The Material Question

‘When I walked through the gates of the Château du Prieuré, it was as though, right behind the old porter, I was greeted by Mrs. Serious Problem. My one hundred thousand francs, down to the last sou, had already been scattered to the winds, partly in paying the rent of the property and partly in the expenses of living for three months in Paris with so many people. And now, besides continuing to maintain such a crowd of people, I had to face the immediate prospect of spending another large sum of money on furnishings and equipment, since neither the furniture, nor other household articles in the place had been planned for such a number of residents—with a further large number coming from England, as the branch in London had not been opened.

‘My situation was further complicated by the fact that when I arrived in Paris I spoke no Western European language.

‘On my departure from Batum this question of languages had begun to disturb me. But in Constantinople I had nothing to worry about, since the languages chiefly used there were Turkish, Greek and Armenian, all of which I knew well. As soon as I left Constantinople, however, and arrived in Berlin, great difficulties in this respect began to appear for me. And now here in Paris, faced with the necessity of again finding means to cover colossal expenses, I felt more than ever the need to know European languages, while at the same time I did not have a minute in which to apply myself to learning them.

‘To do business through interpreters was next to impossible, especially for commercial transactions, where one needs to catch the mood of the man one is dealing with and to play on his psyche. Even with a good interpreter, the long pauses necessary for the translation destroy all the effect one has made, not to mention the difficulty of rendering the intonations, always so important in such negotiations.

‘And I did not even have a good interpreter, since all the people who might have helped me in this problem came from other countries and knew French as foreigners usually do, and Russians in particular, that is to say, just enough for what is called drawing-room conversation—and even then not in France—while all this time I needed sound French for serious commercial negotiations.

‘The amount of nervous energy I wasted during those first two years in France, at the moments when I felt that what I had said was not being translated correctly, would doubtless have been quite sufficient for a hundred of your novice brokers on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.