Traveling broadens the mind … and the belly, especially if you travel for business as I do and your business is like mine. It goes beyond the obvious temptations to eat the nice big breakfasts or munch on chips at night. One of the most important job for a diplomat is to eat and drink for his country. This is harder than it seems.
Anybody can eat when he is hungry, but it takes a real man to eat when he is not. At official receptions or dinners, I have to eat things I might not like in quantities I would not usually want. I was a picky eater when I was a kid and still have somewhat pedestrian tastes, but now I eat everything. I will not share here the things I really don’t like because tomorrow I might be served a heaping helping of it and will have to eat it with eager abandon.
Well, let me share one thing at the “risk” of not getting it again. I really don’t like açaí. It tastes like dirt unless you put loads of sugar into it and then it tastes like sugary dirt. But it is supposed to be good for you and so you often get it around here. I drink it, but I have learned to “savor” it, lest I get a refill too fast.
I was not – am not – much of a coffee drinker, but I have come to enjoy the little coffees, cafezinho, that you always get when visiting offices in Brazil. If I have a busy day of meetings, I get a little shaky from the caffeine, but it is worth it for the social aspect.
When I leave Brazil, I will probably drink coffee no more than once a week and then mostly I like the cream. I get French vanilla. When I was in Poland in the early 1990s, they would sometimes break out the vodka for office calls. That was a bit of a problem. A busy day of meetings could give you a headache for more reasons than one. The practice died out as the free market took hold. Under communism, it helped to stay a little drunk at work, not so when you have free choices. My worst incident was up in the Polish mountains in Zakopane with some local mountaineers, guys that take pride in their capacity to consume hard liquor. They would drink the vodka and then hold the empty cup over their heads to show it was really empty. I am not sure how much I drank, but I held up my end.
Fortunately, it was the last appointment of the day and my driver, Bogdan, made sure I got safely home. I remember they tried to teach me a song called “Gorale.” It was a sad song about a poor guy who had to leave his native mountains to seek a better life. Dla chleba – after bread. They told me in America, but that might have just been for me to hear. It was similar in sentiment to sad old America country songs, like that old Bobby Bare hit, “Last night I went to sleep in Detroit city.”
As a diplomat, I never turn down anything I am offered to eat or drink. This sort of gastronomic diplomacy is very important. And it is true that I sometimes get to like things just from exposure. There was a kind of sour soup in Poland called żurek, or white barszcz. I hated it, but after a while I got to tolerate it, then like it and now I really miss it. I got to like the goat in Iraq too. Maybe that is how it will be someday with açaí.
Returning to the problem originally stated, I just eat too much when I travel and I don’t get enough exercise. It is hard to maintain routines. One thing that I have learned is not be proactive about getting food. I used to buy food when I had the chance, “just in case.” This is rarely necessary and usually results in eating even more than I need. The chances of going hungry are very small and it doesn’t hurt to miss a meal if you do. One thing I try to do is make sure I have Coke Zero, but that is the only thing that I provision specially.
Don’t get me wrong. I like to eat and I like discussion at dinners. Dinner parties are great, if sometimes a little draining. What I don’t like are cocktail parties and receptions. I would rather write a long report than attend a cocktail party. But that is another story.