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Abroad with the Jimmies by Lilian Bell

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lobster with me at Scott's.

I imagine, however, that one woman's experience with dressmakers is like
all others. I have noticed that to introduce the subject of my personal
woes in the matter is to make the conversation general, in fact I might
say composite, no matter how formal the gathering of women. Like the
subject of servants, it is as provocative of conversation as classical
music.

Far be it from me, however, to class all shopping in London under the
head of dry goods, or the rage one gets into with every dressmaker. In
most of the shops, in fact, I may say, in all of them (for the one
unfortunate experience I have related in the jeweller's shop was the
only one of the kind I ever had in London), the clerks are universally
polite, interested, and obliging, no matter how smart the shop may be.
Take for instance, Jay's, or Lewis and Allenby's. The instant you stop
before the smallest object a saleswoman approaches and says, "Good
morning." You say, "What a very pretty parasol!" and she replies, "It
_is_ pretty, isn't it, modom?" She wears a skin-tight black cashmere
gown with a little tail to it. Her beautiful broad shoulders, flat back,
tiny waist, bun at the back of her head, and the invisible net over the
fringe, all proclaim her to be an Englishwoman, but her pronunciation of
the simplest words, and the way her voice goes up and down two or three
times in a single sentence, sometimes twice in a single word, might
sometimes lead you to think she spoke a foreign tongue.

The English call all our voices monotonous, but it was several weeks
after I reached London for the first time before I could catch the
significance of a sentence the first time it was pronounced. All over
Europe our watchword with the Russians, Turks, Egyptians, Arabs, French,
Germans, and Italians was always "Do you speak English?" and in London
it is Jimmie's crowning act of revenge to ask the railway guards and
cab-drivers the same insulting question. Imagine asking London cabbies
the question, "Do you speak English?" It puts him in a purple rage
directly.

But shopkeepers all over Europe are quick to anticipate all your wants,
to suggest tempting things which have not occurred to you to buy, and
to offer to have things made, if nothing in stock suits you. I suppose I
am naturally slow and stupid. Bee says I am, but having been brought up
in America, in the South, where nothing is ever made, and where we had
to send to New York for everything, and where even New York has to
depend on Europe for many of its staples, my surprise overpowered me so
that it mortified Bee, when they offered to have silk stockings made for
me in Paris.

Like most Americans, I am in the habit of turning away disappointed, and
preparing to go without things if I cannot find what I want in the
shops, but in London and Paris they will offer of their own accord to
make for you anything you may describe to them, from a pair of gloves to
a pattern of brocade. This is one and perhaps the only glory of being an
American in Europe, for, as my friend in Naples, of the firm of Ananias,
Barabbas, and Company, said to me:

"Behold! you are an American, and by Americans do we not live?"

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