Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Manners Maketh the Man

The following was posted on the self-important blog “Living Timorously” which I am sure some of you read on a regular basis.
My reply will appear after you have read the post.


Bitch Ambassador
My dealings with East Timor have brought me into contact with many different people all over the world, and normally, they're quite approachable. However, it seems that some of my fellow British citizens lag way behind other nationalities in the manners and friendliness stakes.Recently, I met the last British Ambassador to Dili. As I mentioned before, the British Embassy has been axed, thereby saving the Exchequer around £300,000. That will buy you a one-bedroom flat in central London, if you're lucky. I was interested to talk to her, and had actually been to her house, where an East Timorese friend was living while she was doing her Master's degree here.I met her at an event on Monday, and mentioned that we had a few mutual friends and acquaintances, as well as the fact that I was hoping to go out to Dili to work in the Foreign Ministry. However, when I phoned her a couple of days later, I had doubts as to whether I was speaking to the same person. Now, I regret that I called at an inconvenient time, but in such circumstances, it's common courtesy just to say "it's not a good time, some other time, perhaps?" Polite without being euphemistic - I hate it when people say "can I call you back?" But no, I got "Get on with it, what do you want? Why do you want my email address?" and, forsooth, "you're stealing my evening!" Sure, I have a short fuse, and I think that I will let rip when I deal with some of the people working in the government in East Timor - before you accuse me of being the bullying expatriate, the people I would most have a bone to pick with would also be foreigners. However, I do hope that Her Britannic Majesty's Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of 'Timor Leste' wouldn't have been as surly or as truculent with East Timorese as she was with me.But that's the British Foreign Office for you - full of people who love foreigners and despise their own people. Canberra might have the 'Jakarta Lobby', but Whitehall has the 'Any National Capital but London Lobby'.I wish I had an Australian passport - not only would I have consular facilities in Dili, but in my experience, Australians tend to be much friendlier, even former diplomats. (I'm referring to James Dunn - I have no desire to meet Richard Woolcott, however affable he may be.) No wonder they think Poms are stuck up. Even if our former Ambassador in Dili becomes Ambassador or High Commissioner to somewhere more important, and gets a damehood (DCMG - Do Call Me God) she should remember that good manners cost nothing.


I take great exception to this post. Tina is and was a friend and one of the nicest people I have ever met. During the ‘crisis’ last year she was the personification of ‘grace under fire’.
I know you will find that Tina was never as “surly or as truculent” with East Timorese as she was with you because I doubt if any East Timorese were as arrogant, self-centered and patronizing as you probably were with her.
Oh, and if, God forbid, you do get the job at the Foreign Ministry, once in a while stop and think of the Timorese who could have had jobs building the place instead of those same jobs going to imported Chinese labour.
And as for wishing you were Australian with consular facilities here, maybe if and when you get here you should talk to some of the Australians living and working here and ask their opinions of their embassy.
Calling any Ambassador, or any woman come to that, a ‘bitch’ seems to me to be the very nadir of manners. Bad manners cost nothing also it seems.

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3 comments:

attl veep said...

I was very surprised to read this. You really must have caught her at a one-off, truly awkward moment. I cannot imagine her responding in this way to a phone call, however intrusive. Perhaps your approach also left something to be desired in the manners department. All I know is that during her time as British Ambassador to Timor Leste, during the worst days of the crisis, the whole British community (evidently with the exception of one…) were very appreciative of her cool-headed and competent handling of the situation. Most of us were very upset when the embassy closed (as was the Ambassador). She even stayed on for months afterwards to do some further work to help the country she had grown to love. She held regular functions for the Britons here during her ambassadorship - even cooking pancakes for us herself on Shrove Tuesday and keeping the tiny Brit expat community generously oiled with her Majesty's gin and tonics at official functions. Always friendly, always helpful, always accessible, in my experience. I am baffled at the suggestion that she might behave any differently. Why not give her the benefit of the doubt? We all have one of those days from time to time and occasionally snap when we shouldn't. I think you are the last person to criticize the manners of others, when your lack of chivalry is so evident in the title of your post. Shame on you. Personally, I think she is a helluva Dame and I know many others who feel the same way.
And I'm not going to lurk under a pseudonym for this one.
Ann Turner

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