Friday, November 6, 2015

DiploSkills: Do You Speak Multilateral?

Mental Floss had a good article not too long ago on the quirks of "EU English", a variant of English with some unusual grammar and vocabulary which comes from speakers of dozens of languages in the European Union all trying to get together to make decisions. Some of the examples were new to me but many I had seen before, including at my new job at the African Union. "Planification" is a classic, sure to come up when dealing with native French speakers.

But there are other things not on the Mental Floss list that also seem to exist only in the language of multilateralism. My favorite example shows up at the end of almost every declaration by an international organization when the body announces its intention to "remain seized of" an issue. Every time I read this I can't help but imagine an entire council chamber of people simultaneously collapsing on the floor in spasms. In fact it just means "continue to pay attention to" whatever it is they're talking about. Here's William Safire on the phrase. I also like "domesticate", which in multilateralspeak has nothing to do with animals but means "adopt and implement an internationally-agreed policy in one's home country."

Some of these quirky usages make my inner grammar nazi want to scream, but then my inner second-language learner smothers said grammar nazi with a pillow. Operating professionally in a non-native language is incredibly difficult, as I am inevitably reminded every single time I want to say something reasonably intelligent in French. Also, international organizations deal with issues that don't often come up in other venues, so if inventing a word like "actorness" helps get the job done, by all means let's have it! 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Grocery Run

All last week I was in Johannesburg for an energy seminar. I learned a lot, met some great people, and explored the city. But mostly I ate. I haven't been away from the miraculous foodscape of the first world for long enough to feel really deprived, but I knew I had to take advantage of what I had while I had it. I ate meltingly tender steak and sushi and microgreen salads. I had ostrich and shrimp and peri-peri chicken. I had an amazing 10-course tasting menu at Cube with dishes called things like "Alien vs. Predator" and "#chefslife". And thanks to the weak rand (currently 13 to the dollar) I ate like a queen and couldn't believe how cheap it all was.

The Haul
And then it was time to go home, but not before I did some grocery shopping. Just a tiny little bit. Okay, I pretty much looted the produce section and the cheese aisle. It's late spring in South Africa so there were all kinds of delicious fruits and vegetables ripe and in season. The cheese situation in Addis is pretty dire. (One point for Conakry - former French colonies can always be counted on for good bread and cheese.)  And then at the airport I scooped up a few more bottles of wine at the duty-free and a dozen beef filets (2 for $10!) and some biltong because I was in South Africa and that's just what one buys there. The zebraskin rugs were also pretty tempting, but my arms were starting to hurt by that point. One of my favorite diplomatic perks is that customs officials aren't allowed to go through our suitcases, which makes it way easier to do international food runs.

With my loot safely home, I spent pretty much all afternoon yesterday blanching mushrooms and trimming asparagus and slicing peaches, placing it all tenderly, reverently, into a ridiculous number of plastic bags, which I will guard in my freezer like a hoard of priceless jewels. I know that, someday in the not-too-distant future, I will really want some raspberries or some broccolini, and on that day I will pull the appropriate packet triumphantly from the freezer and HAVE SOME, and it will be sweet. I get excited about food pretty much all the time, but there's nothing like scarcity to make me really appreciate simple things like gouda or salad greens.