Most of the great nations and cultural groups have had one or several golden ages in their history. For example, England's golden age is said to have been under the rule of Elisabeth I, at the time of Shakespeare, Walter Raleigh and Francis Drake. That of Britain as a whole was undeniably the 19th and early 20th century. Spain like to look back at the glorious days of the 16th and early 17th century. This also works for small countries. Belgium has never had a higher international prestige and a more thriving artistic period then from the late 19th to the early 20th century.

When thinking about that it dawned on me that modern national cultures probably owe a lot to their respective golden ages. The Japanese like to dream about the old days of the Edo era (1603-1867) and imitate their ancestors and try to preserve the style and values of this perceived golden age.

The Brits started to speak with their characteristic posh accent in the 19th century. English sounded very different before that. But people are trying to fight for the survival of this idealised historical period, and the previous Elizabethan golden age when they want to sound old-fashioned ("are thou not..."), while blissfully forgetting the variations in accent and style in between (17th and 18th century) or before that. But it isn't just the way of speaking. Traditional British suits, wool jumper, cricket-style sportswear, and so on, all date back to the Victorian or Edwardian golden age.

The so-called classical French style of architecture, furniture and decoration, still much in vogue among the wealthy, originated with Louis XIV and perfected itself until Louis XVI, the grandest period in French history. Why don't the French like better a more recent style, like the Belle Epoque of the early 20th century, for instance, but are obsessed with that Bourbon style ? That's because it is representative of the period of history that make people dream and wonder in amazement, a golden age. That's why French presidents, ministers or diplomats will have offices in good classical 18th-century style, while their British counterparts will prefer something from the later Victorian period to impress their guests or symbolise the nation.

So just how much impact does a country's golden age have on its modern culture ? And how many centuries can pass before people start forgetting ? After all we still build Greco-Roman style edifices...