Every diplomat returns to
I was brought up to believe that it was my duty to keep the conversation flowing at parties, and especially to fill up those embarrassing silences that can descend on a table. My husband says this means that no one else can ever get a word in edgewise, but in the Diplomatic Service where, often, people have no common language and little English, it can be useful training. It can also go wrong.
Once, at a diplomatic dinner, I was at a table with a group of Eastern Europeans who spoke very little English, and for some reason that escapes me -- possibly desperation, but I think it made sense at the time -- tried to fill up a really long and awkward silence by talking about the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Unfortunately my fellow guests got hold of the wrong end of the stick, believing that I was discussing something that had just happened -- that all these children had been abducted by some frightful paedophile in
At a dinner given by the charming Cypriot Ambassador in
For a diplomatic wife it is not only making conversation that can become difficult, there are a million other pitfalls: the dreaded 'placement' at table -- where on earth does the Patriarch of Antioch and All the East sit in relation to the Korean Ambassador? And then there are the unpronounceable names of colleagues you must remember -- Dimirikipoulis, Djangotchian, Wojtaszek. And of course, most challenging of all, there is the actual organizing -- and cooking -- of 'representational' dinners in countries where the only vegetables you can get your hands on might be potatoes and cabbage.
My own worst experience was in
That's the truth of diplomatic entertaining, but it rarely makes it into the ambassadorial memoir.
Ping-pong v canapes
Crosland had had particularly bad experiences with ambassadors' wives. He would tell the story of one who had greeted him on a foreign tour when he was Secretary of State for Education. 'Now Mr Crosland, you know everything about education,' she said. 'Tell me, which would you recommend for Joanna, Roedean or Cheltenham Ladies'?'
In the Corridors of Power: An Autobiography, by
Snot and slime
Although we ate meat only once a week, I found the food surprisingly good. I came to love ful, Egyptian beans. The only dish I could not stand was a greasy glutinous soup called mulookhia. As with everything else though, there was no escape from accepting a plateful and eating it: anything less would have been taken by the family as proof of mortal illness. Saying I did not like the viscous green slime in front of me was never an option.
The other culinary ordeal came on Friday mornings. After Mr
Ever the Diplomat: Confessions of a Foreign Office Mandarin, by
Nuts in May
Very few weeks pass in
After that both parties eat, wise diplomats confining themselves to the soup, the rest laying up worms and worse; the tables groan with dishes full of what at best may be sliced dog, or pork rolls, and mudfish from the paddies, and bright yellow ice cream. These rituals last two or three hours. Throughout, the Vietnamese stay on the left, the diplomats on the right of the hall; and crossing over is not en-couraged. These occasions represent, in microcosm, the co-existence without contact which is diplomatic life in
The Socialist diplomats, at first merely baffled by the bland impenetrability of the Vietnamese, soon find it hard to conceal resentment at being taken for granted. Like the large, damp, crumbling crates of mach-inery from
The Spanish Ambassador's Suitcase: Stories from the Diplomatic Bag, by
Ear, nose and throat
Why do diplomats never discuss anything except houses, furniture, motorcars, food, wine and money?
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