Sunday, August 09, 2009

For better or for Wurst

One of the interesting things I've run across during newspaper research into a few specific topics in the 1920s is the fascination in the English press with Germany.

But few have managed to combine fascination with condescension as well as the following article from the Daily Mail, in spring 1928.

New Girls of Germany

who has just returned after spending over two years in various German towns.

Not so long ago the German girl conveyed the impression of an indifferently proportioned lugger, with sails square set, and unduly overweighted aft.

To-day, a more suitable analogy is that of a spick and span clipper with neat lines, the cut of her jib distinctly Parisian. Take a stroll along the Linden, visit the best dance restaurants in any large provincial town, and one beholds German girls dressed in almost the latest Paris creations. There are still a few frumps left, but they hail mostly from patrician houses, where it is considered proper to maintain the old German cult and to wear print frocks in the stalls.

The passion for slimness has reached Germany. The full-bosomed, perfunctorily dressed Gretchen with hair austerely combed is practically extinct among the younger generation. But though it is a comparatively simple affair to reduce one's figure, it is not always easy to reduce one's ankles in proportion. That is the one detail in which there is still room for improvement--that, and the lingering prejudice that more than just a touch of powder is not quite respectable. But women are adaptable creatures, and there is little doubt that nature and artifice will soon complete the transformation.

* * * * * * *

Temperamentally, too, the German girl has changed, and therein lies an element of tragedy.

Judged by British standards, many German husbands differ vastly from the conception of what a husband should be. They are inclined to be domineering; the standard of fidelity is lower on the whole in Germany than in some other countries; and they drink a good deal.

In pre-war days all this was taken for granted. A husband was frankly allowed his fling occasionally--was he not a man?--and his wife was accustomed to piloting him home after a beer party which had lasted well into the morning. She did not question him as to his whereabouts if he remained away from home longer than usual, and she accepted in humble spirit his rebukes if all was not quite in order in the household when he returned. And though there are--and always have been--many honourable exceptions, most German husbands are following the footsteps of their fathers and grandfathers.

The German wife may now be found charlestoning--in the peculiar fashion common to German ballrooms--at the time of day when she used to be having a knitting party or cutting up the Wurst for supper. She is demanding to be taken to dine in restaurants on days when the cook or the maid-of-all-work is out, and she is giving up beer for cocktails. She has withal developed a sense of humour, rarely possessed in the old days, and is becoming a 'good sport' in the truly British sense.

At present she does little more that criticise her men folk, but the day is approaching when she will demand that husbands shall conform to the new ideal. When that day dawns we shall see German husbands allowing their wives to pass through the restaurant and tramway-cars, and transferring to their wives something of the respect which has been man's prerogative in the past.

(The Daily Mail, 27 March 1928, p. 12)

Ach, there's something here that makes one long for the subtle, good-humoured generalisations of a Jerome K. Jerome.

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