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Y first tonsorial experience is in a barber shop of the
old town of Prinkipo. Most of the barbers are polyglotically inclined. My particular barber is either a Greek, a Maltese, a Sclav, a Bulgarian, or a Montenegrin. It is impossible at first to tell his native tongue. He has French glibly. He speaks a "leetle Inglis," and understands less. He is well up in Italian, as many of the families in this vicinage are. He had some knowledge of Spanish, as kindred to the Italian. This extraordinary learning always gives me a shudder, and especially when under his razor or shears. Being a stranger on the island, and having no very pronounced national features, it was equally difficult for him to ascertain my nationality, except by inquisition long and pitiless. All I could do was to arm myself with the affirmatives and negatives of various languages. With these I made myself complaisant, to save my face from bloodshed. My first conversation with this artist confirmed the general reputation as to the gossipy quality of the Barber of Seville. He had all the gossip of the isles, including its languages. The conversation ran somewhat after this style
Barber: “You have been here long ?” I reply in Bohemian, “Ne!” He easily understood that. “You are here for your health ? ” I reply in Danish, affirmatively and negatively, "Ja !” Nei, minherre !!” “Yes, sir,” and “No, sir.” This puzzled him.
“ An army gentleman, perhaps ?”
Oh, then you are a navy officer?” Having in view my position as admiral of the launch, I reply in Hungarian; because, lucus a non lucendo, Hungary is an inland country, and, like our own, without a navy.
"Igen !” “Yes.”
Remembering that there was an Italian emigrant named Christopher Columbus of naval renown, I reply: "Si, signore."
“ You will bring your vessel to Prinkipo ?”
Ah! here was my opportunity. It is the modern Greek in which I reply: "Nae vevayos."
He is thunderstruck. It is evidently his mother-tongue. Likely he has a Polish father; who knows? When he asks me in FrenchWill your
vessel touch at Athens?” I respond in Polish, “Tak !” “No.” And then, with some hesitation, I add the French word, “ Petêtre.” “Perhaps.”
“You will visit Egypt?”
Sim, senhor.” This is Portuguese for “ Yes, sir." The gesture or the manner with which these responses are made encourages him, for he immediately asks whether I have ever been in Alabania. I have no negative or affirmative in any of the languages of the Adriatic. My Dalmatian servitor, Pedro, is absent, and my next best affirmative is in Russian.
“Do prawda.” Perhaps, being affiliated with the Sclav, he understands this language.
“You have never been in Egypt ? ”
As the pine and the palm are associated in my mind, and having connected the Polar midnight sun with the Pyramids of the Pharaohs, I respond in Swedish, making it intense
“Ja!” adding a little affirmative in Roumanian, to give intensity to the remark, “Gie."
After a pause in the conversation he resumes. He believes that he has my nationality fixed. He surmises that I am from some Balkan province, and he asks
“Have you been in Roumelia, Bulgaria, Servia, Montenegro, and Herzegovina ?”
Knowing that I could not answer this truthfully, and not being able to answer it partially, I give him back in Roumanian an emphatic negative
“Na canna, bucca.”
This suggests the Chinese as the fitting language for the affirmative, and I say
Having no reference to Haggard's novel, for it was not then out. To make the “she” expressive I add another affirmative, which I had carefully studied while boarding with the Chinese Legation in Washington,
“ Ta Jin /”
“You like the Chinese, Monsieur ?”
Having succeeded so well with the Chinese, I answer promptly in the negative--
“ Puh !"
This monosyllable disgusts him His subordinates gather around the chair where I was being shaved, interested in this composite conversation. The artist then asks if I had visited Jerusalem. Here was my great breakdown. Notwithstanding I had represented a Hebrew community in New York, with more synagogues than Jerusalem had in the time of Solomon, I was at a loss for a Hebrew affirmative. Happy thought! I respond promptly in the Arabic tongue, with its guttural peculiarity
It sounded to me after I uttered it like profanity, and I fell back as gracefully as I could, waiting for the next attack, and equipped with a Japanese expletive.
“You like Constantinople ?” I respond in a sweet Japanese accent“ Sama, san !” “How long have you been in Constantinople?” I give it to him in English"I arrived there in the year 1851-thirty-six years ago."
"Mon Dieu ! —mon Dieu !-mon Dieu ! ” he exclaims, “ Have you lived there ever since that time ?”
“Beaucoup, Monsieur /"
He has not yet learned my nationality. I am afraid every moment that he will strike America.
“South America. I have a cousin of my wife's there, and I would like to know how the country looks.”
“Le nom du cousin de votre femme ? ” I ask.
“Pierre Moulka Pari Michipopouli. He is like you, Monsieur-quite a traveller."
Then began a fusillade of questions and rattling replies. “You have lived in Paris, Monsieur?”
"Jamais / " “Never.” “ Been to Genoa ?” Signore.” “Ah, you are English, are you not?” With the intense Turkish negative I respond, “Yok !” “ French ?” “Non.” “German?” “Nein.” “Sclav?” “Nee.” “Italian?” "No, Signore." "Ah! Espagnol? You look like one."
Pardon, Monsieur, I am not.” “Well,” said he, taking breath, "will you tell me, , Monsieur, where you do come from?”
"Don't you remember the only nation in the world where the barber is as good as a king ?” I said proudly. “Oh, Switzerland. Sapristi !
Sapristi! Corpo de Bacco / " Understanding that last remark perfectly, I offer him a cigarette, and say, “No, I am not Swiss."
hairless scalp and hirsute beard shows that he is a disappointed
The next time I visit the shop I receive marked attention. The hands all rise up. They pick up the earth in a Turkish salaam. They distribute it in courtesy to the American minister, whom they have meanwhile discovered. As I have been frequently turned away from the doors of our American Congress after twenty-five years' service, because I did not act or look like a member, so I was unrecognised here, by the "Oi Barbervi,” as having no national characterisation. America was the last race people to which this Greek barber assigned me.
Samuel S. Cox.