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Voyages


America

New York! Daily life
« All Americans of all classes seem to vie with one another to see who can be most useful and kind to us. Hence all doors are open to us, and everywhere we receive the most flattering welcome. »

Upon arrival in New York, Tocqueville and Beaumont found - not without difficulty - lodging with a family on Broadway, a street that even then was very fashionable. They were not very taken with the city, however. The account of their initial impressions scarcely conceals their disappointment and their astonishment when faced with the uniform monotony and the great simplicity of the American metropolis, in which there was no church steeple to mark the city center, and which stretched out endlessly like a enormous suburb. The two travelers found much to comment on in daily life, such as the absence of wine at their table, and "the multitude of things" with which the Americans were capable of "stuffing their bellies"!

«So here we are in New York. The city looks bizarre to a French eye and not very nice. There is not a dome, steeple, or large building to be seen, so that one has the feeling of being still on the outskirts. New York is built of brick, which gives it a very monotonous appearance. The houses have no cornices, balustrades, or coach entrances. The streets are very badly paved, but all have sidewalks for pedestrians. »
(Letter to his mother from New York, May 14, 1831)

But this impression of exoticism - which can also be explained by their difficulties in mastering English - seems to have quickly vanished, all the more as the two French governmental envoys were welcomed with open arms by New York society. Their arrival had been announced in the local papers, and as the two went from reception to society party, they seized every opportunity to observe the ways and customs in force and to shower their hosts with questions.

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Aerial view of New York, W. Schaw

Aerial view of New York, W. Schaw © BNF

The Glory of the United States, Antoine Étex

Study for American figures for The Glory of the United States , Antoine Étex
© RMN/Daniel Arnaudet

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"A New World"

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