Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Diplomacy: A Country for Young Men

Obama's abroad, showing his teeth to everybody. Michele is looking good. How do they do it?

I remember what the pundits said about Kennedy when he came out of his first face-down with Khruschev. They said he looked shaken.

But I'm not comparing Obama to Kennedy. I'm comparing Obama to myself.

Years ago, this young doctor and I were sent by our superiors to Guatemala City for a week, because they thought we could speak Spanish. There was some occasion going on down there and we were trusted to represent the Government. We had diplomatic passports. We took ourselves very seriously.

We arrived on Sunday afternoon. Monday morning, we met with a man named Hector who was the Director of the Communicable Disease Bureau. He introduced us to the Minister of Health and we all rode in a taxi to another big building where we met with the Prime Minister, himself.

Only it wasn't just himself. All his Department Heads from across the whole country were on hand to greet us. We met with them in a very large ceremonial room where a vast number of tables had been arranged in a rectangle. We were seated near the Prime Minister.

There were introductions and welcomes all around. We got through that pretty well. Then the Prime Minister asked each of his Department Heads for a report, describing his region and his Department's operations.

I think it was somewhere around the third guy starting his spiel that I realized I wasn't understanding anything that was being said. I looked at my compadre. He wasn't getting it either.

All I got was a general impression that these Heads of Office, though they stood at the pinnacle of their country's government, seemed like a pretty raucous bunch of fun-seekers. I didn't understand much of what they were saying, but I recognized all the words I remembered from my "Spanish Slang and Dirty Words" book.

Somehow, we got through it. But when we came out, Hector said we looked shaken. He took us to a bar nearby.

After a couple of rounds, we got up the nerve to ask Hector how we did.

Hector leaned forward and, in a low voice, said: "There was a serious breach of protocol."

The doc and I both said, "Really?"

Hector grinned and said, "No! It wasn't you. It was the Prime Minister. He farted!"

We said, "Really?"

Hector banged the table, "No! Have another cerveza!"

We laid back. This was a country in which we could not fail.

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