In its WittyLeaks series, Diplomac&Trade regularly publishes the personal accounts of diplomatic mission leaders accredited to Budapest. This time, the Canadian Ambassador shares her experiences of being a diplomat with a small child.
For the past two years, I have had the great privilege to serve as the Ambassador of Canada to Hungary, Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. My husband is a former German Ambassador to the Kingdom of Belgium and to the OSCE. Our daughter is having a diplomatic childhood, with all the opportunities but also some of the challenges it offers. Many diplomatic children end up following in their father’s and, more and more, mother’s footsteps. Others settle in their home country, never wanting to see a moving truck ever again.
Caroline is six-years old, and she has already lived in four different countries. She is fluent in French and German, her English is improving by the day – and her Hungarian is much better than ours! Her best school friends at the Lycée français de Budapest are from China, Hungary and Morocco. Such circumstances are, of course, not uncommon for diplomatic children (and many friends and colleagues could tell similar stories), but they still require a good dose of adaptability – on the part of the entire family!
Borshika and other animals
To help with our transition from Vienna to Budapest in the summer of 2016, my husband suggested that we buy a dog for Caroline (then 4), and by pure coincidence, he met a breeder from Siófok, a town by Lake Balaton. All truth be said, I did not meet this idea with unbounded enthusiasm, but it turned out that our Hungarian teckel, Borshika (or Pepper Corn, due to her dark color at birth), has been and will be for years to come a wonderful and constant companion for Caroline – ensuring a stable presence in a sometimes unsettling life.
As parents, my husband and I have also strived to ensure that our daughter felt right ‘at home’, wherever we lived. After Brussels, Ottawa and Vienna, home is now Budapest and we are taking full advantage of what Hungary has to offer when it comes to spending quality time together – be it through regular visits at the Budapest Zoo (a clear favorite!), enjoying a day out on the shores of beautiful Lake Balaton or going a bit further afield to explore the natural beauty of the puszta at the Hortobágy National Park.
A few weeks after we moved to Budapest, my husband found out by chance that the former stables of the Hungarian Horseguards were located a mere five-minute away from our Residence. By then, Caroline had already demonstrated a keen interest in riding and she now benefits twice a week from the well-established Hungarian equestrian tradition. She is quickly becoming a good rider. No doubt seeing the Richter family in action at the Hungarian National Circus, or visiting the Lázár farm near Gödöllõ, has been a further source of inspiration.
During my previous posting as Canada’s Permanent Representative to the OSCE in Vienna, Caroline was less exposed to my work as a diplomat given the specific dynamic of multilateral work, but she had heard enough stories around our dinner table to decide one day to play the Ambassador. Sitting at an imaginary computer, she started typing furiously, turning to me to ask for which country I needed a visa. She then announced that the visa would be ready only the following day (very quick service!) since she had to deliver a speech at the Hofburg in the meantime. We had a good laugh.
But her first real diplomatic moment came on October 3, 2016 on the occasion of the presentation of my credentials to the President of Hungary, His Excellency János Áder. Officially part of the Canadian Delegation attending what is a very impressive ceremony combining military pomp and state protocol, Caroline was introduced to and shook the hand of the President as if this was the most natural thing of the world. This is now a precious memory we share as a family.
While many diplomatic events are clearly not intended for children whose patience can be limited, we take Caroline along (with the host’s permission!) as often as we can, especially during the week-end and when animals are part of the mix. One such occasion was the Diplomat’s Polo Cup held at the Hungarian Polo Club in Tabajd in partnership with the Embassy of Argentina. More recently, I took Caroline to the end-of-year show of the Hungarian National Circus School, staged by the Artistic Director of the famous Montreal-based circus company ‘Les 7 doigts’, Samuel Tétreault. Of note, this very poetic, yet highly technical show will be presented to the public later this summer as part of the Sziget Festival.
For me as a representative of Canada, it is particularly exciting when Caroline attends events with a decidedly Canadian flavor. She cheered on the Canadian national hockey team when it played against the Hungarian team in Budapest in 2017 (for the record, Canada prevailed in the end but Hungary scored first and put up a good fight). She had her first maple syrup pancakes at the ‘Cabane à sucre’ event organized at the Cafe Dumas/French Institute as part of last year’s celebrations of Francophonie Month in Hungary. And she is always happy to join us at the annual Canada Day reception, where her special task is to draw the name of the winner of the tombola.
Living abroad as a family
However, diplomatic children are not the only beneficiaries in this story. I am convinced that other diplomatic parents will agree with me when I say that living abroad as a family is a very enriching experience as one sees things not only through his or her own eyes but also through the eyes of children and discovers many places they would not have otherwise known about.
As a diplomat, I am also constantly inspired by my daughter in my daily work because she makes me a better person. Thanks to her love for nature and for the animals (all of them!), I am more strongly committed to the protection of the environment and convinced of the need to handover to future generations a planet in better health, from fighting climate change to limiting oceans’ plastic pollution. This year, we have devoted specific efforts to make all the Embassy’s events more bio-friendly, notably by refraining from using non-recyclable items.
Granted, I was a convinced feminist well before I had a child due to the fact that my own parents brought us up, my brother and I, in a very equal and supportive environment, but being a parent has made me even more convinced of the need to make gender inequality history (which was a key theme at the recent G7 Summit hosted by Canada in Charlevoix) and to ensure that boys and girls alike are provided with equal opportunities, including good educations, to realize their dreams.
In this, I am helped by a wonderful role-model in the person of Canada’s Governor General, the Right Honorable Julie Payette, who flew two missions in space and became Chief Astronaut for the Canadian Space Agency. She is thus the living proof that sky is not the limit after all – something I hope my daughter will always remember, whether she chooses to become a diplomat or not.