We'll Always Have Paris: American Tourists in France since 1930

Article excerpt

Harvey Levenstein. We'll Always Have Paris: American Tourists in France since 1930. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004. xiv + 382 pp.

This engaging, rich socio-cultural history of American tourism in France, covering the period 1930-2002, is a sequel to Levenstein's Seductive Journey (1998), which started with the Jeffersonian era. Displaying the author's talent for vivid, revealing, often funny vignettes and commentary, the study traces the story of tourism's gradual expansion: transformation into a mass phenomenon, increasing inclusion of the under-thirty youth, democratization of practices. The book's broader appeal (and pedagogical usefulness) stems from the glimpses provided by tourism into the evolving love-hate relationship between France and the U.S., the distinction made between the French and France, and the historical construction of stereotypes resulting from socio-economic, political, and cultural forces.

Ample primary sources range from the American and French press and national as well as local archives to personal diaries, memoirs, and interviews. A variety of documents show tourist industry statistics and strategies on both sides of the Atlantic--from American travel agencies to the French Ministry of Tourism anxious to enhance this major source of national revenue. Individual accounts bear witness to reactions toward people, objects, and experiences from the other land. Insights from more theoretically oriented scholarship are also brought into the discussion.

Levenstein proceeds by weaving together several series of data: social groups (defined by age, sex, race, and economic, professional, and geographical categories), recurring themes (expectations, goals, criteria, values), and contextual factors (economy, politics, technology). Tourist social groups include: celebrities, artists, the moneyed upper class, the middle class, populations from various U.S. regions, African-Americans, women, youth, and students. But professional distinctions, beyond the arts, entertainment, fashion, and the military, are generally limited to white- versus blue-collar workers; likewise, the description of taste (or cultural practices) is mostly reduced to upper- versus lower-brow (180-82); and voices from Smith College or Reid Hall almost exclusively dominate the student category (probably reflecting extant sources).

From leitmotifs Levenstein detects in tourists' (and hosts') praise and complaints, and also from the industry's and governments' efforts to improve the tourist trade, a number of diverse themes emerge: communicative and cultural competence, attitude, social behavior, professional standards, "welcome"; food, hygiene, comfort, leisure and cultural activities; personal freedom, sexuality, self-improvement, pleasure. Levenstein excels at showing the two-way dynamic at work in the interactions occasioned by contacts between the two nations' many subcultures. …