Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Diplomatic Blunder

Thanks to a suggestion made by one of my frequent blog visitors. I am going to tell some stories about my time in Romania ('96-'05) over the next few weeks. Since this is a busy week for me, I won't start at the beginning of my stay, but just post a memorable moment this time around:

In July 1997, then US president Bill Clinton visited Romania. This visit was intended to launch a "strategic bilateral partnership between Romania and the US."  Hmmm....

In light of such an exciting event, the Canadian team of which I was a part, thought it would be great to head downtown and join the massive crowds gathered to try and get a glimpse of him. This was, of course, long before the much more famous blunder (if you can call it that) leading to the even more famous statement, "I did not have....with that woman."

It was good that we went early. The ever present politia (police) had set up only one security area through which all these thousands of people had to pass before they were allowed into the square where Bill would be speaking.

It was 40 degrees celcius plus, that day -- a day where, if there had been a couple of inches of space, one could have fried an egg on the sidewalk.

We were jammed together as tight as a tin of sardines -- and the smell all around us like tin of sardines that had been left open out in the sun for weeks

Yes, that is sweat on the man on the right's back. And yes, Bill was to appear way, way, ahead of us, right in front of the building with a dome, that you may scarcely be able to pick out, just to the right of the middle of the photo. (click on it to enlarge)

So we needed to get closer, to make this agony worth while.

After much pushing and shoving - and swearing (not from us), we made it.
About an hour later Bill appeared -you can see him to the left of middle --

 and we almost expired.

At the sight of Bill, the whole crowd immediately surged forward with screaming, shouting, cheers (and a few jeers from the old communists) and we were so crushed we couldn't move.

There were six of us, including a nine-year old, so wisdom dictated that we needed to get out of there -- and quick. That decision was made easier by the tedium of Bill's speech, but not by the people around us. They were not budging to let us through.

 We figured we had a good 50/60 yards to get to the edge of the crowd, but what to do?

I have never been good in crowds -- claustrophobia comes easy to me in tight spaces, so I immediately came up with an idea that was pretty much based in truth.

I had us all hold hands in a line, with me in the lead and the youngest in the middle so she wouldn't get separated from us, and I began to feign violent vomiting, all the while pushing through the people off to the right. This was my greatest acting moment.

I think I felt like Moses round about then -- the mass of bodies parted like the Red Sea, and in no time we were seated on the curb, laughing, shaking off the sweat, breathing sighs of relief, and resting up for a moment before heading home.

Oh, but what about Bill's diplomatic blunder?

Well, after his speech, he was handed a Romanian flag -- not like the ones you can see in the photo above -- but one with a hole cut out in the this one:
(no, that's not me carrying the flag - even tho some may think so!)

So what did Bill say, as he received it?

According to  Associated Press he said,

"Thanks for the Poncho"

Flags with the centres cut out were around a lot in the years after the fall of communism in 1989. The hole was where the hated communist symbol used to be, like the flag below:

Shouldn't the US President have known this?

I am surprised Romania is still on talking terms with the US.


  1. Senator Farley in the 1930s or so invented a wonderful diplomatic tool to prevent blunders like that. Known as the Farley file you write down all the things you need to know about a person or country and bone up just before hand and so seem to have remembered in detail everything about the country or someone you have maybe met once ten years ago. Perhaps Bill, and some others who spring to mind, should take note of their own countryman's idea.

  2. What a blunder! How come we didn't hear about this??? The media tells us what it wants us to hear! Don't get me started down THAT road!
    Good story -- and it must have been great acting. Very creative.

  3. How disgraceful that he hadn't read his brief and known such a basic fact.
    I'm with you on crowds, Kathy; I would not have been comfortable there at all - but the vomiting ploy is one I shall have to remember! x

  4. Snafu, Farley's file is a great idea for politicians -- but I think also for me, with my memory, in my everyday encounters with people.

    It's true, ChrisJ. But you know, we really don't hear very much about Romania at all over here. To my sorrow, it's usually unpleasant stories, yet it is such a beautiful country and people. I plan to write some GOOD stories!

    Elizabeth - my daughter just read this post and said, "Mom, that doesn't sound at all like something you would do!" It's amazing what you can do when you have to - and I had to!