Barely United Nations

Diplomacy, to judge by recent efforts of our not-so-diplomatic commander in chief, is not an easy job. It requires holding your tongue and curbing your temper. First and foremost, however, it requires landing the job, which has always been tough and is just getting tougher. Despite current troubles, or perhaps because of them, interest in the U.S. Foreign Service is at its highest level ever. Last year a record 32,239 of your fellow Americans applied with the State Department or took its Foreign Service exam. Of all these would-be peacemakers, only 470 were offered jobs. Then again, it’s no stroll down the Champs-Elyseés. Every three to four years, foreign service employees must pull up stakes and move to a location of their government’s choosing, almost anywhere on the planet. Sure, it sounds great, but imagine this: One day you find yourself discussing the world economy, piña colada in hand, surrounded by beautiful people on the luscious beaches of Rio de Janeiro, and then poof! You’re languishing over Byerly’s lefse and agonizing about how to get Minneapolis housewives excited about Norwegian opera.

Of course, Norwegian Consul General Thor Johansen is diplomatic about his Minneapolis assignment. In fact, he insists he has found Minneapolis to be nicer than Rio, his previous post, in the year and a half he has served here.

Norway is one of two countries to maintain a consulate general, a mini-embassy of sorts, in Minneapolis. And while Johansen is not sure just how many Norwegian nationals reside in the eight states his consulate serves, the Norwegian government is not quite ready to close up shop, as was rumored two years ago. After all, here is the largest concentration in the world of people with Norwegian roots, Johansen points out.

There are limits to diplomacy, even as the Norwegians practice it. When we tried to weasel an invitation to Johansen’s tax-exempt, government-issue home, which is located on the western frontiers of Lake Minnetonka, and held in the name of the King of Norway, the consul general demurred.

Meanwhile, over at the Canadian Consulate, Consul General Christopher Thomson lends a shiny diplomatic glow to brochures on the “Smart Border Action Plan,” the United States-Canadian initiative on security along one of the largest borders in the world. Thomson’s previous assignments include the United Arab Emirates, the U.N. in New York, Paris, Hong Kong, and Beirut. Regardless of this impressive and exciting resume, he also has kind and diplomatic things to say about his assignment in Minneapolis. When he’s not tightening up on terrorists, Thomson promotes Canadian business in an eight-state region. The consul general from the True North insists that Americans are not hated nearly as much as we might fear. It’s not clear how much consolation he is offering.

Like Johansen, Thomson retires at the end of a busy day to his tax-exempt, government-issue home, a comfortable colonial on Cedar Lake in Minneapolis. His too is owned in the name of foreign royalty. Queen Elizabeth’s name appears on the title of one of the few homes with waterfront on a Minneapolis lake, a holdover from feudal times, no doubt. Consul General Thomson wishes to assure excitable readers that the Queen owns the home—and, for that matter, Canada—only in name. She is not likely to visit Minneapolis any time soon. Although Thomson would not invite us in, he assured us that there is a portrait of the Queen on prominent display for his private guests. “As an official Canadian residence,” Thomson said dryly, “it’s normal to do that sort of thing.”—Katie Quirk