Lebanon is not a real country, the Middle East bores drone. Tribes with flags and all that, they say, and they may have a point.
No one here really trusts anyone outside his or her sect. It is why we can never get anything done (an allegation that has some basis given that there has been no government for more than four months), even if this confessional diversity is often held up as a national safety valve.
Lebanon may currently be one of the most stable countries in the region, but this is scant consolation for those of us who would like to live in something approaching a functional society.
The solution? Well, we could start by taking the bus.
A few people do, but listening to anyone talk about them, you would be forgiven for thinking they belonged to some unwashed and ague-ridden underclass.
Certainly in polite company no one admits to taking the bus. I did once, at a Beirut dinner party and everyone just laughed. When I told them I was serious, they looked at me as if I had turned up wearing only my underpants.
Undaunted, I explained that, as the No 8 passes in front of my house in Ashrafieh and takes me straight to my bank on Hamra Street, it made perfect sense.
I added that my wife uses the car on Saturdays and in any case who needs the hassle of parking in one of the busiest parts of Beirut at peak times.
By this point, I was committed. I said I liked taking the bus. It made me feel like I live in a real country instead of the maid-and-valet-parking-filled cocoon that Lebanon can be.
The table began to clear. Smokers headed to the balcony. I had lost them. I was the bonkers bagman on Times Square urging the world to repent, or in this case, urging them to embrace the state sector their parents had abandoned decades earlier.
That was a few years ago, but in London last week, my admiration for public transport found glorious and renewed expression.
Having blown nearly a £100 (Dh593) on taxis in the first few hours of arriving in the world's greatest metropolis, I was advised by my sister to buy an Oyster card, the electronic ticket used by all good Londoners and which, if used correctly, is cheaper than buying an individual cash ticket.
The Oyster, which was launched eight years ago in a £100 million public-private initiative, has seen more than 37 million cards issued and is used on more than 80 per cent of all journeys on London Transport.
Emerging from the newsagent with £4 on my new Oyster, I was ready to hit the streets. "You can take the C3 which runs straight to the King's Road and then you can catch almost any bus you want," said my sister with an almost evangelical zeal.
She will deny it, but there was a time when my sister would raise her hands in horror at the thought of taking public transport, but the prohibitive congestion charge, introduced in 2003 for motorists wanting to drive into central London to reduce traffic, has pushed her into the arms of the commuter class.
The car has gone and she is a committed Oyster user. "Taxis are flash," she sniffed as we squeezed on to the C3, passing our cards over the electronic sensor. "People in the know take the bus. You feel part of the London community."
There it was again, that feeling of being part of something.
And yet, the Lebanese insist on taking the car everywhere, when they too could enjoy a similarly uplifting experience on the state-run buses of the Office des Chemins de Fer et des Transports en Commune that operate around Beirut, alongside the privately run Lebanese Commuting Company.
As for the trains, well the Third World's beast of burden died in Lebanon in the early 1990s when the last service that ran from Byblos to nearby Jounieh spluttered to a halt. There still are a few hundred railway workers who collect a salary for not doing an awful lot, a job description that makes them supremely qualified for the Lebanese public sector.
My wife told me about a Beirut legislator who decided to the take the bus to work in a bid to change attitudes to public transport. Predictably, his initiative failed. It was all too much to compute for a people used to their leaders gliding by in fleets of Range Rovers.
"We expect our politicians to drive big cars and push us out of the way when they are in a hurry," said a friend. "When they do this, we can silently curse them before voting them in again.
"We don't want them to be like us. It's not fun. Anyway why would I want to take the bus? Are you mad?"
Michael Karam lives in Beirut