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Read an excerpt from Diplomatic Dance

Excerpt from Diplomatic Dance

Diplomatic Dance:
The New Embassy Life in America

Gail Scott

I come from a family of storytellers and I want to take us on a whirlwind tour around the world-- from Sweden to Sri Lanka, Britain to Brazil, Saudi Arabia to Swaziland--without leaving home. Together, we'll peek beyond the impressive residence gates and lackluster visa offices to get an honest report of what diplomatic life is like in the world's number-one post on the verge of the millennium.

Of course, some of the fun of visiting and reporting on embassies is the feeling that you're actually in those countries when you step through their gates. The formal British butler, with expected pomp, took my coat and showed me up the rich, red carpeted marble staircase. But the young and zealous Israeli security guards kept me in a little room for 20 minutes while their own ambassador impatiently waited for me until they were satisfied with my credentials.

Champagne and warm-from-the-oven jam cookies turned my first Swedish interview into a party but a simple cup of Ceylon milk tea took me back to Sri Lanka, instantly. The Finn's imported smoked salmon and iced Vodka always makes me wish for their sauna. Long ago, the fashion-conscious Fendi sisters first introduced me to the irresistible old world charm of Firenze House, the Italian ambassador's residence where there's always good wine and lots of flirting. In comparison, China's cafeteria style buffet consists of long, long tables laden with dozens of disposable aluminum roaster pans full of Chinese specialties and "Great Wall" Chinese wine to wash it all down.

Little lamp chops and meat pies are "finger food" at New Zealand's garden party where icy beer brings out endless "Kiwi" and "Aussie" jokes but next door in Britain's expansive formal gardens the best French champagne and thousands of blossoms have made the quite proper and quite pricey Queen's Birthday Party the legendary embassy party in Washington. At France's big Bastille Day bash, the huge crowd stormed the Marriott buffet tables and pulled down giant vases of red, white, and blue flowers and flags for souvenirs after creating so much noise during the ambassador's long speech in French that they had to close the bars.

Other countries like Jordan and Kuwait never serve liquor while non-smokers may find it hard to breathe when Danes smoke their short but potent King's and the Lebanese or the Turks get together to celebrate and smoke. At Russian receptions, military and naval uniforms are always in abundance. And, of all the embassy events I attended, The Vatican's Holy See party had noticeably the fewest women.

Differences among countries abound and that's the fun of it. But, these differences--in history, wealth, power, religion, education, weather, art, music, food, and formality--often create competing and conflicting styles not just in entertaining but in diplomacy. And, that's what Diplomatic Dance is all about.

Curiously, this book has had a life of its own from the beginning. Just the title alone, "Diplomatic Dance," intrigues and prompts ambassadors to smile, laugh, and even admit their latest move on the diplomatic dance floor.

Diplomacy, the political art of negotiating between countries, has always involved intricate steps. And although the diplomatic scene in Washington remains for the most part refined and polite, today it is more complicated and convoluted than ever before. As we approach the millennium, many of the "dances" have changed dramatically and so have the partners…

With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, the break-up of the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, and the evolving tapestry of African nations, there are more than 170 individual dance cards today. And, the constantly changing music keeps everyone on their toes. Even the "velvet divorce" between the Czechs and the Slovaks resulted in two ambassadors, two agendas, two embassies and two residences where once there was only one...

Countries who used to be courting each other, dancing a waltz or a tango together (like the United States with Iraq and Iran) are not even on speaking terms any longer much less considering each other suitable partners. Russia and the U.S. shrewdly suggest new steps to each other while newly independent states, like teenagers on a first date, awkwardly try out steps for the first time.

" Yes, yes," enthusiastically agrees the Russian ambassador. "And still others are doing a 'tap dance,'" he adds, with a chuckle and a wink. For sure, the diplomatic dance floor, has never been so crowded and the old ballroom, so full of new liaisons.




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