Frau Merkel, promote that ambassador of yours now
Dear Chancellor Merkel, I have been an admirer of Germany ever since I hitchhiked through it as a teenager. If I have a criticism at all, it is that I was not, as I was rather hoping, given a lift by a bored thirty-something housewife who would drive me into a forest clearing to teach me a thing or two. Ah well. Perhaps next time.
But I am not writing to you to complain about what did not happen, but to congratulate you on your ambassador, Christian Pauls. Frau Chancellor (if that is the correct term), it's usually hell on Earth to hear to one's country being described by visiting diplomats. For there is, apparently, a single transferable speech, full of bland piety and historical euphemisms, which foreign ministries around the world train their diplomats to deliver. Only the names of the countries, and certain cultural reference-points need to be changed. Thus -
"The peoples of Iceland and Rwanda have so much in common. They share an abiding passion for freedom. Through many centuries of an often-storm-filled and tempestuous history, the people of Iceland, like the people of Rwanda, yearned for that freedom. It is this which binds our two countries together in such a profound and indissoluble friendship.
"Moreover, we have each benefited from the cultural influences of the other. The harpoon, you should know, is a Rwandan invention, developed during cultural exchanges between the Hutu and the Tutsi people. Equally, what would the Rwandan cod-fleet be like today without the sterling example set by those doughty Icelandic trawlermen who, from time immemorial, berthed in Kigali, and regaled our local girls with their salty sea-shanties, and verses from the Edda?"
Frau Chancellor, US satellite monitors have recently proved that there is never a single moment in the entire world when some wretched audience or other is not being clobbered within an inch of its life by an ambassador with this speech. In fact, the most common cause of death amongst the international corps diplomatique, and visiting dignitaries generally, is to be lynched by an enraged mob who have had to endure this weapons-grade speech just once too often.
How different would world history have been if the Crown Prince had not been persuaded by his advisers to stand up in Sarajevo that June day in 1914 and proclaim: "The peoples of Bosnia and Serbia have so much in common"? The 1916 Rising was a spontaneous protest at an Easter Sunday speech by the Lord Lieutenant in which he remarked upon how the Blasket Islands have so much in common with Buckingham Palace. And we all know the lamentable consequences of a similar speech in Munich by the Polish ambassador in 1939: a Blitzkrieg of angry cuckoo-clocks striking at Danzig -- and who can blame them?
So, how pleased I was that your man in Dublin decided to break with a deplorable tradition, one which has caused so much unhappiness in the world, and instead chose to speak the truth about the country to which he has the misfortune to be accredited. You will, Frau Chancellor, no doubt have heard that an Irish politician named Gay Mitchell was present for the ambassador's remarks, and he has since done what Irish politicians always do when they hear the truth being spoken: it is, my dear Chancellor, to whinge.
Now, I have to confess to you I don't speak German: the only word I mastered (twice, as seemed appropriate) before my visit to Germany was "Ja, ja", just in case I encountered the bored housewife (for whom I am still waiting). So I had to check in my dictionary to confirm that , as I suspected, there is no direct German word for that particular word. "Whinge", I should tell you, is the disagreeable noise usually uttered by children when they are told to tidy their bedroom, or wash their face, or do their homework: it is the irrational, infantile noise made by someone who prefers self-indulgence to reality.
Angela -- I may call you Angela, may I not? So soon, but I feel I know you already -- I trust you observed that neither this politician, nor the Department of Foreign Affairs (which rather specialises in a tiresome nationalist hyper-sensitivity) has faulted your ambassador factually.
Why? Because they can't. He merely told the truth. For this is a conceited, ill-run country, with a bloated civil service and a health-care service that makes Zanzibar's look like Zurich's.
Moreover, as your man pointed out, we have studiously ignored the consequences of immigration right across Europe: instead we witlessly bleat about "the new Irish", as if calling people what they are not will spare us the problems you know all too well about.
Gay Mitchell even invoked this columnist during his outburst of childish petulance, declaring that the ambassador's remarks would have made me blush.
For once, he is right. I would have blushed in envy and admiration at Christian's knowledge, his wit and his studious diplomacy. Clearly, he is the best man you have. Appoint him your foreign minister, and order your diplomats to make speeches just like his.
Then watch as Germany becomes the most popular country in the world.