Monday, November 1, 2010

Diplomatic immunity

Parting Shots: The Undiplomatic Final Words of Our Departing Ambassadors by Matthew Parris and Andrew Bryson (Viking), collects extracts from British ambassadors’ farewell confidential letters to the Foreign Secretary. For example, Sir Bernard Ledwidge, Finland, October 1972:
It could plausibly be argued that it is a misfortune for anybody but a Finn to spend three years in Finland, as I have just done. Finland is flat, freezing and far from the pulsating centres of European life. Nature has done little for her, and art not much more. [...] Finnish cooking deserves a sentence to itself for its crude horror; only the mushrooms and the crayfish merit attention.
Sir Christopher Meyer, Germany, October 1997:
Variety shows on German television make Des O’Connor look like alternative comedy. But by 11.30 many channels are deep into medium-hard pornography. Ancient 1970s British rock bands rumble like Chieftain tanks across the North German plain, while, to wild applause, three naked male Japanese ballet dancers stand motionless on a Hamburg stage, while a fourth crawls backwards and forwards dressed in a nightie.
Lord Moran, Canada, 1984:
Anyone who is even moderately good at what they do... tends to become a national figure... and anyone who stands out at all from the crowd tends to be praised to the skies and given the Order of Canada at once.
Hugh Glencaim Balfour-Paul, Jordan, September 1975:
Genuinely attached to their country, they know next to nothing of it; and desecrate what little they explore. They point proudly to their traditional arts and fill their houses with the vulgarest imported kitsch. The feckless hedonism of so many of the rich, and the grasping incivility of so many of the poor (especially those “dressed in a little brief authority”) are balanced in both cases by virtues that Western civilisation seems sadly to have discarded.
Sir Julian Bullard, Germany, March 1988
I think it is still possible to talk of German national characteristics, and one of these is the seriousness, thoroughness, humourlessness, perfectionism and pedantry which have made the German the butt of so many anecdotes. (To quote a true one, the artist Philip Ernst painted the view from his window, leaving out a tree which spoilt the design: that night he was attacked by remorse, got up from bed – and cut down the tree.)
Sir Rodric Braithwaite, Moscow, May 1992:
All those who have dealt with the Russians over the centuries have commented on their indifference to the truth. The lie in Russia has indeed gone far beyond its original purpose and has become an art form. Russians lie when they feel they need to... But they also lie without reason, by some inner compulsion, even when they know that their listener knows that they are lying. The Russians have a word for it - vranyo - which in their usage has acquired almost benign overtones. The latest example I have come across occurs in hotels frequented by foreigners: the notice in five languages on the lavatory: “Disinfected for your comfort and safety.” Every Russian knows that this cannot be true. Only the most naive of foreigners would think any different. Yet in a great country, you disinfect the lavatory seats. So the notice has to go up.
Monitor: The Week


Anonymous said...

What, he says hobbitly*, none about NZ?

* - new adverb describing national insecurity

Denis said...

There is a classic from the British Ambassador to Moscow, who attended a reception at which the new Turkish Ambassador presented his credentials. The Turk, named Mustapha Kunt, caused the Brit to write to the Foreign Office, to the effect 'that indeed we do, however the Moscow winter crushes such thoughts, until of course, the spring, when we turn our minds to these matters'