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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

|

DECEMBER 2015

105

Would You Like A Cup of Tea?

BY JOSH GLAZEROF F

REFLECTIONS

Josh Glazeroff is a Foreign

Service officer who has served in

Santo Domingo, Durban, New

Delhi andWashington, D.C. He

previously served on the

FSJ

Editorial Board

and is a current member of the AFSA Govern-

ing Board.

T

he hospitality of other cultures

is something we Foreign Service

types come to appreciate over

the years. In my time overseas, I

have often noted how open others are to

us, newcomers to their country and visi-

tors to their homes or places of work.

I can just about guarantee that I will

be offered tea or coffee when visiting

any other foreign ministry in the world;

I certainly wouldn’t predict the same at

Main State. There is a lesson there for all

of us as we engage in diplomacy and aim

to access others’ cultures.

In my five years in India, I saw a spirit

of welcoming in every scenario in which I

was someone’s guest. Whether invited for

dinner, visiting a store or coming for an

official meeting, I was offered a connec-

tion, in many cases, a physical one—a

drink, a bowl of nuts or some cookies.

The gestures sound formulaic, but are

meaningful. Human beings are social

creatures, and we like those times when

someone reaches out to touch us, even

if not by hand. The idea that this other

person wants to engage us, symbolized

in the food or drink, opens us up to dia-

logue and building a relationship.

My professional role could have got-

ten in the way of these connections, but I

think the cultural norms were too strong.

As a consular officer with oversight of

Was I teaching them the importance

of doing the right thing, or were

they teaching me? It is a life lesson

I continue to ponder.

the visa process, I conducted site visits to

quite a few people’s homes to verify the

information on their applications.

On many occasions, I was in

a position of actively questioning

someone’s honesty in their own living

room. Yet on no occasion did they fail

to ask, “Would you like some tea?” No

matter how difficult the line of inquiry

I brought to their home and no matter

how serious the potential impact on their

immigration to the United States and the

future of their family, I was a guest and

someone with whom to connect.

The best illustration of this willing-

ness to help came on a site visit to a

house where we suspected a fake “son”

was living. It was a very rainy day, and

we had done quite a bit of driving to a

more rural area before getting out of the

vehicle. We headed inside, were offered

the obligatory drinks and commenced

our investigation.

Interviewing the family and review-

ing their documentation, we got a clear

indication they had fabricated a relation-

ship solely for immigration purposes.

Confident in our findings, we confirmed

for the family that they were now ineli-

gible for visas and would not be traveling

to the United States. We packed up our

things and headed back out into the rain

with big smiles for our excellent work.

So, what happened next? Of course,

we got stuck in the mud. The skies had

opened up. My colleagues and I were

in our suits. Even with our best efforts,

there was no way to push the vehicle free.

Trapped right outside our interviewee’s

home!

India came to the rescue.

Those very same family members we

had accused of fraud five minutes earlier

came running out to the vehicle and,

working together, we got it loose. Free

again to drive away, we waved at those

who had gone against our regulations

and balanced that against all that they

had just done to help us. Was I teaching

them the importance of doing the right

thing, or were they teaching me? It is a

life lesson I continue to ponder.

Perhaps we should reconsider how

we “task” one another via email without

making a real connection. If we did try to

get to know others better, if we did buy

that cup of coffee, if we understood oth-

ers’ sincere policy differences, we might

just come up with ways for us all to do

our jobs better.

n