My State Department dinner

Last night was a bit of a surprise. My phone rang just as I was getting ready to leave work and the caller, the wife of one of the big shots at the US embassy here, invited me to a dinner party at the America Club. Forty-five minutes later, there I was.

Back in July I met them at the US Chamber of Commerce, and since then we’ve become good friends. This was his goodbye dinner to all his friends at the embassy; he’s just been restationed to Mexico City (I could tell he wasn’t too happy about this). It’s a State Department tradition that before you depart you hold a dinner and offer guests the food of the country you’re being sent to. So it was all Mexican food.

I got to meet the ambassador, who looks like he’s in his mid-30s; really nice of course, but I thought ambassadors were supposed to have white hair. I sat next to him and the head of public affairs, and they both tried to talk me into taking the test for the Foreign Service. I’m seriously thinking about it, but wonder if I’m ready to swicth gears yet again and go off in a whole new direction.

As far as blogs go, these guys know nothing. I told them all about Living in China, my own little site and about a couple of others, too. They were quite surprised when I told them about some of the “China blogs” and how diverse our points of view can be.

Come to think about it, this is a remarkably dull post. I guess I wanted to capture the moment. It was quite cool, and I really enjoyed “teaching” these diplomats about what kind of bloggers there are out there….

The Discussion: 5 Comments

I’ve toyed with the Foreign Service idea a couple times too, Richard. But I can’t help feel like you are selling your soul to an unknown. I appreciated Prince Roy’s comments on appealing to all the expats out there w/ the skills and interest, but the bottom line, as i see it, is that those are not the kind of people you end up working with. Sure it could be cool, great travel, etc. But you’re talking at least a 4 year commitment (right?) and submission to a bureaucracy that can simply overwhelm you. I should know, I work for the Federal Goverment presently, but have the liberty to leave at will, which hardly justifies things at times.

December 12, 2003 @ 10:52 pm | Comment

In the Cdn foreign service, you get rotated every five years, the excuse being that after five years you start seeing the viewpoint of your host country more clearly than the viewpoint of the country you’re representing.

Fair enough, but it suggested to me that they don’t want independent thinkers who really understand the culture and can use that understanding; they want people who will parrot the current party line.
I only know you from your blog, but I can’t imagine you being happy, parroting the party line.

Lots of other problems stem from this kind of rotation. Don’t know if any of it applies in the US foreign service though.

December 13, 2003 @ 2:58 am | Comment

The willigness of our respective State Departments to rotate personnel frequently so that the interests of the mother country – rather than that of the local people reminds me of the situation in Imperial China. Mandarins who passed the civil service exams were specifically sent to plrovinces where they had no family connections………this was for the safety of the Emperor, so that no one person could consolidate a wide power base (in theory). In practice, it made the civil service extremely inefficient because the Mandarin and the people shared no kouyu…….and the common people were unlikely to be literate enough to write their complaints. The Emperor was thus protected from hearing about problems in the Empire. Le plus que choses changent………..

December 13, 2003 @ 6:27 am | Comment

I suspect I don’t have the temperament for the foreign service — they don’t have a big need for moody, dreamy artistes…. Still, I’m not counting out any possibilities.

December 15, 2003 @ 10:41 pm | Comment

I took the written FS test about 15 years ago, and passed. Then came the oral exam — which I failed, miserably. But then I drew the short stick when it came to the diplomatic role-playing exercise — eight of us were pretending to be development officers in a poor, dry, Third World country, trying to decide how to spend a $10 million grant. My task was to promote the idea of using the money to build a swimming pool.

That, and a subsequent SNAFU involving incompetent bureaucrats who bungled my application for a support position at the U.S. embassy in Moscow (a long and painful story), put an end to my dreams of a prestigious U.S. government career abroad. But given recent events, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

December 16, 2003 @ 5:04 pm | Comment

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