Saturday, January 06, 2007

Smoking Area

Barbara and I stopped for a moment outside a small bazaar in Istanbul to rest – and light up. As we puffed away, a well-dressed man just across the narrow street attracted our attention by asking the familiar question, “Are you American?”

He was standing outside a carpet shop. QED, we suspected he was starting the by-now-familiar procedure of getting us into the store, offering us apple tea and showing us…carpets. But politeness always counts, so I answered, “Yes – the last two American smokers.”

Instead, we got another question: “Do you know who smokes more than a Turk?”

Barbara and I looked at each other…we couldn’t think of an answer. So I called back to him, “I don’t know.”

He responded, “Two Turks!”

Three second later, all of us were laughing our heads off. Turks smoke like chimneys in Victorian London.

A couple of days later, we were in Athens. As we finished checking into the hotel, we paused to fish out our packs of Marlboros. Stratos, the on-duty desk clerk, then told us exactly the same thing with just one word changed.

“Do you know who smokes more than a Greek?”

This time, we knew the answer: “Two Greeks!” More laughter. We felt right at home.

This, then, is the story of Turkey and Greece. Two nations united by a common gag.

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