[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Thursday, 15 July, 2004, 14:03 GMT 15:03 UK
Diplomats mind their language
Count to 10 before opening
The diplomatic world is one where the thorniest of subjects are discussed in the most cautious language - where a stand-up row just short of a fist-fight becomes "a very candid discussion", or "serious consequences" means war.

So the deceptively smooth surface of the murky pond of international diplomacy was more than a little rippled by comments made by Britain's High Commissioner to Kenya, Sir Edward Clay.

Sir Edward described those in the country who practise corruption as "gluttons" who are vomiting on the shoes" of donors.

Diplospeak it was not, and the comments have cause a diplomatic row between the two countries.

But Sir Edward is not the first diplomat to stray from the unwritten code of diplomatic behaviour.

Britain's ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, has spoken in the last few days of how comments he made attacking the human rights record of the country have effectively ended his career.

He accused his hosts of torture and brutality, including boiling victims alive, and lambasted the Foreign Office for their "classic public school and Oxbridge- influenced house style" in their over-cautious censure of the regime.

Golden elephants

The late French Ambassador to Britain, Daniel Bernard, was at the centre of a diplomatic and media row over comments attributed to him appeared in the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

At a dinner party in London in 2001, he was said to have described Israel as "that shitty little country" which was the cause of current troubles in the world.

The comment caused fall-out not just between France and Israel, but also between the French diplomatic service and the media - who were accused of reporting something said off-the-record.

While some un-diplomatic language and behaviour has caused serious international incidents, others have simply been a cause for embarrassment.

Clare Short, in her role as international development secretary, famously accused the inhabitants of the volcano-ravaged island Montserrat of making unreasonable demands. "They will be wanting golden elephants next," she un-diplomatically exclaimed.

Princess Margaret, again a woman unafraid of speaking her mind, was reported to have told Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne in 1979, that, "the Irish, they're pigs", before remembering her host's family background and adding: "oh-oh, you're Irish".

Culinary habits

Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister, Senator Gareth Evans, once famously told the then-governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, whose family pet dog was missing that he should check the nearest Chinese restaurant.

''They'll turn it into hors-d'oeuvres for Deng Xiaoping, who I am told eats four puppies a day,'' he said.

Fortunately the senator was spared any serious repercussions as his comments were greeted with a very-undiplomatic sense of humour.

The Chinese embassy in Canberra stated: "We are unable to comment on Mr Deng's culinary habits, but four puppies a day seems a little excessive."

And in a faux-pas almost as bad as forgetting the Ferrero Rocher at an embassy party, Germany's ambassador to Macedonia was reportedly caught chopping down a protected fir to use as a Christmas tree.

For some diplomats, their choice of language can have serious consequences both for themselves and international relations.

For most though, the worst that happens is that they are summoned by their hosts to "give clarification" - diplomatic speak for a severe dressing-down.

UK Kenya envoy 'regrets insult'
15 Jul 04 |  Africa


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific