Many people write to me, asking me, Mig, they ask, I’m invited to a diplomatic reception, how should I behave?

Alpha and I were at such a reception recently, and I paid special-close attention this time to be able to pass on useful, tested advice rather than theoretical blather.

  1. Be yourself. It is usually easy to spot people at their first diplomatic reception, say a garden party, because they look nervous and uptight. Relax. This won’t fool the diplomats, but it will fool the other neophytes. Be yourself, because we are most interesting when we are ourselves. Uptight, complex-ridden zombies conforming slavishly to some misconceived idea they have of proper comportment are a dime a dozen.

  2. Seriously, be yourself, more or less. Even if you should shock a diplomat, remember, they’re trained to be gracious under all circumstances and not to appear shocked, so you’ll never know, because it’s their job to be charming and put you at ease. And in fact, there is little they have not already seen, so it’s pretty hard to shock one.
  3. When greeting the hosting ambassador, the proper form of address is “Mr. Ambassador” or “Your Excellency,” and not “Your Honor” or “Your Holiness”, both of which I have heard.
  4. When waiting in the reception line to shake hands and say “Your Excellency bzzbzzbzbzz” under no circumstances is it a good idea to turn to your spouse and badmouth your employer, if there is any chance your employer could be invited to the function, say, for example, he’s another ambassador, because then there could be a slight chance that he’s standing directly behind you in line. (Sigh.)
  5. If you turn around and see your employer behind you in line, be really friendly and let him take cuts and act as if you were talking about someone else. If you’re lucky, he never heard it. If you’re unlucky, he’s just acting as if he never heard it, because remember, he’s a diplomat.
  6. Make friends with the waiters/waitresses darting about, because then they will bring their trays past you while the drinks and canapes are still fresh, and not flat, crusty or all breathed on and covered with fingerprints.
  7. Go around and talk to people until you find someone interesting and then stick with them. This is easier than it sounds, because the diplomats, remember, are trained to be charming and will totally take charge of keeping the conversation going if you are bad at this, and when they ditch you they’ll be so nice about it you don’t even notice; and the nervous first-timers will be so relieved someone is talking to them they’ll clutch you like a drowning politician hanging onto a child in a lifejacket.
  8. Enjoy the food.
  9. Enjoy the beautiful garden and the beautiful sky.
  10. Enjoy your date.

7 responses to “Tip

  1. j-a

    your holiness?! that is funny. but you haven’t told us the details of the food. what do they serve at these things? i imagine little canapes…

  2. mig

    i got so drunk i can’t remember the food…

    (i mean, your little miniature sandwich things, usually, interspersed with national delicacies; in this case, sushi, okonomiyaki, oden, yakitori (which ran out before i could get any) etc)

  3. If the host represents the Vatican State (or, as it is known in diplomatic circles, “The Holy See”) I think “Your Holiness” is not out of place. But the Vatican does not give simple receptions but rather a “vin d’honneur.” And, no, they don’t serve holy wafers.

  4. paul

    How drunk is it acceptable to be at such a reception? A few cocktails with no dinner drunk? Wedding reception drunk? Sporting event drunk?

    Also, are diplomats trained to work with drunks or is that more of a taxi driver type skill?

  5. mig

    I honestly don’t know, Bengt, about the “Your Holiness” title. The Holy See doesn’t invite me to any of their parties; but I thought that would be reserved for the Pope.

    Aha! http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0001618.html

    Apparently, that term of address works on the following: The Pope, The Russian Orthodox Patriarch, Greek Orthodox Patriarch (“Your All Holiness”). Cardinals are “Your Eminence”.

    Paul, I suspect that’s more a taxi driver/waitress skill, although the CIA probably has a course on it.

  6. D

    Because so many of their agents hit the sauce a little too hard?

  7. anne

    “like a drowning politician hanging onto a child in a lifejacket”

    so, useful advice and comedy gold all in one brief entry? you’re so totally my hero.