no problem talking with people who I knew were bilingual.

  3. There is an interesting mistranslation there: спешились means dismounted, not hurried which would be поспешили in perfect aspect (have hurried) and спешили in imperfect aspect (were hurrying). Спешиться, to dismount, is from пешком, to go on foot, and спешить is from спех, quickness, urgency.

  4. Ha! Thanks, I’m always glad to learn stuff like that. Will fix it now. (It’s almost impossible to catch mistakes when they seem so obvious and they make such good sense in context!)

  5. Stefan Holm says:

    Indeed interesting, Sashura! Aren’t there any native cognates in Russian to Germanic ‘foot’, ‘fot’, ‘fuß’ and Latin ‘ped’? In my dictionaries I can find пеший (by foot), пешеход (pedestrian), пехота (infantry) and, as you mention, пешком (by foot). But they all look borrowed.

    The etymology of спешиться, (dismount) would otherwise be impressive: First you have the Indo-European word for ‘foot’. Then you make a Russian verb of it by adding the suffix -ить (do something with/on your foot/feet). Next comes the verbal prefix с-, which marks something happening from above downwards. And finally there is the reflexive pronoun–ся (absent in English but in Russian – and Swedish – marking the passive voice or ‘oneself’).

    So: ‘s’ + ‘pesh’ + ‘it’ + ‘sya’ would literally be get oneself downwards into walking, which I found pretty close to ‘dismount’.

  6. Aren’t there any native cognates in Russian to Germanic ‘foot’, ‘fot’, ‘fuß’ and Latin ‘ped’? In my dictionaries I can find пеший (by foot), пешеход (pedestrian), пехота (infantry) and, as you mention, пешком (by foot). But they all look borrowed.

    Nope, they’re native; пеший (OCS пѣшь) is probably from *pēd-tyos.

  7. Aren’t there any native cognates in Russian to Germanic ‘foot’, ‘fot’, ‘fuß’ and Latin ‘ped’?

    I think there’s a Russian preposition that indicates downward or below or similar that comes from PIE ‘ped’ etc.

  8. You’re thinking of под [pod]; it may be related, or may be an extension of по [po].

  9. You’re thinking of под [pod]; it may be related, or may be an extension of по [po].

    Vasmer is inclined to support the Proto-Slavic extension hypothesis, noting analogs to ро < роdъ such as zа < zаdъ, nа < nаdъ (“behind” and “above” respectively). It’s natural to suspect that пред- (OCS прѣдъ) “In front of” may be formed in the same way. And indeed Vasmer opines that “Праслав. *реrdъ относится к *реr- (пере-), как ро к роdъ, nа к nаdъ; -dъ заключает в себе, вероятно, индоевр. *dhē-; ср.: суд” (Proto-Slavic *реrdъ relates to *реr- in the same way as “ро” to “роdъ”, “nа” to “nаdъ”; dъ is composed, most likely, of IE *dhē-) (which formed do / deed in English and делать in Russian).

    (Elsewhere he traces “sud” to Sanskr. samdhíṣ, samdhā́ <= PIE *som- + *dhē- )

  10. David Eddyshaw says:

    “Incidentally, after this passage he goes on to complain that the English drink too much.”

    OK, I’ll bite:

    This from a *Russian*?

    When I lived in Nigeria I once knew a very nice but totally humourless Ukrainian lady. She once explained earnestly that she was now attending the English-speakers’ Bible study sessions.

    “I used to go to the Russian Bible study, but I couldn’t take the drinking and fighting.”

  11. This from a *Russian*?

    It amused me too; that’s why I mentioned it.

  12. David Eddyshaw says:

    Ever since, I’ve wanted to go to a Russian Bible study. They sound worthy of the pen of a Dostoyevsky.

  13. This from a *Russian*?

    Karamzin drinks wine in quanities and with pleasure all through the Letters of Russian Traveller, although more than one bottle a meal seems to be too much for him. Like in the entry for August 2 in Mainz, he tells of finishing a bottle collectors’ quality of Rhine wine, decades old, and refusing the 2nd to retire to sleep.

    So I guess it was a matter of quantity, and of distances to bed, which made him complain about British drinking – his estate dinner story mentions countless glasses, countless bottles, and literally hours of toasts, which he found boring (and perhaps wines didn’t stack up against German and French best which he experienced on the same trip). He was all red of face in the end of the endless dinner party, and still had a long ride home. But Karamzin’s most caustic tone is reerved not just for excessive drinking, but for the British tasteless vanity and pomp. Wine is quite expensive in England, he writes, and it looks like the hosts produce batteries of diverse wines as a way to brag about their riches.

  14. David Eddyshaw says:

    “Wine is quite expensive in England, he writes, and it looks like the hosts produce batteries of diverse wines as a way to brag about their riches.”

    Sounds all too familiar, alas. I’ve often felt that there is an unfortunate strain in my fellow-countrymen which leads them to think that it is basically wicked to actually enjoy food and drink. This would also explain traditional British food. What can you say about a people whose traditional dish (so far as there is one) is roast beef and Yorkshire pudding?

    We would be in a very bad case if we had not (in better days) providently encouraged immigration from countries with more civilised approaches to these matters.

