An American in Paris: Diplomacy in the era of Freedom Fries

Party Celebrating the Fourth of July in style at the residence of the U.S. ambassador to France. (Puneet Kakkar photo)

THE DISPATCHES: Puneet Kakkar
Living the diplomat's life — delivering Colin Powell's mail and hobnobbing at parties

I've been kept on my toes at work. Every day I work on a new project, whether reading press reviews for recent political party developments in France or doing briefings for conferences and meetings. Lately I've been studying labor trends in France from a political and economic perspective. It's pulled together perhaps every skill I've learned in college thus far, from the basics of research to the final steps of analysis and revision. It feels as if I'm going to be graded at the end it's that intense.

While I find myself working extra-long hours sometimes, it's all worth it. Aside from the normal projects and operations in the section of the embassy, I get fun, adventurous ones every so often. The other day I had to deliver a letter from Secretary of State Colin Powell himself to the French Minister of Foreign Affairs. I got to be driven by a car from the Embassy's motorpool a huge, bullet-proof Ford just to deliver the letter. It almost feels as if I'm a diplomat myself!

My supervisor allows me to attend various receptions every so often, which has been interesting. For instance, last week we were invited to a reception sponsored by the Swedish embassy and held at a Saab dealership to "celebrate summer." It was great to mill around, drink expensive champagne, pretend to be important, and look at nice cars.

However, other times it can be very intimidating. Another reception we attended was sponsored by the French government in honor of the Croatian republic. The scenery was beautiful, the food was great (something that I had to confirm by trying more and more), but having so many important ambassadors and officers from all around the world who I didn't know slightly intimidated me. Then a worker in my section told me that although it takes courage to break the barrier, diplomacy is best learned through receptions such as this. Keeping that in mind, the next reception was not even half as bad. I realized that if I was confident in who I was and offered the two cents that a college education has given me, many individuals actually became even more interesting. When I mentioned that I was a student, it'd spark a great hour-long conversation as the others reminisced on their "young years." Either way, courage was the trick to break the barrier.

Such opportunities, with informal conglomerations of representatives from all around the world, are rare and golden. At these receptions I sparked conversations about first-name difficulties with a representative from Bosnia-Herzegovina, the growth of Bollywood with a delegate from Sri Lanka, and even talked about Berkeley liberalism with a British citizen. With each conversation comes a great experience and exposure.

At this point in my internship — almost half over — I'm beginning to take small trips to other European countries to network with interns at other embassies. This weekend I'm going to London. And I'm excited about celebrating the Fourth of July at this huge gala/reception hosted by Howard Leach, the U.S. Ambassador to France. It's another opportunity to meet individuals from all around the world! Just one step closer to being the Bond I've always wanted to be.

—Puneet