My grandfather, Mansour Abdel-Sayed Mansour, had an antiques shop in Shepherd's Hotel in Cairo, as well as in the Semiramis Hotel, and in the Khan Khalil Bazaar. During that time Cairo was a travel must for people from all over Europe and the US. His clientele included King Farouk and other Royals as well as wealthy socialites, businessmen with their wives and movie stars. It was his habit to travel to Europe to sell important antiquities as well as to buy merchandise. When he wasn't able to go personally, he sent his sons.
Back in the late 40's or early 50's, my father and his brother were on a buying trip in Europe and their last leg of the journey was the jewelry fair in Milan. You must forgive my memory as I no longer remember what part of Italy they were leaving as I haven't heard the story in years. But, they went to the train station and purchased their tickets for 3rd class as they had run low on funds. Handcrafted Italian jewelry was a must for the shop and all funds were for purchasing merchandise.
They waited with the crowd on the platform but when the train arrived it was packed with people standing in the corridors. Very few passengers exited the train and immediately those on the platform pushed forward. The train left and everyone waited for the next train. When the next train came it was the same scene, trains came and went and except for the first class cars, all were packed as the large trade fair was popular. My father was beginning to be desperate, they needed to get to Milan and find a good selection of Italian jewelry.
My father was very resourceful so as the next train was pulling in he turned to his younger brother and in Arabic told him we're getting on that train and going first class. Whatever you do, say nothing except the word "Si." His brother was concerned and said they shouldn't spend the extra money, my father said, we're not spending more money, don't argue, just follow my lead and only say "Si."
When the train stopped they climbed in a first class car and though it was standing room only, they were aboard when the train pulled out. Soon the conductor came to collect tickets. My father offered him the two 3rd class tickets. The conductor looked at them and in Italian (which my father spoke) told my father "These are 3rd class tickets." My father smiled and said "Si." The conductor told him, "This is 1st class." My father smiled and said "Si." The conductor said, "If you want to stay on this train you have to pay the difference." My father smiled at him and said "Si." The conductor repeated it all to my uncle who smiled at him and said "Si."
The conductor decided to move on and collect tickets from the few passengers who'd boarded at the last stop. He then returned to their car to my father and uncle. He tried French, which my father and uncle speak fluently, no matter what he said my father or uncle smiled and answered "Si." At this point the other passengers had opened their baskets and were enjoying their meals while watching with interest. Next the conductor tried in English, but no matter what the question, my father and uncle would smile and say "Si." The conductor pointed to my father's 3rd class tickets, and a 1st class ticket, then pulled money from his own pocket to show they needed more money. My father nodded vigorously saying "Si, Si, Si."
The conductor tried a bit of German and Spanish but nothing he said elicted any response except, smiling, nodding and "Si." At this point the first class passengers had become annoyed with the conductor and began insulting him in Italian telling him to be quiet and go away. The whole time my father and uncle were smiling and nodding at the other passengers.
The conductor became angry and logically asked the crowd "What are these savages, who speak no civilized language, going to do in Milan?" They only became more sympathetic to my father and uncle and angrier with him.
He turned back to my father and asked "Are you stupid?" To which my father smiled, nodded, and said "Si."
The other passengers all burst out laughing! Of course my father and uncle started laughing too, nodding at everyone and saying "Si, Si, Si." The other passengers then began yelling at the conductor to leave the foreigners alone and throwing bread and fruit at the poor man.
My father and uncle rode the rest of the way to Milan standing in silence while smiling at the other passengers. The conductor did not return to them.
This was a story I heard many times in my life, I can still see papa laughing with his shoulders shaking, as he joyfully remembered his adventure. I'm grateful to my father for passing on his smile, quick thinking, resourcefulness and love of adventure to me.