It was early in his stay with us and Billie had just returned from an event at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy. He bubbled with excitement at the heady exchange of ideas. I asked who the keynote speaker had been. Billie told me it was a politician from New York, Eliot Spitzer. He continued, raving about the discussion of intriguing, new policy concepts. Then he paused, and asked, “Why are you giggling?”
How low can you go?
I enjoy hosting international guests for many reasons: learning, sharing, opportunities to gain insight. Billie was an engineer from the Indonesian island of Papua, so there was a lot of low-hanging insight for me to gain. Still, I can’t resist an opportunity to kick the pedestal out from underneath these lofty cultural exchanges. Downmarket is a lot more fun.
I described the collision between the world’s oldest and second oldest professions that made New York’s short-termed governor famous. Billie laughed. His was not polite tittering. He really laughed. Guffawed. As I knew it would, the story put our new guest at ease. Misbehaving politicians are one of the world’s great common threads; no matter who is visiting or where they’re from, tales of elected officials getting caught with a hand in the cookie jar make everyone feel at home.
Remember, you can’t spell inappropriate, without appropriate
I make an effort to weave in accounts of official misconduct with all of our guests (if it’s the holidays, I try to pick something that ends with a jail term). I might need to bide my time and wait for the right moment, but once we share a couple sordid stories, it’s like realizing that we’re long-lost cousins.
Some will disagree with my methods. Chicago has museums, restaurants, and a bean – why not use our cultural icons to facilitate my citizen diplomacy? Because I can’t beat perfect. I have never had a tale of governmental malfeasance fail to bring our two cultures closer together. Not once.
We enjoyed Billie’s stay. We all learned a lot (our children now beg us to let them watch nature videos about Komodo dragons). Would it have worked out the same if Governor Spitzer hadn’t been there to help us along? Maybe, but why take a chance?