Occidental mistakes

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Sir David Tang, entrepreneur and founder of ICorrect, offers advice on questions about property, interiors – and modern manners for globetrotters

I enjoy your column. I also have kept most of my paperbacks from my youth and display them happily. If Zhang Yuchen has indeed called his castle Château Laffitte, in honour of the Château Lafite, he has misspelled it, unless he intended it as a replica of Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte, which I doubt. He is also probably partly responsible for driving the price of First Growths to ridiculous heights, since I suspect he has stocked his cellar with many bottles of Lafite.

Here is an example of us inscrutable Chinese knowing more than you foreign devils. Contrary to popular belief, Zhang Yuchen, who built his extraordinary “Château Zhang Laffitte” near the Beijing airport, did not commit a spelling mistake. Nor did he replicate what might have been a château at Château Lafite – because there never was one, and he knew there never was one. Zhang actually modelled his château on Mansart’s “Château de Maisons-Laffitte”, built on the Seine in 1650 as a landmark, which much impressed Zhang on his first visit to Paris. Many have jumped to the wrong conclusion that Zhang had been a little confused with his châteaux. Although admittedly he was not exactly Le Corbusier on the overall design of his estate. Talk about mix and match: two wings added to the main château as copies of the royal apartments at Fontainebleau, the garden, of course, after Versailles and, incongruously, a semi-circular colonnade that was a direct inspiration from his visit to St Peter’s in Rome. “Cor blimey”, you might well say. But nobody should laugh at Zhang for jumbling things up because Europeans did the same with Chinoiserie. Think of all the examples in Delft, Potsdam and Brighton – and inside Buckingham Palace, no less. All of these occidental caricatures of the Chinese were of course as absurd as Zhang’s idea of French grandeur. Incidentally, Zhang has never been a connoisseur of Bordeaux red. There is no wine tasting room within his vast château, although in the basement there is a German beer hall. Sometimes I wonder if Herr Zhang in his laderhausen might not have germinated most of his decorative inspirations, especially all his hideous interiors, while getting sozzled on Bavarian beer. But on a good day I might compare him to a sort of frustrated Chinese Byron, glorifying the magic of continental Europe but not getting the romance quite right.

I am very late in reading the paper so I may be one of thousands commenting. Please do not have the radio anywhere near the bath tub in your dream bathroom. I had visions of an electrical catastrophe that would deprive legions of us of your invariably entertaining future columns.

Thankfully, even if my Roberts radio were to be completely submerged in my bath, there is little likelihood that I would be electrocuted. There simply wouldn’t be enough current (or, more accurately, potential difference) in the battery to finish me off in my Archimedean bulk. People only get electrocuted in the bath when a lot of electricity, mostly from the mains, is plunged into the bath water. In such unfortunate incidents, one would indeed quickly resemble David’s Jean-Paul Marat.

As an American living between London and Middleburg, Virginia, I respectfully suggest you have been hanging out with the wrong Americans. While your generalisations could be considered true, you’ve picked a very narrow selection of people to represent our whole country. It might be similar to me suggesting everyone from the UK lives like the Beckhams. Let me know the next time you are coming to the US and I can introduce you to people with beautiful taste.

Do you really think I am stupid enough to regard my generalisation of the American way of life an accurate reflection of your entire country of 313m people of inevitable diversity? Of course not: I am only painting a caricature. Caricatures are also telling, just as cartoons are. But your suggestion that everyone from Britain lives like the Beckhams is clearly absurd! If we were to play safe, one generalisation that I find fairly uncontroversial is that Americans are fat (or very fat). I might also add that American women are very well built. I once saw Serena Williams, a well-known tennis player, in a room. Her shoulder was practically outside of the window. I felt like asking her if it was raining.

Email questions to david.tang@ft.com

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