Tuesday, April 22, 2008

My First Diplomatic Mission

Things went better than this.

I've been back in Denmark since the beginning of April. I'd only been back for 2 or 3 days when I was asked to come to a meeting the following Friday morning. It was Morton Thorning who asked me first. I've written about him before. He's the director of the school here, and a great and very interesting guy. When I asked what the meeting was about he said, "The Ambassador is coming."

"The U.S. Ambassador?", I asked.

He nodded and smiled a little. "We're going to gather all the Americans together for him."

"Okay, sure."

Friday morning comes and the Americans (about 6 of us) are all gathered in a hallway. Within a few minutes the The U.S. Ambassador to Denmark is there. Along with two guards, a photographer, and the Vice Mayor of Viborg. It seems the Mayor couldn't (or wouldn't) be there himself.

James P. Caine is a pretty big guy, full of confidence and he seemed to be trying hard to convey a sincere interest in each of us. He reminded me a lot of Mike Huckabee somehow, except that he was wearing spandex pants, a bright colored spandex shirt and a Harley Davidson cap.


I can't tell you what diplomatic purpose was served by the Harley cap, but the rest of the gear was soon explained. See, the ambassador is bicycling across Denmark to promote, in his words, "healthy living and the need to conserve energy." It's the ReDiscovery Tour! I'm also not sure why the "D" is in caps. Another diplomatic mystery.

Yeah, that's him.

Those are laudable things to promote, of course. Still, it seems like there must be a lot of Danes who would feel that, as the most bicycle riding country in Europe and a leader in energy conservation, they could be spared that lesson from a South Carolina Bush fund raiser in a gimmie cap.

The meeting was about what you'd expect. He talked about his tour and we listened. He asked a few of us about our experiences living and working here, and we politely answered. It took about 15 minutes. Then one of his body guards let him know it was time to go. He gave Morton a coin commemorating The ReDiscovery Tour (a bizarre prize I covet greatly). He leaned back over his shoulder and gave us all a hearty "Keep drawing!", and then he was off.

I'm sure the cursory googling I'd done that morning didn't help my attitude. I found this that he'd written and the tone of it bothered me. Especially this part:

"You are curious about our religious faith. You wonder about a country where 40% of the population describe themselves as part of the "religious right", where 50% say, it's okay for religious leaders to espouse political views, where 60% go to church on a regular basis, and 94% say they believe in God. And although you are thankful for the moral resolve that such faith seems to give Americans, you worry that our moral high ground may be eroding in the face of the war on terror. (I think you are wrong, by the way.) And I have learned that you appreciate a self-deprecating sense of humor, and that almost everyone in Denmark has heard the story about how the American Ambassador got locked in the bathroom last September, on the morning of his first big public speech."

Okay, that last bit is pretty funny, but the rest of the text reads like a half sermon/half social studies report about Denmark.

It was strange to be in another country and to meet the person who, at least on a government level, represents your home country. I think it was also intense for me because I'm in a country I've come to love and feel so much a part of. I want them to like us.

Morton, who I gather was kind of a Left wing revolutionary back in the day, actually defended the ambassador when I complained about him. "I disagree with you, Sean.", he said. "I think it's important there's a dialog, even if we don't agree."

He's right, of course. It's just that I want to be proud of the person representing me in that conversation. I wasn't. What I felt was that this swaggering American was preaching to these good people; condescending to a nation that could teach us plenty. I felt embarrassed.

I'll say this, though...

That guy sure loves wind power!


Nick Gibbons said...

Does he have pants on in the bottom picture?

Anonymous said...

Sandy G

Rachel Porter said...

Wow! Your a busy man Sean.