I just spent 20 minutes waiting for my lunch plate at the little tiny kebab stand near my office. It's indoors; there's room for exactly four people to stand in it. I was in there with three friends of the owner, whom, it turns out, are all Iranian Muslims.

We started jawing about sports (naturally, 'cuz GO PATS) and I evinced an interest in soccer; we spent fifteen minutes good-naturedly insulting each other's national teams (bittersweet for them, I'm sure, as they're undoubtedly exiles). Towards the end, I mentioned that as an American, my problem with travelling is the feeling that I need to apologize for so many of my countrymen when I see them abroad.

The elder gent got very serious and told me that no, Americans are in fact quite civilized compared to most of the world. He said there were other regimes, unfortunately linked closely to the US, which are known and reviled abroad for their brutality, oppressive stance, violence, and ill behavior. I was just tensing up to reveal my Jewish nature when he finished, still straight-faced, "Of course, no-one HAS to go to a soccer game in Britain."

I nearly busted a gut. Just as I was coming down and starting to breathe (we were all howling) he asked me quietly if I was Jewish, apparently having noticed my tension. I said yes. He apologized for the 'double-entendre' of the joke; I told him to please not to, it was the healthiest commentary on the subject I'd heard in months.

Sometimes this country works well enough to make you cry.

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