The State Department enjoys a multi-billion dollar budget. Why then would Hillary Clinton embarrass the United States in front of the Russian Foreign Minister?
Steven J. Mopsick mentioned that the people working at the IRS are the brightest America has:
Almost everyone at that level has a law degree, but these people went [to] the finest schools where they distinguished themselves with their scholarship and achievement. Also they all tend to be very conservative in their social and moral habits. Not necessarily conservative politically, but very modest when it comes to drinking, socializing, and who they hang around with in their very brief “off” hours. These are people who mix it up with the best and brightest people at the top of other agencies, almost all of who are at the top of their game. They are challenged on their positions and reasoning and no one ever survives in Washington if they think they are going to get by on the basis of bull shit, not at that level of government.
Undoubtedly, this estimation also applies to the geniuses at the State Department, with their fine educations at Ivy League schools. That is how they manage to get a blooper like this caught on video:
Now how do you avoid “overcharging” other nations instead of “resetting” your relations with them? Here are some suggestions: (1) A Harvard degree is not going to help. You may think that you are God’s linguistic gift to humanity, but if you haven’t actually lived in the other country and rubbed shoulders with the people who speak the language as a mother tongue, you will never know when you make a mistake like this. (2) To avoid such bloopers, you must also have humility. You have to admit that you are not the smartest person in the room because you consulted a English-Russian dictionary, and that maybe, just maybe, a native speaker of the language knows more than you. (3) It may help if you have friends who went to school (primary and high school) in that language and are able to answer translational questions with some accuracy. Clearly, the State Department, despite having a multi-billion dollar budget, is unable to find even one native speaker of Russia to help them with a simple “reset” button as a gift to the Russian foreign minister. How embarrassing! And how arrogant.
Americans who have never lived overseas don’t have many native speakers of foreign languages as their best friends. Expats do. Not only do they learn the languages of their respective countries of residence, they have spouses, children, and friends who are native speakers. [And I should add, their children tend to make incessant fun of them when they make linguistic errors.]
The Foreign Services Institute courses that the State Department offers are great, but they won’t prevent a person from making some pretty colossal gaffes. For example, I used the FSI course to learn French, but I did not know the difference in pronunciation between “eu”, “ou” and “u”. So as a result, when I first tried to say, “I can” (“je peux”), I was actually saying, “I stink” (“je pue”). Then there was the American lady in Geneva who would try to say, “Merci beaucoup” (“Thank you very much”), but instead said, “Merci beau cul” (“Thank you, nice ass!”).
Linguistic issues are just one of many cultural barriers to foreign countries. The United States really does need the help of her expats to sort out a whole array of issues. And as good as some of the US military or even the diplomatic corps are at getting to know the countries in which they are stationed, there is no substitute for the kind of knowledge that expats have.
But I suppose we are like Lieutenant Dunbar in Dances with Wolves or Jake Sully in Avatar: we’ve gone native and our loyalties are questionable.