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Styles and controversy - parlour/parlor

Posted by James Briggs on May 17, 2003

In Reply to: Styles and controversy posted by Lotg on May 17, 2003

: : : : What is a ?lounge? house-wise? I?ve been watching BBC America ? in particular ?Changing Rooms? and ?House Invaders.?

: : : : In the U.S. we have living rooms (the parlor) and more casual family rooms/TV room. A lounge is a bar as in ?cocktail lounge,? ?a public room (as in a hotel, club, or restaurant) where cocktails and other drinks are served.? (Merriam-Webster).

: : : : Second question. The homeowners on the above mentioned decorating shows seem to be familiar with all types of American decorating styles ? New England, Southwest, etc. I don?t think people in the U.S. would come close to being familiar with British/European styles.

: : : : Are the British just more sophisticated and well-traveled compared to us? Or are American television shows and movies more widely seen there than vice-versa? Until recently the only British shows I could get were Masterpiece Theatre series and Ab Fab.

: : : A lounge in the UK is the all-purpose groundfloor room which combines the functions of a family room and a TV room, and often features a dining area too. Here it's worth noting that UK houses tend to be on average considerably smaller than their US equivalents, because land is so much more at a premium over here - we in the UK have 59 million people in 94,000 square miles, whereas in the US there are 281 million people in 3,619,000 square miles, or 21% of the population in an area 2.6% of the size. (In my opinion, this also is the reasoning behind the British insistence on fencing our back yards - that's *our* postage-stamp piece of ground).

: : : We also use "lounge" in its "bar-room" sense. Pubs often have two bars, namely saloon bars and lounge bars, the latter being theoretically quieter with more seating and no slot-machines or pool tables etc.

: : : Parlours we don't really have any more. In the days of servants and aristocratic houses, the parlour was a small sitting-room (there's another term for you) just off the kitchen where the more important servants like the cook and the butler could relax once their day's work was done.

: : : Lounge is pretty interchangeable with living-room over here in the UK, but the latter shows signs of starting to fall into disuse. However, the upper-class over here would NEVER refer to any room as a "lounge" - it'd ALWAYS be a living-room or possibly a drawing-room (much the same as it's NEVER a serviette, but ALWAYS a napkin, and NEVER a dessert but ALWAYS a pudding, and so on and so on).

: : Just noticed your second question. Yes, in the UK and in Europe as a whole, we tend to be far more aware of US style, culture and language than you are of ours. Media has a large part to play in this, since the "trade balance" in movies and TV shows is massively skewed in the US's favour. However, it's far more than that, and also comes down to geography and history. I remember reading recently that the percentage of US citizens who actually hold a passport is staggeringly small. I can't remember the exact figure, but I'm sure it was under 10%. In Europe, we move around a lot more, both on business and on vacation, and every nation still retains its individual cultural characteristics. With Europe as a whole being far more interconnected than the US, Europeans have a far greater awareness of the relevance of other nations, whereas (with respect) large sections of both the US media and the US populace simply don't seem to be generally interested in events outside their borders unless their administration is directly involved. It's one of the reasons why the US is sometimes accused of being naive, unknowledgeable and culturally isolationist - I'm not saying that I support that view, but a case can be made for it.

: ::: As a fifties born child in country Australia, 'lounge' covered 5 main things that I recall. We had a lounge room (in those days there were standard houses of 3 bedrooms, kitchen, separate dining room, separate 'lounge' room and of course all the separate utilities. Where I came from no-one in the towns had less than a 1/4 acre block and that also applied to most outer suburbs of the cities. I guess the lounge room then, would be an equivalent to a living room now. These days here, people have separate family rooms, living rooms, open plan living, all sorts of rooms, it's not so standard now.

: Also a 'lounge' was what we sat on in the lounge room. ie. a sofa, but we called it a lounge or a ?couch?. This might be a bit dialectic too as I travelled to other states occasionally and would here it called a 'settee' sometimes.

: Another 'lounge' that I recall was the one we all hung around in at the theatre (read movies, we didn't call it movies then, we called it the theatre or the pictures), before the movie started. That was where we bought our lollies (read sweets, candy, whatever), Jaffas (essential movie going lolly that we had to roll down the aisles for reasons that escape me - presumably just to annoy the hell out of adults), icecream, drinks and stuff.

: Also, as with the previous writer, there were cocktail lounges, the lounge bar in pubs (which is the only part that ladies could go into - they weren't welcome and it would have been unseemly, if they'd gone into the 'Public Bar' at the local pub) It was so ingrained in me, that I still have considerable trouble walking into a Public Bar in a hotel.

: And finally the 'Ladies Lounge' which was an anti-room in the ladies toilet. Very old-fashioned and pretty rare now. It was where ladies could sit on 'lounges' and gossip, do make-up and whatever stuff ladies had to do then.

: No wonder people struggle with the English language with so many variations.

: As for US familiarity with other styles, here in Aus we've got some very distinctive, albeit sometimes colonial styles from which our homes have evolved. It's strangely only relatively recently that we seem to have copied American styles, and I wouldn't say it's been extensive. I don't even think that TV has had a particularly major impact on that. Our housing styles have probably been more influenced by British thinking - which has often been kind of crazy considering our extremely different climactic needs.

: Historically, through previous travels I found that some Northern Americans seem to have been more parochial than other countries I have visited, but my most recent, fairly extensive visit to the U.S., which is now 7 years ago, showed a dramatic change. I found Americans had taken a giant leap in geographical awareness. This time they knew I was Australian. They recognised my accent and didn't think I was English. This time they didn't ask me if we had our own currency or other dumb questions. This time they knew a great deal about Australia in more detail and frankly, I think there are a lot of Aussies now who are more parochial than many of the 'yanks' I met the last time around. So it appears to me that while that parochialism used to exist, I think things have evened up now. TV and the internet surely make it virtually impossible to remain too provincial.

: That?s just my highly subjective opinion.

Incidentally, parlour/parlor is derived from French 'parlez' - to speak. This was the room where conversations took place.