As the United Nations gets larger its member countries are becoming smaller and sometimes it's hard to recognize the name of a nation, much less to pronounce it. Not long ago, I was in a restaurant in New York, and I got to talking to a man who turned out to be the ambassador to the United Nations from Boolah Boolah, a speck of land located somewhere between the Indian Ocean and Antarctic Ocean.
"How many people in your country?" I asked him.
"I think about 2,000," he said. "I haven't been home for some time. My brother is the prime minister, and I'm the ambassador to the United Nations. We tossed a coin for our jobs, and he lost."
"Then you like being ambassador to the United Nations?"
"I adore it. The General Assembly is air-conditioned, we get diplomatic immunity when it comes to parking, and if you get tired of listening to the speeches, you can always tune in a transistor radio. Everyone thinks you're listening to the translation of a speaker."
"If you're such a small country, where do you get your funds to entertain?"
"I don't have to do any entertaining. Everyone wants to entertain me. First the Russians take me to lunch, then Americans take me to dinner, the Arabs have me over for shish kebab, and, I must say, they don't serve a bad breakfast at the Israeli delegation. If you get a good debate like this one, you can eat for months without picking up a check.
"The trick, of course, is never to tell them how you're going to vote. If you align yourself with one side or the other too early, you could starve to death."
"Then it's best to be neutral," I said.
"Absolutely, particularly because the French are always wooing neutral countries, and you know what kind of feed they can put on."
"You've been entertained by the French?"
"Would you believe the French president sent me a case of Chateau la Tour 1949 from the Elysee Cellars for my birthday?"
"People really make a fuss over you then."
"Why not? My vote is as important as Great Britain's in the General Assembly, and as long as they don't know which way you're going to go, they have to cater to you."
"How do you finally decide which way you're going to vote?"
"I send a wire back home and ask them what we need. If they cable back that we need a dam, then I inform the Soviet bloc and the United States bloc, and I let them bid on it. The highest bidder gets the job and my vote."
"The highest bidder?"
"Yes, whoever offers us the most money is given permission to build our dam."
"That's one way of getting a dam built," I said.
"This doesn't happen every day. We really get most of our aid during an emergency session of the General Assembly. You can't get a ton of wheat during a regular season, or, for that matter, a cup of coffee."
"I notice you're eating alone now. Does that mean no one is taking you to dinner tonight?"
"Not exactly. I'm eating alone, but the bill is being sent to the People's Republic of China. They're having a vote tonight on Taiwan, and they told me to go out and eat on them so that I would abstain."