Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Passport DC: PD at its best?

Holding Embassy Open Houses has apparently become a tradition in the District: already for the fourth year, embassies in D.C. open up their doors to curious visitors, offering a peek into the best that their countries have got to offer; all without a jet lag, as they say. This all takes place in May, usually opened by the Europeans. This year they kickstarted the events with their Shortcut To Europe on May 7.

I hope to attend more of the upcoming events (and will, hopefully, get time to share some of the impressions here, too), but here are some thoughts on last Saturday.

Map of participants in the "Around the World Embassy Tour". From 2011 Passport DC Map.

Passport DC: awesome idea. Indeed, it is - potentially - public diplomacy at its best. A great opportunity to showcase a country's arts, food, history, tourism info, historical connections and current relations with the U.S... All that through direct, unhindered contact with an eager and curious public. An opportunity countries often spend millions on... (Of course, this should be a bigger deal for smaller and less prominent countries, who usually fight for attention.)

And yet, I'm afraid, even within Europe - which tends to be seen as having "mastered" the art of public diplomacy quite well - this potential was not harnessed to its best. But then, I just made it to three EU embassies...

Huge lines..


The line was huge. Took an hour to get in. Still, those waiting under the sun could watch some live tap dancing by local students and go through some tourism magazines which the Embassy was generously giving out.

"Gastrodiplomacy" - best route to the hearts and minds?

Inside, there was some great live music, attempts at hurling recruitment (especially women!), and some yummy food samples. Most of the major rooms of the gorgeous embassy were open to visitors, which was itself exciting.

Great music!


Another one with a huge line. There were some folk dancers in front of the building, but we just got to watch them from across the street, while waiting to get in to Ireland. I'm not quite sure if the dancers ever got back from their "break".

Seems there wasn't much to be impressed with...

Then, the embassy "tour" itself was disappointing, especially after the 45-min wait. Only one hall (in the basement) was open to visitors and it featured maps and info from local tourism agencies, with food samples from local Greek restaurants/stores. There was an unappealing tourism video playing on a large screen, but I'm sure Greece has much more to offer than just faded images of obscure islands. In short, it resembled a business venture, while the "idea" of Greece itself was lost in between.


Gorgeous views from the rooftop of the Sweden House

The Sweden House was the last one we made to before the day was over. The amazing building at Georgetown Waterfront showcased the country's dedication to sustainability and green energy, the major construction project in D.C. by SKANSKA, and various other activities for kids (and not only), that made the visit all the more exciting.

In case you want to hear more about the details

"Table Hockey" seemed to be the highlight of the day :)

I heard many other embassies also featured great events, but the lines and the short time period call for prioritization. It would help to have more time... and a better description by embassies in advance of all the various activities/events they will be featuring. Makes planning easier.

Yet, I admit, it would also make the job of smaller countries, who plan on keeping the Open House small too, much more difficult. For example, limiting the description to "Come visit the Embassy of Luxembourg for the day!" will not generate much interest, especially if compared to others who promised cultural events and wine samples.

That was just the beginning, though. Many others will be hosting visitors and/or organizing cultural events throughout the month, so make sure to check out the schedule if you're in town. My personal recommendations include:

Around the World Embassy Tour on Saturday, May 14 (would love to see Egypt, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Venezuela... and perhaps Bahrain, but that should rather take the form of a protest).

- 2011 Eurovision Final viewing party at the Goethe-Institut (since Germany is hosting the event this year) on Saturday, May 14. (Will be sharing more thoughts on Eurovision itself later this week...)

Fiesta Asia Street Fair on Saturday, May 21.

- Also, the awesome "World Jazz" series at the Twins Jazz club.

Here you can download the full brochure and the 2011 Program Guide.

And just to close, it's a shame Armenia is not doing anything this month. I'm sure they could have afforded to spend a tiny part of their annual budget on a one-day event. Or perhaps even cooperate with the local diasporan community... So where are the patriots now?

Oh well...


  1. "So where are the patriots now?"

    Well, they are in LA and Moscow...
    It's much easier and much more comfortable to be a patriot from a distance (the greater the distance, the better patriot one becomes!!!)

  2. I'm talking about the DC "patriots" who usually remember their "love and dedication" only once a year. [p.s. - DC is quite a far away from Armenia too...]

  3. Yeah, I'm glad you made it to the Swedish embassy! :)

  4. obviously, it was my fav! :)