France and Spain, and What they May Bring Our Traveller

‘A LITTLE work, published after that famous intermarriage which overcame the enmity of the two Courts of France and Spain, though it could not that of the two nations; presents us with a humorous contrast of their manners; dispositions, habits, &c.

“A Frenchman,” says our author; “entering his friend’s house, will immediately ask for some refreshment: a Spaniard would rather perish with hunger or thirst. A Frenchman salutes a lady by kissing her: a Spaniard, on presenting a lady his hand, will cover it with his cloak, and retreat back several paces to bow to her at a hundred steps distant.”

“I have often been tempted,” says the author, who was a Spaniard, “to ask the midwives if it was possible that a French child could be brought into the world in the same manner as a Spanish infant—so dissimilar they prove from their birth!

“The French have a lively apprehension, hating idleness, and reducing their knowledge into practical use ; but they do not penetrate deeply into any matter. The Spaniard, on the contrary, is fond of abstract and abstruse speculation, and dwells continually on an object. The French are afraid of believing too much; the other of believing too little. The former will dispatch the weightiest business in the midst of noise and tumult, amidst the levity of assemblies, or gaieties of the table; whilst the grave Spaniard cannot bear the buzzing of a fly to disturb his fixed attention. In love, the one are light and talkative; the other, constant and secret. The Spaniard will disguise his poverty under a thousand pretences, and invent as many fictions to persuade you his appearance is owing to the necessity of concealing his person; whilst the Frenchman will press his wants upon you with the most persevering importunity. In every minutia, this difference is traced; both at the toilette and table: in mixing wine, the Spaniard puts the water first in the glass; whilst the Frenchman puts the wine first. A troop of Frenchmen will walk abreast in the street with abundance of tattle; whilst the Spaniards will walk with measured gravity, in a defile, like a procession. A Frenchman, discovering a person at a distance, beckons with an uplifted hand, drawn towards his face: the Spaniard bends his hand downwards, and moves it towards his feet.”

This contrast of humours and manners he seems inclined to attribute to the difference of climate: in the one country, settled and constant; in the other, ever varying, as the genius of its inhabitants.’

Isaac d’Israeli, ‘French and Spaniards’, Curiosities of Literature.

‘What is there in France to be learned more than in England, but falsehood in fellowship, perfect slovenrie, to love no man but for my pleasure, to swear  ah par le mort Dieu, when a man’s but hammes are scabd. For the idle traveller, (I mean not for the soldier), I have known some that have continued here by the space of a half a dozen years, and when they come home, they have hid a little wee-Irish lean face under  a broad French hat, kept a terrible coil with the dust in the street in their long cloakes of grey paper, and spoke English strangely. Nought else have they profited by their travel, save learned to distinguish of the true Bordeaux grape, and know a cup of neat Gascoigne wine from wine of Orleance: yeah, and peradventure this also, to esteem of the pox as a pimple, to wear a velvet patch on their face, and walk melancholy with their arms folded.

From Spain what bringeth our traveller? a skull-crowned hat of the fashion of an old deep porringer, a diminutive Alderman’s ruffe with short strings like the droppings of a man’s nose, a close-bellied doublet coming down with a peak behind as far as the crupper, and cut off before by the breast-bone like a partlet or neckercher, a wide pair of gascoynes which ungathered would make a couple of women’s riding kyrtles, huge hangers that have half a cow hide in them, a rapier that is lineally descended from half a dozen Dukes at the least. Let his cloak be as long or as short as you will: if long, it is faced with Turkey grogeran ravelled; if short, it hath a cape like a calf’s tongue, and it is not so deep in his whole length, nor hath so much cloath in it, I will justify, as only the standing cape of a Dutchman’s cloak. I have not yet touched all, for he hath in either shoe as much taffatie for his tyings as would serve for an ancient; which serveth him (if you will have the mystery of it) of the own accord for a shoe-rag. A soldier and braggart he is (that concluded); he jetteth strouting, dancing on his toes with his hands under his sides. It you talk with him, he makes a dishcloth of his own country in comparison of Spain, but if you urge him more particularly wherin it exceeds, he can give no instance but in Spain they have better bread than any we have; when (poor hungry slaves) they may crumble into water well enough, and make mizers with it, for they have not a good morsel of meat except it be salt piltchers to eat with it all the year long: and, which is more, they are poor beggars, and lie in fowl straw every night.’

Thomas Nashe, The Unfortunate Traveller, (1594).

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One thought on “France and Spain, and What they May Bring Our Traveller

  1. Well, whether those descriptions are accurate or not (were ever accurate?), times have certainly changed. French and Spanish people use their mobile phones in similar ways. And both countries offer much to the traveller.

    Liked by 1 person

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