What's all this then?

My name is Victoria Stiles and I'm an Early Career Historian currently doing whatever odd research / consulting / outreach / tutoring jobs come my way. I blog here about some of the interesting texts I've found.
My research focusses on books about Britain and the British Empire which were in circulation in Nazi Germany but you'll also find a smattering of school textbooks, witchcraft beliefs, bog drainage, bemused travellers and weird illustrations that caught my eye.
Translations from German are my own. Comments are currently unmoderated and are mostly spam for leather jackets anyway.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

American women - the view from the Third Reich

In my first post on Worüber man in Amerika spricht, (far too many moons ago) I dealt with the foreword and anything I had managed to find out about the author, his life, industry and colleagues. To summarise: Kurt G. Sell was a German journalist and diplomat who acted as foreign correspondent, providing background information (for German news agencies and a regular radio bulletin) on American politics, society and culture. When the United States entered World War Two, he and his colleagues were imprisoned and later flown back to Germany. This book, "What America is talking about" (roughly translated), was published in 1943 and gives his impressions of his former adoptive home It's a strange mix of genuine affection, Nazi ideology and bewilderment at America's funny foreign ways and it's very difficult to say how much of it represents Sell's own opinions or the work of the censors. Either way, it's a fascinating read.

Details from the front and back covers

In this section, Sell describes how women have "feminized" American society, their two chief obsessions being comfort and eternal youth:

The woman is responsible for the fact that not only every office building but also every reasonably modern apartment building has an elevator as she doesn’t like to walk, let alone climb stairs. [...] Cars are used, even when the destination is only three blocks away. When choosing a car, the woman has the last word, and so it is primarily for her that they are built. The upholstery, and in many cases also the outer paintwork, is of two tones. Armrests and adjustable seats turn the car into a motorised divan: it goes without saying that heating and radio are provided. (p.21-2)

Die Frau ist dafür verantwortlich, daß nicht nur jedes Bürogebäude, sondern auch jedes einigermaßen moderne Mietshaus einen Fahrstuhl hat, denn sie mag nicht gehen, geschweige Treppen steigen. [...] Autos werden benutzt, auch wenn das Ziel nur drei Häuserblocks entfernt ist. Bei der Auswahl des Wagens hat die Frau das letzte Wort, und daher ist er hauptsächlich für sie gebaut. Die Polsterung, vielfach auch die Außenlackierung, ist in zwei Tönen abgestuft. Armstützen und verstellbare Sitze machen aus dem Auto einen fahrbaren Diwan: für Heizung und Radio ist selbstverständlich gesorgt.

It also seems to be a feminine element of civilisation that the Americans eat every dish (including the dessert but excluding the soup) only with a fork and then only use the knife, kept in reserve, when the meat cannot be separated with the fork. This procedure is very laborious and repeatedly presents a shock to the foreigner: one holds the fork in the right hand and with it picks up a piece of food, which is taken to the mouth with that fork. Then one takes the fork in the left hand, reaches for the knife, and cuts oneself a small piece of meat. However, under no circumstances does one ferry it to one’s mouth with the left hand. Far from it! One puts the knife to one side, passes the fork back to the right hand and uses it to eat the cut off piece of meat. This action is repeated throughout the entire meal and leads to the situation whereby everyone rests their left elbows on the tabletop and lets their left hand wave freely in the air. It doesn’t look very attractive but the American woman has instituted this for reasons of comfort, and the meat is usually brought to the table in such a way that one need hopefully never reach for the knife. This spares the teeth the need to chew; they are as unable as the knife to prove what they are there for.” (p.23)

Ein weibliches Zivilisationselement scheint es auch zu sein, daß die Amerikaner jede Speise (einschließlich der Nachspeise, aber ausschließlich der Suppe) nut mit der Gabel essen und das in Reserve gehaltene Messer nur dann benutzen, wenn sich das Fleisch mit der Gabel nicht zerteilen läßt. Diese Prozedur ist sehr umständlich und für jeder Ausländer immer wieder ein Schock man hat die Gabel in der rechten hand und pickt damit ein Stück Nahrung auf, das man mit dieser Gabel yum Mund führt. Dann packt man die Gabel in die linke Hand, greift yum Messer und schneidet sich ein kleines Stück Fleisch ab. Das führt man aber keinesfalls mit der linken Hand in den Mund. Weit gefehlt! Man legt das Messer weg, übergibt die Gabel wieder der rechten Hand und holt sich damit das abgeschnittene Stück Fleisch. Dieser Vorgang wiederholt sich während des ganzen Essens und führt [...] dazu, daß jeder den linken Ellbogen auf die Tischplatte stützt und die linke Hand frei I’m Raum schweben läßt. Das sieht nicht sehr schön aus, aber die amerikanische Frau hat das aus Bequemlichkeitsgründen eingeführt, und meist kommt das Fleisch schon so auf den Tisch, daß man möglichst gar nicht zum Messer zu greifen braucht. Das erspart den Zähnen auch das Zerkauen; sie können ebensowenig wie das Messer noch zeigen, wofür sie da sind.

After the provision of comfort, a woman’s priority is to maintain her youthful appearance for as long as possible:

From behind, even the older American woman looks like a young girl: shoes, stockings, very short skirts, hairstyle, are the same from the ages of 16 to 60. [...] The hunt for a husband has become difficult; so many men have been called up, and immigration has ceased, and so one must arm oneself against the competition. (p.24)

Von hinten sieht auch die ältere Amerikanerin wie ein junges Mädchen aus: Schuhe, Strümpfe, ganz kurze Röcke, Haartracht sind von 16 bis 60 Jahre gleich. [...] Die Jagd nach dem Mann ist schwierig geworden: so viele Männer werden eingezogen und die Einwanderung hat aufgehört, also muß man sich für der Konkurrenzkampf rüsten.

He goes on to say that life has become less comfortable since the declaration of war, with rationing, a shortage of cars, and no delivery service from grocery stores. I'm not sure if this is a pure statement of fact or if there's an element of "serves them right" in there.

I'm going to eat my lunch now, using only my fingers, with both elbows on the table (it's a sandwich).

Tuesday, 15 September 2009


Now that I'm back in the UK and under the same roof as a scanner, here are some pictures from Greater Britain (original post here). I'm still in the process of dismantling my life as a teacher and setting up again as a student, so posts may be even less frequent than usual.
You should be spending the time on www.futilitycloset.com anyway.

Front cover

Titles pages introducing the series ("French and English prose texts") and the book.

Map comparing pre and post-canal routes to India, p.2

Map of Africa, p.99

Pull-out map of the world, inside back cover.

Other offerings from the same publisher.