Conlin (Civilisation, 2009, etc.) compares the two great cities and how they fed off each other’s mores while they struggled toward modernization in the 18th and 19th centuries.
“[T]he relationship between Paris and London was that of rivals,” writes the author, “rather than that of ruler and subject, a relationship characterized by mutual fascination, not by one-sided obedience.” Conlin examines a few aspects of city life to show how the different cultures of Paris and London adapted to the political and social changes of the period. First, the author looks at housing: While the Englishman required his own “castle” with a nice garden and some privacy, the Frenchman was perfectly happy in a high-rise flat with (horrors!) shared stairs. In addition, the English were slow to accept restaurants, preferring a home-cooked meal, while the French enjoyed not only a meal in a restaurant, but also the need to see and be seen. That need was served by only a few promenades where gentle people could walk; eventually, they followed the English and added pavement, street lights and gutters to enable citizens to walk safely. Thus the French flaneur, who wandered the streets absorbing impressions of his environment, copied his friend across the channel, albeit 100 years later. Conlin’s chapter on dance at first seems out of place, but his delightful progression of the can-can from a masculine display to the skirt-dancing we associate with Paris perfectly shows the interaction of the two cultures. Cemeteries and suburbs make up the final chapter, as governments finally began to study urban sprawl.
Anyone who loves London and/or Paris will enjoy this book. In addition, there are plenty of new French phrases and interesting English terms to add to your lexicon.