After a month in Kosovo, the Unofficial Embassy has shut up shop and moved home. The money ran dry and the gig was up. The ambassadors said ciao to the newest country in the world with moist eyes and trembling lips. We had enough laughs for a lifetime but we also learned some valuable lessons about diplomacy that we’d like to share with the rest of you not fortunate enough to have had your own embassy.
An embassy in a foreign country is no different from photos of your girlfriend’s ex in her bedroom. They’re symbols of attachment and influence. Cheeky little reminders from the past. That might explain the heavy fortifications and the paranoia. The Yanks, for example, had automatic spotlights rigged along their walls. They were bright as stadium lights and if an ambassador were to be a little tipsy on his walk home, he might mistake the lights for an alien craft. The Brits, our neighbors, had bollards at either end of the street, which was the biggest pain in the hole. Whenever you ordered pizza as it meant you had to run halfway down the road to collect it. Now, as anyone who’s ever played second fiddle before will tell you, a bitter ex is about as cool as shopping for tampons with your mother. Whereas if you can be the “I’m happy if she’s happy” guy, you steal the high moral ground and everyone likes you. As ambassadors the only thing cold about our welcome was the ice in the Guinness Martinis.
PRESS THE FLESH
It goes without saying that ambassadors should be friendly and never turn down an invitation. Invites open doors to valuable networking opportunities, drugs, and girls. That said, if you were in the game on a full-time basis, you’d really have to pick and choose your parties or you wouldn’t make it through one term. This is a picture of us at one of the many parties we attended. The big guy standing between us is Ramush Haradinaj. He’s the leader of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo and was once the prime minister of the country. In the picture he’s holding a hurley stick, the national sport in Ireland. We used to give them out instead of business cards. Anyway, Ramush goes to us, “You know what I’m going to do with this? I’m going to hit someone over the head with it.” We didn’t laugh. He’s ex-KLA and bench presses in the middle of contract negotiations to intimidate people.
SHARE THE WEALTH
I know very little about Luxembourg. I believe they recently introduced some sort of a watered-down one-child rule as it’s getting packed over there, but really, if you asked me to describe them, I’d have to say they’re like Euro lucky dip. The Lux ambassador lived about three doors down from us in a heavily fortified cottage. The curtains were always drawn. The doors were always closed. Anything could have been going on inside. And that’s exactly the point. If you don’t show and tell every so often, people are just going to assume you’ve something to hide. Embassies should be run like backpacker hostels, where bored kids can sit up till three drinking wine out of cartons and playing Shithead for irredeemable traveller’s checks. They should let them dry their beach towels on the flagpole and call home on the ambassadors’ dime. After breakfast, we liked nothing more than strolling the wings to see how many guests we’d accumulated from the night before. I don’t want to boast, but if in nine months time we get a phone call asking us to be godfathers of a kid named Embassy, I won’t be surprised.
BE A CLOWN
Albanian is an extremely difficult language. There are all kinds of dashes, dots and squiggles jumbled alongside your common everyday alphabet, making it next to impossible for a foreigner to master. On top of that there’s dialects and accents, and a population relatively fluent in English to further complicate the matter. On the first day we learned how to say hello and thank you, then for nigh on five weeks solid, there was precious little else that came out of our mouths. We repeated the words like bird calls. The locals thought us simple, like village idiots from another land. We were light entertainment, and that brings us to the real essence of good diplomacy. Allow the rest of the world to laugh at you. It’s a brave thing to do, but it works. The best way to confront a negative stereotype is to accentuate it to the point of implausibility. And then listen for the crack as it shatters into a hundred pieces. Good diplomacy is turning a cliché to your advantage. Hence we never refused a drink, we blushed if a girl crossed our path, and we turned jigs in the street at the slightest hint of music. And then just when they were thinking these good Catholic gents were safe company for their daughters…