Why do governments spend thousands of dollars to maintain diplomatic missions in distant foreign lands? Using terrific (and completely unre-adable) legal terms and language, the Vienna Convention lists almost 1,001 reasons. But those, it seems, have absolutely no meaning for the general public; in their minds and hearts, the telephone number of an embassy is akin to a bank helpline number: dial when you are trouble in an alien land. The spirited (pun intended) Britons make the best use of the free service. And why not? The embassies run on taxpayers’ money anyway.
According to foreign secretary William Hague, troublesome tourists dial British embassies for — hold your breath — booking restaurants, finding directions and even for making romantic advances. Mr Hague, in a speech at Britain’s Foreign Office, said: “We are not people to turn to if you can’t find your false teeth… if you need a dog minder...” — you get the drift — and the feel the desperation in his voice, don’t you?
Mr Hague finds this dial-the-embassy activity absolutely appalling. Our supremely aloof and distant foreign service officers would too. They move around with those CD number plates on their cars and diplomatic passports that allow them to get through immigration in under 30 seconds. They will never understand the perils of being all alone in a new city. So when in dire need of some friendly service, what do you do? Call a friend of course. And isn’t that exactly what the British tourists were doing? The Britons, however, should thank their lucky stars that they don’t have to deal with Indian embassies — if you have once had that experience, everything else will seem like five-star service. Though generalising is never a good idea, when it comes to our own diplomatic flock in firang lands, they can be as foreign as the place itself when dealing with their own citizens.