My friend Eric told me , more than once, of how people were ranked according to their smarts. According to him,
Ten Gentiles = One Jew
Ten Jews = One Greek
Ten Greeks = One Armenian
Ten Armenians = One Levantine.
The term ” Levantine” is rarely used today but it stands for an inhabitant of the Levant, the eastern Mediterranean comprising parts of Lebanon, Cyprus, Syria, Iraq Jordan and Israel. Today, the majority of the inhabitants in the area are Muslims ( except in Israel of course) but I think the term originally applied to the Maronite Christians who dominated trade and commerce in that part of the world.
Since many of these communities were traders at one time in their history, I presume this is an assessment of their trading acumen. I’ve never heard of such a “ranking” from anyone else but , since Eric spent his formative years in Hungary, I presume it must be something he picked up in Europe. Not having had much truck with Greeks or Armenians or Levantines I can’t speak to the truth of this ladder but something I read recently reminded me of it.
In their book The Triple Package, authors Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld, write that Lebanese-Americans are among the most successful immigrant communities in America and are ” … close to the top of the charts in terms of median income, percentage earning over $ 100,000, and percentage earning over $ 200,000.” Many of these are Christians who started out as ” pack peddlers”, going door-to-door selling all manner of goods. From such humble beginnings, they graduated to opening grocery stores and other businesses and many became millionaires. The world’s richest man, Carlos P.Slim ( net worth $ 73 million plus) is a Christian Lebanese who lives in Mexico. Other success stories are Joseph J. Jacobs a chemical engineer who founded a well known engineering firm and Alex Massad. According to Jacobs, the Lebanese are descended from the ancient Phoenicians who were famous for their success in commerce. Both the ancient Greeks and Romans acknowledged the Phoenicians superior intelligence, commercial acumen and seafaring skills. Cicero said it was they , with their superior “cleverness” who introduced the Greeks to “ greed, luxury and the unbridled desire for everything“.
Perhaps my friend Eric was right and the Levantines are on top of the heap.