The Foreign Service Journal - May 2014 - page 81

MAY 2014
Jennie Willson is a writer currently posted in Vienna with her FSO husband, Nate Adams. They spent their first tour in Paris, which is a tough act to
follow. You can follow her (mis)adventures abroad at
On the Eve of Independence Day
emember to eat beforehand,
and drink lots of water. We
don’t want anyone passing
My group of badge-wearers nods in
agreement. Even in the palatial gilt foyer
of the American ambassador’s residence
in Paris, there’s no air conditioning. But
there’s no time to worry about the unusual
heat. This is the official Fourth of July
party, and there are major logistics to
consider. A reputation to uphold. Expecta-
tions to surpass.
The volunteer coordinator quickly
moves on with the briefing, ticking off a
subgroup of people: the few, the proud,
the fluent French-speakers. They will have
the honor of welcoming guests through
the front doors and quickly herding them
out to the back garden.
The rest of us embassy spouses and
interns sag a bit, as if we didn’t make
varsity. But not to worry: there’s plenty
of guest-wrangling responsibility to go
around. Group B will cover the terrace.
Group C will hand out gift bags.
Our volunteer coordinator pushes
“Now, the VIPs will have stickers on
their invitations. All VIPs go to the left.”
Left: through the stunning teal salon,
with enough gold molding to make Louis
XIV stop and gape. But there’s no time
for admiring the architecture. Volunteers
have got to keep those 300 or so Very
Important People moving toward the
receiving line at all costs.
And what about the rest of the guests?
The 1,000-plus not-quite-as-important
people who managed to score an invite?
“To the right. And don’t let them stray
up the stairs!”
To the right: directly out onto the
sunlit terrace. From there we see workers
installing Route 66 signs along the garden
path. On the manicured lawn sit a dark
blue Harley Davidson and a creamy white
vintage Pontiac convertible, ready for a
très Americaine photo op. It’s important
that guests get a little piece of Americana
with their canapés, after all. They need
some shiny reminders of why they love—
and should want to work with—the good
old U.S. of A.
Our leader snaps his volunteer corps
back to attention. The terrace is where the
ambassador will give his opening remarks
at precisely 19:10, or so the plan goes.
That means the terrace needs to be closed
off no later than 18:50. (The party starts at
The group stands silent, doing the
math. A hand shoots up. “So you’re saying
we have about 50 minutes to get 2,000
people through the door?”
“That’s right.”
Just a beat passes before the troops
regain confidence. “Eh, we invaded Nor-
mandy. We can handle it.”
It seems the American spirit is alive
and well, even in the surreal realm of
diplomatic party planning. The group
pushes onward, descending briefly to the
lawn before turning sharply toward some
shrubbery-hidden stairs. We file down
into the basement of the residence, the
volunteer “war room.”
An old table and a few beat-up chairs
sit under fluorescent lights. Well, at least
it’s cool. And there’s plenty of space to
store our munitions: extra water, Band-
Aids for blistery feet, Powerbars.
We get a brief look at the one avail-
able volunteer restroom and then exit
down a long hallway. To the left, a flo-
rist’s workshop overflows with arrange-
ments while a woman makes last-minute
stem adjustments. To the right, an
industrial-size kitchen bustles with a
team of sous chefs. The air hums with
the sound of 10 or so extra refrigerators
lining the wall.
Pushing past a few caterers, the group
marches up the back staircase, arriving
once again in that opulent foyer. As the
volunteer coordinator reviews arrival
times and gives his final orders, BlackBer-
rys are pulled out. He’s about to confirm
a critical detail when the florist staggers
in, lugging a huge box of what looks like
Of course. The Amber Waves of Grain.
Our leader jumps into action, making
space for the burgeoning arrangement
and offering to go grab the next box.
“You see, you guys really need to be
ready to help with anything. Whatever
might arise!”
The group nods, stands a bit straighter.
For this party, we’re ready to be all we can
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