Humor of Soap in Italy in 1869 is adapted from Mark Twain's book Innocents Abroad:
We have had a bath in Milan, in a public bath-house.
They were going to put all three of us in one bath-tub, but we objected. Each of us had an Italian farm on his back. We could have felt affluent if we had been officially surveyed and fenced in. We chose to have three bathtubs, and large ones--tubs suited to the dignity of aristocrats who had real estate, and brought it with them.
After we were stripped and had taken the first chilly dash, we discovered that haunting atrocity that has embittered our lives in so many cities and villages of Italy and France--there was no soap.
I called. A woman answered, and I barely had time to throw myself against the door--she would have been in, in another second. I said: "Beware, woman! Go away from here--go away, now, or it will be the worse for you. I am an unprotected male, but I will preserve my honor at the peril of my life!"
These words must have frightened her, for she skurried away very fast.
Dan's voice rose on the air:
"Oh, bring some soap, why don't you!"
The reply was Italian. Dan resumed:
"Soap, you know--soap. That is what I want--soap.
Hurry up! I don't know how you Irish spell it, but I want it. Spell it to suit yourself, but fetch it. I'm freezing."
I heard the doctor say impressively:
"Dan, how often have we told you that these foreigners cannot understand English? Why will you not depend upon us? Why will you not tell us what you want, and let us ask for it in the language of the country? It would save us a great deal of the humiliation your reprehensible ignorance causes us. I will address this person in his mother tongue:
'Here, cospetto! corpo di Bacco! Sacramento! Solferino!--Soap, you son of a gun!'
Dan, if you would let us talk for you, you would never expose your ignorant vulgarity."
Even this fluent discharge of Italian did not bring the soap at once, but there was a good reason for it. There was not such an article about the establishment. It is my belief that there never had been. They had to send far up town, and to several different places before they finally got it, so they said. We had to wait twenty or thirty minutes.
The same thing had occurred the evening before, at the hotel. I think I have divined the reason for this state of things at last. The English know how to travel comfortably, and they carry soap with them; other foreigners do not use the article.
At every hotel we stop at we always have to send out for soap, at the last moment, when we are grooming ourselves for dinner, and they put it in the bill along with the candles and other nonsense.
In Marseilles they make half the fancy toilet soap we consume in America, but the Marseillaise only have a vague theoretical idea of its use, which they have obtained from books of travel, just as they have acquired an uncertain notion of clean shirts, and the peculiarities of the gorilla, and other curious matters.
For more Mark Twain humor about the lack of soap in Europe go to the web page ‘Humor of Frenglish’ about the lack of soap in France: