This American Life

(MehveÅŸ Konuk)

Few opportunities arise for representatives from rival nations to ask one another to please pass the orange juice. On Friday May 14th, ambassadors representing 44 nations met at the University of Chicago’s Harper Memorial Library for breakfast and conversation. The ambassadors were here as part of the U.S. State Department’s “Experience America–Chicago” tour, which was meant to give diplomats and their spouses the opportunity to learn about America’s cities and communities outside of Washington, DC. In past years tours have been made to New York City, California, Florida, and Dallas. This year, from May 12th through May 14th U.S. Chief of Protocol Capricia Penavic Marshall took the international representatives to the Windy City’s classic tourist attractions. When asked how many stops were made on the tour, one ambassador laughed and replied, “Too many to count!” Stops along the trip included the Wrigley factory, the Illinois Institute of Technology, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Art Institute of Chicago. The University of Chicago was chosen due to its connection with President Barack Obama and its academic prowess.

There was something surprisingly American about this crowd. Their relaxed manner of walking and easy mode of conversation made it easy to forget that these were diplomats and not ordinary Chicagoans–the only thing denoting their position was perhaps a tiny pin shining from a lapel or a touch of a foreign accent. As the group entered, a pair of diplomats had their picture snapped in front of Harper Library’s gothic-style interior. They smiled widely and the camera’s flash reflected off of their glasses. Coincidentally, Harper Library is featuring a photographic exhibit entitled “Bureaucrats.” Images of government workers from all over the globe, hands folded on their desks, stared solemnly from the walls of Harper at the fellow bureaucrats in their midst.

The event included an address by President Zimmer, Dean Boyer, Ambassador Marshall, UofC professor of political science Cathy Cohen, and even a pre-recorded video welcome from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The majority of speeches predictably centered on the University’s academic renown and its importance in research. Munching on quiche and sipping orange juice, the crowd politely took in what Zimmer and the others had to say. Clinking silverware reverberated off of Harper’s high ceilings. One ambassador picked at the crumbs on the maroon tablecloth with his index finger. After the speeches, the diplomats had the opportunity to converse with students, professors and fellow ambassadors.

The event concluded with a cheery “the Mayor is waiting!” The ambassadors were herded off into buses to go downtown for a reception with Mayor Daley and diplomacy continued in the cramped seats of a bus.