What blog about expat living would be complete without detailing a dinner with a diplomat?
Elodie and I had the pleasure of being invited to the home of a senior official at the French Embassy. Local legend rumours that whilst the American embassy will occasionally host a bbq with american made frozen hamburgers, the French embassy will throw a classy soirée on a regular basis.
So I was quite excited by the fact that we were going to be received at a French dinner party. I was more curious about what we were going to eat actually. I mean, just how do you cook french food when everything is banned? Lardon (french bacon) is completely illegal, wine is more expensive than crude oil, and crème fraiche will run you about 7 dollars for a little tub. If you remove these ingredients in French food, then you basically have British food (YUCK).
Now, I've been to a few diplomatic dinners from my days as a lowly intern at the American Embassy in Tokyo. There is a certain protocol to these events. One must wear a dinner jacket or some chic extravagant accessory (A texan would wear a bolo tie, a european would wear a one of those neck scarves that barons often do).
Next you would be accompanied by your wife who is either an opera singer you married during your assignment in Kenya or an artist from Argentina that you met while teaching the indigenous people how to farm.
Following the introductions and declarations of who you are, where your from, and what organization you work with..the next questions that follow are polite versions of what I call the 'What the HELL brings you this far from home and HOW the hell did you two meet?' Of course, everyone asks a married Korean-French couple how they met but atleast in this environment everyone is kind of like us. Just about everyone we know is mixed couple here. Italian-Spanish, Jordanian-Lebanese, Spanish-Canadian, Italian-Estonian. A lot of people think that mixed kids look really cute, but I have seen a few freaks in my lifetime too. But, I digress....
In haute culture you serve an aperitif which is an opening drink of alcohol or juice just before dinner is served. While the martinis and olives are being served, the bragging about all your world adventures begins. Little drops about 'Oh that one time I was at that beautiful open-air theater in Bulgaria...' or 'I found that the best preservation of work life balance to be in Africa.' Elodie and I are pretty traveled people, but we found ourselves outnumbered and outgunned at this party. Having only lived in one or two developing nations and only a quarter of the G20 nations in our lifetime, we felt a bit sheepish to discuss any of our past destinations.
With the wafts of dinner aromas we were called to the table. French culture dictates that seats at the table are pre-selected as to optimise the flow of conversation and comfort of your guests. At the head of the table was our gracious host. Seated on his side were all the other diplomats and international aid representatives. WTF?!? I got seated with all the bored housewives while my wife got seated with all the men!!! Am I in the bored housewife category?!?
Its a good thing that I like to cook so I spent the evening exchanging recipes and pretending to know something about fine French wines. Dinner was ready and our hostess served.... Grilled Lamb in olive oil, garlic and herbs! Probably the ONLY food that is exactly the same between the middle east and France. Atlast, curiousity solved.
A typical ex-pat dinner party will feature some local main course, but will be spiced up with exotic treats picked up during their travels. Lebanese wine, European chocolates, African nutmeg, Brazilien rain forest honey. Anything that will act as a centerpiece for discussion is always a bonus.
Dinner is finished and now it is time for digestifs and after drinks to finish the evening. As people get to know more about eachother, the discussions within these circles always tends to gravitate towards politics and world news. The crisis in Sudan, the North Korean missile launch, Afghanistan, Slumdog Millionaire.
When the discussion focused on Obama and all that he needs to accomplish over the next 4 years, all eyes turned on me to see what my opinion of what lies ahead for the US.
So Frank... Do you think that Obama is up for the job?
(slow...deliberate...sage tone of voice proceeds....)
" With Great Power comes a Great Responsibility"
(a wowwww emotion overcomes the audience)
Elodie was NOT pleased with my joke.