Because I worked for a foreign mission for about 3 years, I had some experience in the need for diplomacy when dealing with the public. As you are helping citizens of your government in a foreign country and in essence you are also representing that country, it’s important to always put on a good front and put your best foot forward (and avoid putting that food it in your mouth). But because folks who work for the foreign office of any country are people, mistakes will be made and well, the US Vice Consul in Chennai delivered a blunder.
In a speech detailing her positive experiences in India, US Vice Consul, Maureen Chao inadverdently offended her audience when she said that after a long and arduous 72-hour train her ride her skin was ” dirty and dark like the Tamilians.” A representative from Tamil Nadu, one of the 28 states of India condemned the comment and rejected the apology that appeared on the consulate’s Website.
When I worked for a foreign government I would also run into situations where it’s easy to slip up and say something boneheaded like Ms Chao did – it’s especially difficult when in a foreign country because even if relations are positive and good, there is always a need to maintain civility. I don’t think (I hope, anyways) that this will blow up into something huge – the Wikileaks scandal unearthed some salty and candid language from diplomats throughout the world, and the US was able to smooth over hurt feelings.
When I got hired I was put through rigorous training – I was basically sequestered with other newly minted diplomats and we were instilled with information on how to deal with our customers and the public without causing a major catastrophe. It’s important because one’s work doesn’t just limit itself to customer interaction, but with emails, faxes and letters as well.
A lesson was learned and hopefuly all those involved will be a little more artful in their word choice.