Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Your Mama's So Fat

One of my tried-and-true traveling tactics for jumpstarting conversations when I'm in a foreign land is to ask people about local stereotypes.

"You know," I'll say, if they look confused. "Where I come from in the U.S., we will say that people from the state of Arkansas sleep with their mothers and sisters."

Invariably a delighted smile of comprehension; incest jokes and such are a bridge spanning cultures from Appalachia to remote Svaneti. "Oh yes! Kakhetians are very stupid and Megrelians cannot be trusted." "Oklahomans are too friendly with their sheep!" "Yes! We say this about Azeris."

And when I tell people that I'm studying national minority enclave communities, out fly the Armenian jokes.

See, Georgia and Armenia can just about out-ancient anybody, and it makes for some pretty intense competition. Georgia converted to Christianity in the early 4th century, but Armenia beat them out by a few decades. Georgians will tell you that Armenians think that they invented everything. Any Georgian who did anything of note, any Georgian literary or political luminary, well those Armenians will try to sell you that he was actually Armenian. An Armenian invented the Georgian alphabet. Georgian epic poet Shota Rustaveli was Armenian. Tbilisi was an Armenian city. This is supremely annoying to Georgians, which one must assume is at least half the fun for Armenians.

So one joke goes like this.

Some Georgian archaeologists found a telephone wire that dates back to the third century before Christ. So they proclaimed Georgia as the place where telephones were invented. Well, the Armenians couldn't let this go, could they? So they start digging up the whole of Armenia looking for their own old telephone wire. After three months with no success, their scientists gather a press conference and announce that they didn't find any wires because even then Armenians used mobile phones.


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