As the world rebuilt after World War II, western Europe sent teams of experts to the United States to learn the secrets of American industrial productivity. The Saturday Evening Post reports on these visits in 1951.
What caught my eye was this part about how these mid-century Europeans viewed American transportation:
They wonder why we tolerate such long lines at the railroad ticket windows. They love our sleeping-car roomettes, but are disturbed, in the usual curtained sleeper, by the lack of privacy and the adjacent symphony of snores.
As for the upper berths: “When one wishes to go to the W.C., one must sound the alarm bell, wait for help, and then scramble half-clad down a ladder — as though ones house were on fire.”
The Europeans are overwhelmed by the size and number of our automobiles and their widespread ownership. A French team at the Hill Acme foundry in Cleveland watched sympathetically the heavy labors of three Negro steel puddlers. “What was our surprise then, at quitting time, to see the three blacks drive nonchalantly away in a luxurious new car.” A thrifty Dane stared incredulously at a factory parking area containing 6000 cars.
“But they will never be able to pay for them, never,” he asserted.
“You’re right,” said a parking attendant. “They’ll just trade them in and start paying on the next one.” This left the Dane more in the dark than ever.
Unable to envision such a profusion of cars in their own countries, the Europeans take a wry consolation in our parking troubles. One American drove his Dutch guest two miles into town and got there, fighting heavy traffic, in eleven minutes. Then he sweated ten minutes more trying to wedge his car into a narrow parking spot.
“Do you have a mess-up like this in Holland too?” he asked his guest.
“Oh, no,” said the Hollander. “My bicycle takes me nicely to the office in twelve minutes.”
The Europeans helpfully suggest that Americans would be happier and more efficient if we made our cars — which to them seem enormous — a foot or so shorter.
From the Saturday Evening Post, December 1951. Read the full article over at Modern Mechanix Blog.