I recently read an article about rude people.
Basically, the article said it was a civil obligation to tell these people about their rudeness. Because otherwise, they wouldn’t be aware of it. If nobody never tells them anything, they keep going and the society never improves itself.
Just very hard to apply! Especially in my job. Let me give you one example. A couple of weeks ago, I went to the Italian embassy’s national day party with my husband. None of my diplo friends were going, I was already in a bad mood. After walking through the ally of Ferrari’s and mozzarella stands (true story), we walked into some colleagues of my husband. We chatted a bit. Then, a lady waved at my husband from the other side of the hall like they knew each other. She came to us, but without introducing herself, she just immediately turned to me and said « Oh, congratulation on your pregnancy! ». I replied, « I’m not pregnant ». Instead of taking this opportunity to shut up and gently crash to the ground, she went on and said « Oh, from the side you really look pregnant ». I was in shock. Like, it’s rude to another level. I’m not the thinnest woman in town, but I’m far from fat. Why the hell did she say that to me? She then stayed there talking with us about politics, like nothing happened. Clearly, she missed something in her education. But she was a diplomat! Not even a diplo wife! She was the diplomat of her country (I won’t tell you which one, I really don’t want her to have emails of insults. Thanks for your support btw). Even her husband was super ashamed. He was trying to leave the conversation every minute. Diplomacy oblige, I kept my smile on and I talked to her about politics, like nothing happened. My smile has NEVER been so fake in my life. Usually, after any altercation, I think about it (a lot) and I tell myself “Oh I should have said that”. But this time, I knew I had the only reaction possible in my particular diplo situation, not saying a thing and giving up.
This is what this job is also about. One of the first advices the ambassador’s wife gave me was “In this job, we cannot make enemies. You will have to be nice with everybody. Be friendly but not a friend. In case of a problem, you will have to find a way to prove your point and make yourself respected in a polite way.” Great. I have NO clue how to do that. Where is the manual? I’m often more of a “Black or white” person. I don’t know all these shades of grey (nothing linked to the book). I’m also very direct and honest. You will know if I don’t like you. My face is over expressive. But after a year at this, I guess I mastered it. Because to this rude diplomat I smile all the way. Ok, discretely I tried to get back at her. I might have paid the waiter to drop red wine on her, I won’t admit anything, but she deserved it. Turns out, she was a “serial ruder”. Meaning I wasn’t the first victim. She asked another young woman if she was pregnant. I guess it’s her not dealing really well with menopause if you see what I mean.
But you can’t base all your interactions on fake smiles. People love honesty. In this job, you have to be natural but also very polite. Where is the frontier between honesty and courtesy? Clearly it depends on the people. Culturally speaking, some nations are more honest than others. Sometimes even rude. Where a British will take gloves to tell you that maybe red isn’t your best hair color in this particular light, a Dutch will go straight to the truth and tell you that you look like the little mermaid. So, every comment and its rudeness or not must be analyzed in the light of the cultural background of the person. The Americans will lie to you and tell you they love your new haircut. Is that preferable than the ones telling the truth? The French saying “All truth is not good to be said” might be right. It might also apply to these rude people. Do we tell them they are rude, or do we show them the good example by saying “This is your opinion, I tend to think differently”? I have no answer to that one. I’m still in the process of figuring how to deal with all that. But I wonder how do you react when someone is rude to you?
On the opposite, what is the limit of courtesy? Like the ambassador’s wife told be, we have to be friendly but not befriend everyone. I also have a problem with that. I smile, I laugh, and I end up with an unwanted Facebook friend request. This is probably why a lot of people in the diplomatic family don’t use social media. But I’m not ready to quit it. I’ve quitted a lot of things for this job, please, let me keep this a little more. And now, I even have a blog, where I complain and laugh about the job. I’m pretty sure it’s frowned upon but I’m playing on the fact that it’s part of those “unwritten rules”. Can’t read them, can’t apply them, sorry. So, I don’t mean to be rude but until they write a clear manual, we’re good!