Six Embassies and a Penguin

Tucked away near the Van Ness metro stop is a cluster of embassies intentionally located where protestors will either get confused and disband, or at least be far enough out of sight that pesky dissenters like Falun Gong will get minimal media coverage. Embassies include China, Israel, Egypt, Pakistan, Malaysia and Nigeria.

And, for whatever reason, Austria. Presumably Austria was up to something horrible when it picked the location of its embassy, then breathed a heavy sigh of relief when America never noticed.

Colin and I arrived at the Austrian Embassy at 2:10, which is strategically important because the wine tasting actually commenced at 2:00. I quickly brushed past the obligatory oompah band and flagged down an Austrian dressed like Captain von Trapp from The Sound of Music. “Excuse me,” I said, “We have tickets to the wine tasting at 2:00, but were detained. Is it possible to pop in?”

This prompted a lengthy, passive-aggressive explanation from the Consul General, Germont, about how clocks work, the literal meaning of the phrase “begins at two o’clock,” the dire necessity of why events must start on time, how 2:10 is intrinsically different from 2:00 because of how chronology works, and so forth.

I was delighted. It was exactly as I thought the Austrians would react, with marked, unapologetic Teutonic punctuality. “Yes, I understand,” I agreed. “I mean, if we wanted an embassy event where everything started fifteen minutes late, we would’ve gone to the Greek Embassy to see if IMF is passing out free drinks.” He didn’t laugh. “But,” I continued, “I simply thought we would check.

“Ya,” said Germont, “I have locked this door, but go to the other door and see if it is unlocked. Tell the man there that I have said it is alright.”

We did so, prompting the next Austrian man to give me another brief yet exhaustive lecture about promptness, about the virtue of timekeeping, that the event started at two o’clock, and not two ten, and so forth. Germont showed up moments later. “They are okay,” he said.

The functionary looked at him, bewildered. “Did you explain to zem about clocks and timekeeping?”

Germont shrugged. “Yes! I did!” They both checked their watches. “It is now 2:17!”

“It’s alright,” I said, “really. It’s fine.”

“I will check the other lock,” offered Germont. The door was firmly in place. “It is locked,” he stated, the matter firmly resolved. “I am sorry, but you see, the wine tasting began at twoo’clock, and you arrived at two ten.” Nearby Austrians glanced over at us with a mixture of pity and disdain. “So I apologize, but the matter is simply out of our hands.”

“Right,” I said. “Really, it’s fine. I just thought we would check. Thank you.”

With my hopes of finally sipping a decent glass of gewürztraminer dashed, Colin and I prepared to go sulk at the nearby Slovakian Embassy and drink Slavic lager.

Here I should point out that the Austrian Embassy was actually our sixth embassy of the day. Saturday was the European Union Open House, wherein participating embassies opened their doors to Washingtonian visitors, and Colin and I went searching for diplomatic intrigue and free booze.

Four of the previous five embassies we visited were devious and under-handed. For instance, one embassy advertised “try fine Baltic wine,” but upon arrival we were given a plastic thimble with a tea spoon of merlot at the bottom. Then they ushered us into a room full of informational brochures and posters detailing history. I graciously accepted the thimble, but was inwardly aghast. They had tricked us into learning about their culture! How dare they!

A lot of the Europeans had gone straight-up nerdy. We visited the Estonian Embassy, for instance, which offered “a display on traditional eco-friendly weaving.” We didn’t even bother hitting up Malta. “Come see Europe’s oldest temple-building civilization.” What?! How did an unwed museum curator become your ambassador, Malta? In our country we have enough sense to appoint business moguls who donate campaign contributions to the winning president. Get with the game.

The Belgians provided a good array of chocolate and fine beer, which makes me think we should drop the United Kingdom (offered Old Grouse) as our “Special Relationship” partner, and bump up Belgium as our Global Superpower Sidekick.

Back to the Austrian Embassy. With our hearts heavy and our bellies woefully deprived of gewürztraminer, we prepared to head over to the Slovakian Embassy for a plastic thimble of beer. As we drifted towards the door, however, we saw a striking young woman on the second floor balcony overlooking the assembled Austriophiles. There is a certain way that women can lean out over balconies which highlights already mind-boggling proportions. Colin and I exchanged meaningful glances which signified our mutual appraisal of her as “God showing off again.”

A couple of minutes later she drifted downstairs to rifle through brochures provided by the Austrian business community. I shrewdly saddled up to the table next to hers to feign interest in pumpkin seed oil, or something equally horrid. I then turned to her and another Austrian and started asking questions about Austria and the European Union, what they thought of Greece’s economy or Angela Merkel, and virtually anything else Europe-related which might maintain her bewitching eye contact for a few moments more.

I was sufficiently charming for a while, but then decided I needed to bump things up with some sort of personal anecdote. Earlier in the week, two amazing things had happened, and I briefly toyed with mentioning them to increase my stock.


Jesse Jackson walks through our hallway in Congress. I stand in the doorway with cup of tea. He turns to look at me, and nods. “Sir,” he says. I nod back, then dash to my computer to tell several friends that Jesse Jackson just called me “sir.” Their responses indicate that many of my friends are surprisingly racist.

I decide that this moment, though potent, will probably require too much contextual explanation for an Austrian visitor.


Scene: A congressional reception for Jack Hannah in the Rayburn Cafeteria. There are several zoo handlers showing exotic animals to Hill Staffers. I walk up to one holding a penguin.

Me: “A penguin! Wow! This is amazing! Can I touch it?!”

Handler: “No, it will bite.”

I reach out to touch the penguin. It bites me.

Me: “Ow! What the hell!? That penguin bit me!”

While pointing at the penguin in an angry, accusatory manner, it bites my outstretched finger again.

Me: “Ow! He did it again! The penguin bit me again!”

I back away, but levy angry charges against the penguin.

Me: “Stupid bird! You can’t even fly! I’ll be planting peach orchards in your nesting grounds in ten years!”

A friend pulls me away by the elbow towards a drink table before the penguin conflict erupts in further violence.

Back at the Austrian Embassy

I run through the two flashbacks and decide that neither are appropriate to woo the Austrian eugenics program model. Instead I hand her a business card, offer to give her a Capitol tour if she ever feels so inclined, and then promptly never hear from her again.

Moral: There are certain times in life when I think, “Wow, this is exactly what I thought my life would be like when I was ten years old. If you went into the past and told ten-year-old Andrew, “Hey, when you’re in your mid-twenties you’ll go to several embassies the same week you get bit by a penguin at Congress.”

Well, obviously.

Andrew Heaton is a writer and standup comedian in New York City. If this post made you laugh or think, kindly "like" it on Facebook.

One comment

  • November 23, 2011 - 7:51 am | Permalink

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