I want to talk about a very important topic in this job: the diplomatic receptions. People often think this is our only job, because it’s what they can see of the job. But also, because it takes a lot of our time to be honest. I didn’t think it was going to be so busy. I know we are in a big posting where people love to throw a (lavish) party, so we have more than average, but still, it is a big part of our job. Here, for example, there are about 160 embassies (not even counting the consulates in Dubai). Each one of them organizes AT LEAST one party per year. To those 160 parties, you can add the parties and diners for the companies of your country, or the huge business fairs and international conferences. Then you have the “simple” diplomatic diners between colleagues or when you have a special guest visiting, like a Minister or a high-level citizen. Also, the diners with the military staff. And the activities organized by the host country for diplomats. Plus, the extra events, like we had this year the special Olympic world games, the visit of Pope Francis, and next year will be even greater (worst) with the Expo 2020 coming to Dubai. I would say all together, we are at 500 nights per year. Even if you can skip from time to time it’s still more than a small Embassy can handle. Knowing that these nights are on TOP of the working day of diplomats. But, as I said before, I’m very lucky, my husband isn’t ambassador, so we don’t HAVE to attend them all. He has to go to some, and I CHOSE where I want to go. I do my best to accompany him most of the time. Like one to 3 nights a week. But to be honest, sometimes I pass, and I stay in pajama watching the Grinch with my kids.
I remember my aunt visiting us a couple of months ago. As she saw me getting all dressed up for a diplo night, she told me “You are so lucky”. I get it. It looks like I get to wear a nice dress to play the princess for one night. Go to fancy hotels or a crazy party location and meet amazing people. It is fun but it is also work. I know there are worst jobs, obviously, when you have two young children, escaping for one night out is fun, but having to play the perfect image of the diplo wife 3 times a week isn’t always fun.
To be really practical, I never wore heels before. I did, once, for my wedding. And I still remember this exceptionally satisfying feeling when I could throw them in the corner of the room and put on slippers. Almost the happiest part of the day. But here, in the One Thousand- and One-Nights country, glitters and heels are a cultural thing. Nearly no women in those parties have flat shoes. I won’t complain, I love glitters and high heels. But the problem is, in 80% of those parties, we stand up, talking, all the time. I’m no Kate Middleton, I can’t keep on smiling after 4 hours in those gorgeous torturous instruments. Every time, I end the night walking bare foot to the car and the morning after the party feels like I walked on burning coals.
Moreover, it’s not always about meeting amazing people. You sometimes have to smile and listen to those self-absorbed, know-it-all people, for hours. Especially if you are a young woman. They feel like they honor you with their knowledge. Just smile and nod girl… It’s like a lottery, you never know who you are going to meet there. And I can tell you, I’ve never won the lottery. I have one certitude in life; if you are lucky in love, you will be unlucky in games. It’s the opposite of the French saying, “Lucky at cards, unlucky in love”. I’m happy in love so I don’t play any kind of game because I’m sure I won’t win. So, I can tell you I met a couple of really boring people at these parties.
Furthermore, it puts you in front of your own lack of knowledge. You see, diplomats receive lots of info during their training about almost every field of our country. And now, I get why. Nothing is more embarrassing than a guy asking you about the exportations of your country when you know nothing about it. Good for me, I’m a good actress, and with the help of a few wines, I can lie and look pretty confident explaining BS. But don’t tell anyone ;-). There is one thing even more embarrassing. Usually diplomats wear their national flag pined to their suit. Easy, so you can decide from afar if you want/need to talk to this country’s representative. Easy, yeah… IF you know your flags! I remember talking for an hour with a guy about his country, and I had absolutely NO idea which country that was! During this hour I was talking with him and my brain kept looking for the remains of my geographical classes 20 years ago… “it’s a country in STAN, like Pakistan, or Kazakhstan… or is it Kyrgyzstan? Shit.” Obviously, because he had his pin I couldn’t ask “Where are you from?”. It’s only when, in the end of the discussion, we exchanged our business cards, that I realised which country he was from (I won’t tell but I wasn’t even close). From this night, I installed the Flags and Capitals game on my phone. I play, but I swear it counts as working time.
Sometimes, I apply the advice an ambassador’s wife gave me before we started this life: “Be yourself”. I remember being seated for a lunch next to the ambassador of Mozambique. I just told him the truth “I’m sorry your Excellency, I know nothing about your country”. He laughed and then told me about the famous seafood and cuisine of Mozambique. He made me want to visit his country (I actually am in love with seafood). And in the end, isn’t that what their job is all about?
In fact, the worst are diners. Because if you are seated to someone painful, it’s for the whole night that you’ll be his victim. But sometimes you have nice surprises. Like this diner where I was seated next to an Emirati, very high in ranking. I was so impressed I didn’t know how I should address him. Turns out he was super friendly, knew a lot about Belgium. He was accustomed to send his horses through my home city airport for their competitions. Man, those horses travel in better conditions than I do! We talked non-stop all diner; it was super fun. Life is really like a box of chocolates, isn’t it?
But now, after one year, the game has changed. I met some diplo wives and we became good friends. We decided to beat the odds and set our agendas to meet at those parties. So, while our husbands do the diplo talk, we get to catch up with free food and wine. That’s pretty good. Not very diplomatic though. Sometimes we still have to mingle. But after a while it’s like any kind of job, I guess. Some colleagues become your friends. And They make work look much more fun!