French writer Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) thought that individualism, freedom, and religious devotion were the hallmarks of American character.
British writer George Sala (1828-1895), however, thought it was something else:
In America Revisited (1882), Sala described his observations of our strange country and its obsession with pie:
”The national manners have become softened — the men folk chew less, expectorate less, curse less; the newspapers are not half so scurrilous as our own … but to the tyranny of Pie there is no surcease. It is a Fetish. It is the Mexican carnage god, continually demanding fresh victims. Men may come and men may go, but Pie goes on forever.”
Sala said “he battled strongly against this dyspepsia-dealing pastry,” but finally succumbed to its allure:
”The worst of this dreadful pie—be it of apple, of pumpkin, of mulberry, or of cranberry—is that it is so very nice. It is flat and thin, so that you can cut it into triangular wedges, which slip down easily. Pie forms as important a factor in American civilisation as the pot-au-feu does in France.”
And it still does. Tomorrow on Thanksgiving, most of us will probably indulge (or overindulge) in those nice triangular wedges.
Give us credit: At least we’re consistent. Sala’s 1882 comment about American news media is just as valid today:
“The American press seems to offend only against good taste in their omnivorous appetite of interviewing celebrated or notorious individuals, and in filling their columns with brief personalities sometimes very quaint, but usually almost childishly frivolous and quite harmless.”
Childishly frivolous, for sure. But harmless? Well, “mostly harmless.”