Diplomatic Wanderings

Bill Cordiner, Author I. B. Tauris & Company $57 (288p) ISBN 978-1-86064-940-0
Now that Britain has lost its empire, British diplomacy is a rather relaxed and pleasant affair, to judge by this charming but superficial memoir. Cordiner spent 28 years in the British Diplomatic Service, doing stints in war-time Saigon, Ethiopia, Kuwait, Iraq, Antigua and Seattle, finally rising to the post of ambassador to Tonga. Apart from a few misadventures--a brush with the Vietcong, near-suffocation by a mound of Ethiopian coffee, a South Pacific cyclone, nerve-racking encounters with Third World airlines and auto traffic--his career was uneventful. His specialty was trade promotion, which involved advising British businessmen on which government officials to bribe and suggesting ways for them to navigate the local red-light district, but he also endured stuffy embassy functions, grueling native cultural festivals, and the recurring crises of visits from the royal family. Throughout these ordeals he and his wife maintained a gracious post-imperial lifestyle in one underdeveloped backwater after another, establishing a succession of manorial households comprising servants, pets, ghosts and assorted dependents. Ever the diplomat, Cordiner is tight-lipped about the politics of the countries he served in, and limits his social observations to generalizations on the national character of ugly Americans, gluttonous Tongans and thieving Vietnamese. (""We decided that the dog-eat-dog mentality in Saigon was due to the war rather than a racial characteristic,"" he remarks early on in his narrative.) Cordiner leaves the impression that international relations is mainly fuss and protocol, but the many funny anecdotes, recounted with understated British aplomb, will delight readers in the mood for light-hearted exotica. Photos.
Reviewed on: 08/01/2003
Release date: 08/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
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