There are a lot of misconceptions about this whole Diplomatic Life thing, I have spent my life correcting people, and setting certain things straight.
- That all diplomats sip Champagne and eat canapes and that is the end of their jobs. Sure I remember seeing canapes, it’s a fancy word for cheese and crackers… o.k it is a little fancier than that, it is a type of hors d’œuvre, a small, prepared and often decorative food, consisting of a small piece of bread, puff pastry, or a cracker topped with some savoury food. I never saw champagne, sparkling wine and sure other alcohol, but entertaining isn’t exactly the only part of a diplomats job, it is a tiny, and sometimes the most dreaded part of the job.
- That every Diplomat lives in a fancy big home, and is driven around by a driver. Only an Ambassador lives in a large house, and gets driven around by a driver. Here is the catch. The majority of the Official residence is not even a house, it is an extension of the Embassy and a place to entertain, the Ambassador and his family only have a small private space to call their own. Usually the Official residence is part hotel for official visits, and trust me, that isn’t fun for the Ambassador and his family, but it is a duty to host officials. Then there is the official entertaining, which is on top of running a full embassy, dealing with personnel issues, political issues, administrative and reporting duties. The kicker, they don’t get paid extra for this entertaining. Plus, lets point out, depending on what country you live in, those big houses need a lot of maintenance, pluming and electrical work don’t necessarily get done on a regular schedule. I still remember one residence having on one working bathroom, no air conditioning, and the wiring of the house was so bad, you prayed that you didn’t start a fire when you plugged in the toaster. For security reasons an Ambassador does have a driver… the driver is a locally engaged employee of the government. In many cases, they get trained to drive a bullet proof car. Nobody else in the embassy has a driver.
- This one came up on Facebook, and yes, I got this all the time, all Diplomats are rich. This one always makes me laugh, career diplomats are federal servants, their salaries are public information… YOU DON’T GET RICH serving your country, if you did, everyone would be lining up for the job.
- That the kids of Diplomats live a fancy life. Well, maybe if you live in London and Paris and you get to eat crepes all the time, I can sort of see that. But nope, the majority of the time there are security issues, coup attempts, monsoons, typhoons… Life abroad is not easy. It can be a challenge, moving all the time, learning new languages, saying hellos and goodbyes. Fancy, it is not, nobody except the Ambassador meets anyone cool, and cool is more political, no Hollywood movie star or a famous band.
- That you travel all the time. In my case, my parents did try to find cool and insanely odd locations to “vacation” in. It was always more of a case of their intellectual need to learn more about local culture, plus it didn’t hurt that some of the far flung places were not expensive, because in reality, they couldn’t afford for us to stay and shop in places like Maui, or famous beaches in Thailand.
- That everything is covered by the Government. NOPE. In the case of Canada, you still have to pay rent on a residence that you are living in abroad, it is usually level with the rent and housing of Ottawa. If you own a house in Ottawa, you rent it out, then pay rent on your “fancy” abode abroad. If your kids are school age, yes, International School fees are covered, because education is free in Canada, so the Canadian government subsidizes that. Uniforms, books… not covered. It is out of pocket. Then there is the fun stuff, cars. You still have to buy your own car, including an Ambassador. An Ambassador is not allowed to use the official car or driver to run personal errands… like driving kids to school or grocery shopping. Electricity, water are out of pocket expenses. Only an Official Residence is partly subsidized by the government because the Official residence is used for official entertaining.
- That Diplomats are spies. Oh boy, I think Hollywood may have impacted this perception. Diplomats work in very sensitive political environments, yes, they work with spies, but they are not spies themselves. I like to say a diplomat is more of an information gatherer, but they don’t sit outside peoples houses with binoculars and track people, nor do they ever carry around weapons.
- That diplomatic life is simply a career. No, it is a vocation, and all families are wed to this one vocation. Growing up in the diplomatic world, you realize just how much your parents sacrifice and work for their country, and often times, the family unit is impacted more than anyone else.
- That Diplomats are the first to evacuate a country when war breaks out. Nope, in the Case of Canada, the government will evacuate families, but it is the officers who stay back and close the embassy if need be. They put their lives on the line to keep reporting back, and make sure that Canadians still stuck in the country are out and evacuated before the lights turn off permanently. Diplomats are often the first to enter back into a country and reopen an embassy, often at their own peril.
- That all diplomatic kids speak multiple languages. Moving around every three years makes it almost impossible to become fluent in another language, unless you have been lucky to only be posted to Spanish Speaking or French speaking countries. I only became trilingual in University when I could actually properly study the language of choice.
Every Diplomatic Family has a unique experience. Languages, cultures, postings are all different.