Those of us with cultural inferiority complexes have spent a good portion of the last year worrying about the good opinions of all those sophisticated European types as we debated the personal behavior of the nation’s highest elected official. Were the French laughing at us, what with their famously jaded view of the ways of powerful men? Were the Germans on the verge of not taking us seriously anymore, of deciding that we were too trivial for world leadership? Were the Italians snickering over the prospect of American political instability? Were the British embarrassed on behalf of English-speaking peoples everywhere?
The denizens of many comfortable New York dining rooms have had their eyes fixed eastward, asking each other a single, terrible question: What are the Europeans, with their Old World manners and melodic accents and chic clothing and occasional world wars, thinking about us?
Well, we will soon know the answers to those questions. And it would appear that those of us who desperately wish for Italian approval of our style and German admiration of our efficiency and French fondness for our sophistication and British nods for the way in which we run the world will be relieved.
They like us! They really like us!
At least, that’s the view of publishing magnate Kevin Kelly, a trans-Atlantic bon vivant who is compiling what might be described as journalism’s ultimate service piece. Published by Mr. Kelly’s London-based Cadogan Publications Ltd., this bit of unabashedly high-end list-making is called America’s Elite 1000 . And, if you are among the several thousand selected households in selected Manhattan ZIP codes on Mr. Kelly’s formidable database, it’s coming to a coffee table near you. Written and reported from a European perspective, it will offer opinions about the best of America, from personalities to hotels to museums to plastic surgeons to-watch out for this one, New York-real estate agents. (What? No shrinks?)
“This is about American style at a time when America is the richest and most powerful nation the world has ever seen,” Mr. Kelly said over a rather Spartan breakfast of tea and bread at the Carlyle Hotel. (It was Ash Wednesday, a day of fasting and penance for people of Mr. Kelly’s persuasion, so the temptations of the Caryle’s menu had to be resisted. A harsh business, this fasting and penance thing.)
“Europeans are fascinated by America, by New York,” Mr. Kelly said. “They love the energy, the accessibility and the can-do attitude.” And so Mr. Kelly proposes to chronicle American style, which, he hastened to add, is not merely a function of money. “This is not about labels, this is about soul,” he said. “Style, particularly American style, is extremely diverse. And we want to reflect that diversity, which is a tremendous asset for America.”
Mr. Kelly is one of Europe’s best-known publishers, having been behind such ventures as the British edition of W as well as a handful of other titles. He got the idea for his American book after publishing a similar high-end best-of publication in Britain. And just a few weeks ago, Mr. Kelly threw a party in the Knickerbocker Club to celebrate the publication of a volume entitled Europe’s Elite 1000 , which was hand-delivered to several thousand Manhattan households.
The European list attracted a good deal of praise along with some muttering about its unrelenting focus on the, er, elite, a subject with which this newspaper is, of course, utterly unfamiliar. Mr. Kelly offers no apologies, although he understands that the word “elite” is much more loaded in this great republic than it is in the Old World. That’s why he emphasizes his concentration on style, which is more egalitarian, more in keeping with American society’s conceits.
He has assembled an editorial board that will choose the people, places and professionals symbolic of American style, at least in the eyes of Europeans. And he has brought over two young European journalists, Mark Kelly and Trevor White, to put the book together for publication later this year. It will include a list of 100 stylish Americans, a dream golf course consisting of America’s best 18 holes, a section on ethnic America and an account of the writer Alistair McAlpine’s American grand tour, which promises to take readers into East Side salons as well as roadside diners.
Mr. Kelly’s army of experts already is at work, and he is loath to speculate about what the editorial board may bring back. (He has his own ideas about who and what typifies American style, but he’s not saying.) He promises, however, that those New Yorkers who live in fear of a disapproving glance or a condescending pat on the head need not arrange for additional therapy.
Why, we have been assured that Europeans even admire us for our naïveté, which they find charming.
Wait a minute! Do they really think we’re naïve? Naïve about what? Was it something we said?