by Yale Richmond
(In the feline spirit of its subject matter, we are running this item as a purebred hybrid Foreign Service Life/Opinion piece. Ed.)
In Vientiane, Laos, where I served 1954-56, we had a house cat that can truly be called a Foreign Service cat. A Thai Korat by breed, it was content to sit home with me when I had no Foreign Service work to do. But when I had to go somewhere, or make a call on a Lao official, the cat would exit the house with me, jump up on the roof of my car and, crouched down on all fours, it would ride with me to my destination.
When we had arrived at my destination, the cat would jump down, take a position in nearby bushes and wait for me to complete my business. When I had completed my business and resumed my position as driver of the car, the cat would jump back onto the roof of the car and ride with me back home.
In Moscow, where I served 1967-69, we had a Siberian Grey, an alley cat that we had domesticated and which was content to sit home in our apartment as long as we kept it well fed and allowed it to sleep at night with our children. But when I arrived home in the evening, and sat down to read my Paris Herald Tribune, the cat would jump up onto my lap and lie there contented as I read my newspaper.
But, as we learned, although the Siberian Grey is the national cat of Russia, ours did not like Lenin, father of the Soviet state. I had acquired a large poster of Lenin and hung it as decoration in my children’s bedroom. When the cat first saw that poster, it froze with all its hair standing up.
The lesson in all this is, perhaps, if you like cats, join the Foreign Service.
Yale Richmond was a Cultural Officer in the U.S. Foreign Service for thirty years, with overseas postings in Germany, Laos, Poland, Austria, and the Soviet Union. Now a writer on international cultural communication, his latest book is Understanding the Americans: A Handbook for Visitors to the United States (New York: Hippocrene Books).