Sidney Freifeld was born and educated in Toronto, graduated in economics from the University of Toronto in 1932, and did post-graduate work at the London School of Economics. After World War II, he joined the Department of External Affairs, serving for three decades at various desks: at headquarters in Ottawa, and at Canadian embassies in Mexico, Ireland, and Uruguay, and at the United Nations in New York.
So you think diplomats lead uneventful lives — presiding over tea beside the aspidistra?
Behind formal negotiations are events sometimes too hilarious (and human) for academic histories. Beneath serene exteriors are people who, from time to time, are clowns. And often, the expectations of dignity and protocol only serve to heighten the antics.
From his 30-year career, Sidney Freifeld — at various desks at headquarters and in various embassies, up through the ranks, to ambassador — recollects some of these tales. He has gleaned other from colleagues or "unofficial" files.
Among the treats in Undiplomatic Notes:
- Castro’s table manners at an impromptu dinner;
- The circus of incivility created by the arrogance of the Ceausescu clan and their entourage;
- Calls in the night to deal with Moscow’s howling cats;
- Australian VIPs lost in the bowels of the Chateau Laurier;
- A Canadian embassy held at gun-point, by a Canadian; and
- Poetry to protest External’s policy on decorations.
In addition, treasury types will recognize "one of theirs" in the legendary Agnes McCloskey. Small wonder that Mike Pearson had to plead with Ottawa (from war-torn London): "Please get us off your minds." and the tales of quick switches from economy class to first, and the two-dollar dry-cleaning bill, will strike heart-felt chords with those making travel claims.
Members of Canada’s foreign service have helped thousands of their fellow citizens — but few with more urgency than the member of Parliament visiting New York who tried to take his wife to his hotel room.
Legations run like military outposts, the needs of beavers in transit, and the exchange of diplomatic notes over a baseball game are more subjects for Undiplomatic Notes. And for the uninitiated there are some useful chapters on what really, really, goes on.