  15. marie-lucie says:

    traditional British food

    I remember reading somewhere (years ago) that “traditional British food” which emphasizes roasting and boiling was a continuation of medieval Northern French food (through the Normans), which in Northern France was later transformed through direct Italian influence at the French court during the Renaissance, and indirectly by Spanish influence which brought tomatoes and potatoes from the Americas. Southern French food was already distinctive, being much more influenced by the Greco-Roman heritage along the Mediterranean in terms of both local produce and food preparation methods.

  16. marie-lucie says:

    DE: there is an unfortunate strain in my fellow-countrymen which leads them to think that it is basically wicked to actually enjoy food and drink

    Of course that is the Puritan attitude: any sensuous enjoyment is sinful. Still now, English speakers who enjoy desserts, ice cream, chocolate, etc will refer to those foods as sinfully rich or similar phrases. I don’t know how widespread this sort of characterization is outside of the English-speaking world.

  17. David Eddyshaw says:

    “’Traditional British food’ which emphasizes roasting and boiling was a continuation of medieval Northern French food (through the Normans)”

    For the honour of my ancestors (the minority that were actually Anglo-Saxon, anyway) I am glad to learn that I can after all blame foreigners for all those centuries of indigestion.

    Now haggis – whose fault was that?

    [actually, I like (good) haggis, but that may be a sort of gastronomic equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome]

  18. “I remember reading somewhere (years ago) that “traditional British food” which emphasizes roasting and boiling was a continuation of medieval Northern French food.”

    Of what would “traditional British food” been comprised prior to the emphatic influence of the gastronomic Gauls? There were no tree limbs, animal bones or iron skewers from which to roast meat in medieval Great Britain? No one in the British Isles thought to put a morceaux of meat in a vessel filled with liquid then set it over a fire before they learned the trick from the ancient chefs of northern France? What seems more likely is the French school manuals of yore were published by Cocorico Press.

  19. Even today a lot of my Russian friends in London would tell you that the English drink too much. Public drunkenness is a more visible problem in the UK than in Russia. Russians still tend to do their heavy drinking with friends in the privacy of their home, or out in nature, or they are alchoholics wandering the city alone. A typical London Friday night scene of young dressed-up people vomiting outside pubs, or lying passed out in their own urine on the high street, is pretty much a British thing. And the type of Russian who moves to London tends not to be a heavy vodka drinker.

  20. marie-lucie says:

    Hozho, the “Norman” conquerors of 1066 and all that were not “gastronomic Gauls” but people of mixed Gaulish and Norse origin, where the Norse element (kin with the one in the Eastern half of England) was the socially predominant one.

  21. David Marjanović says:

    This would also explain traditional British food. What can you say about a people whose traditional dish (so far as there is one) is roast beef and Yorkshire pudding?

    On the mainland, the culinary Middle Ages ended when a French king married a Medici and subsequently French court culture spread from Versailles all the way to Moscow. Fair Avalon remained in splendid isolation till finally someone combined ṭikkā and masala.

  22. marie-lucie says:

    The Medici in question (or her family) was so convinced that she was going to a land of savages that she brought hundreds of Italians with her in order to keep her in the manner to which she was accustomed. Among other things, they brought forks to eat with.

  23. A typical London Friday night scene of young dressed-up people vomiting outside pubs, or lying passed out in their own urine on the high street, is pretty much a British thing.

    Wee hours of Friday in midtown London (or call it Saturday morning, the time of the night buses after dancing’s over) impressed me mightily, too, but not so much by the excesses of drinking which must have transpired. It was a combination of merry shouting and yelling and the thick layer of garbage covering the sidewalks. I never thought that these guys should cut on their alcohol, more like, commiseration with the poor wounded nation licking the wounds of the Irish insurgency and the economic downturns, lacking the garbage cans for fear of street bombs, needing extreme stimuli to unwind. Incidentally London has one of the weakest tango scenes among the European capitals, but in never occurred to me to blame the remnants of the Puritan aversion to joy :/

  24. I’ve heard many a complaint about excessive English drinking. But more so about the Scots.
    Lermontov’s Maxim Maximych asks the ‘Author’,
    ‘Who invented that habit of getting bored?’
    ‘The English, I think.’
    ‘Oh well, that explains it,’ says Maxim Maximych. ‘They’ve always been drunks.’
    I suspect that it’s not so much about the volume consumed as about the behaviour associated with drunkenness.

  25. In every country I’ve lived (& a few others) it has been a national sport to blame one of the neighbours for drinking too much. The English say the Irish drink too much, Norwegians say Finns drink the most (& vice versa). Etc. There is always an accompanying theory of why this is the case (‘lazy’, ‘hardworking but repressed’, ‘I blame Martin Luther’ etc.)

  26. Peregrin says:

    As someone who grew up in London, I agree with some of the comments on drinking. Problem is that it’s just too socially accepted. I have friends who barely drink but rather indulge in cannabis on the weekend and usually in the privacy of their own homes. Cannabis use is of course illegal and looked down upon, yet downing pint after pint, being painfully obnoxious, starting a fight and then throwing up all over the street is seen as ‘having a good time’.

    I was in fact having this very conversation with a number of mates the other day. I had a French, Portuguese, and Brazilian friend commenting on how he hates when the English start throwing up after 10-p.m.–

    Moreover, as someone who barely drinks I’m often met with comments like “why aren’t you drinking/are you religious/what’s wrong with you?”…..it’s almost seen as some sort of character deficiency if one refuses alcohol. Social gatherings revolve around the consumption of vast amounts of drink, unfortunately–at least among those in their late teens/early twenties.

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