I don’t have a single colleague who isn’t passionate about this job. This passion is what helps us to accept the constraints imposed by our role and to overcome, and sometimes even laugh about, the moments when we feel quite alone. Over the past fifteen years or so, I have had several such experiences, which I remember as if they were yesterday.
- La vie d’un diplomate, comme dans tout autre métier, est parfois faite de moments de solitude...
Caught off guard
I had taken office just a few days previously, at a time when the Diplomatic and Consular Institute, which provides training for new Category A staff, did not exist yet. In other words, I was entering a completely unknown world. I was getting ready to leave when the telephone rang.
The Special Assistant to the Political Director wanted to know the geographical department’s position on the amendments to the draft resolution on renewing the mandate of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus. I was faced with three problems. My head of department was absent. My closest colleague, who had more experience (hardly an achievement, seeing as I had just arrived), was away on a mission. Above all, I didn’t understand the significance of the amendments in comparison with the original version.
My interlocutor was in a hurry. I admitted my ignorance (which I hoped would be short-lived) and he ended up helping me to formulate a position : the stressful situation was resolved, but it would be the first of many...
A fish out of water
As the First Secretary in an embassy, I had the honour of leading the French delegation (of which I was the only member) at an international conference on tuna fishing in the Pacific. The head of the Japanese delegation tried to set me at ease by greeting me warmly and asking me if I was his counterpart, the Director of Fisheries at the French Ministry of Agriculture !
Much of the debate was on topics that did not concern me, until the opportunity arose for me to follow my “instructions” by defending the interests of Polynesian fishing communities. I presented my arguments. I had hardly finished speaking when the chairperson suspended the session. He wanted to speak to me in private. He feared that I was jeopardising any possibility of an agreement on behalf of our Polynesian compatriots...
- Douche écossaise
Raining on our parade
I was Chargé d’Affaires ad interim on Remembrance Day. I was moved and proud to be presiding over this memorial ceremony, with children from the French school. Shortly before the ceremony, I was summoned by the national Minister of Foreign Affairs, who informed me that the overflight clearances granted to the French army, who were running an operation in the neighbouring country, were cancelled with immediate effect.
This happy event caused me to arrive late for the ceremony that I was supposed to be presiding over, where I was met by a number of reproachful faces. The Defence Attaché, meanwhile, had enthusiastically agreed to stand in for me. His spirits were soon dampened when I whispered the latest news to him...
Looking back, all of these moments of solitude are good memories, and they also count among the constructive experiences that enable a diplomat to deal with any situation.