Yes, I had dinner with the President of Chile.
No, it wasn’t with Piñera (probably because I think the Piñera Sandwich is classist), nor was it Bachelet (vetoed because of my ONEMI jokes). Yes, it was way back with Ricky Lakes, better known by his Spanish name of Ricardo Lagos. Yes, we’re talking some time ago.
Right now, you’re probably not wondering what it was actually like to have dinner at the Moneda but more about how the hell I managed to end up having dinner with the President of a South American Country.
Well, to cut a long story short…
A past ambassador once said I was the official “fill-the-empty-seat-er”. At official dinners like presidential, diplomatic or high circle dinners, it’s not well seen when there is an empty seat at the table.
So, sometimes I would get called to see if I was able to join the dinner table to fill that space when someone cancelled at the last moment. They knew I would be able to add to the “polite” conversation (yes, I can behave myself at times), even if it were some random “environmental delegation” dinner that is not exactly my forte (little did they know they were eating genetically mutated tomatoes from the south of Chile… fortunately not of the killer variety).
Of course, I did get invited to many dinners, not just as a “filler”, often about education or tourism. However this was a different kettle of fish. This invitation came in the mail…
The Governor General of New Zealand was visiting Chile and she’s a Dame, literally (the official eyes and ears of the Queen of England in NZ).
And yes, in this case I was actually INVITED and not just filling a seat. Or maybe they didn’t tell me the other 198 Kiwis in Chile they invited first were out of the country or busy on the farm de-sexing sheep with rusty nail clippers or something.
Of course my wife and I were delighted. It’s not every night you get to hang out with the Presi.
And along came the night
So we went to La Moneda and parked out the back in Plaza Constitución, not underground but in the plaza itself near the fountain. I half expected the Carabineros to come over and say… move along, there’s nothing to see here, move along now.
They didn’t. We were guests.
We went through the main entrance past those guards in the cool black boots and onto a red carpet that had been laid out especially for us, no-one else, just my wife and I. Ok, maybe for the other guests too. The carpet eventually did a right angle turn into one of the palace’s wings where we were greeted with a frisk down, rubber glove style anal search, ah no, that was the night before… this was just a quick invitation/name check before we could go into the cocktail hallway.
Mingle, mingle but who do we mingle with?
It was a funny sensation seeing all of these people that you normally see on the Chilean 9 0’clock news, but this time in real life. But since Politics isn’t my thing (in any country, not just here), it’s not like you can go up to Minister X and say “Hey, I forgot your name but I saw you on tele… aren’t you the guy that pissed off all those students last week? That’s about the most dumb-ass decision I’ve seen anyone make.” No, you sort of have to be diplomatic…. keep mingling.
Oh look, there’s the commander-in-chief of the Chilean army Juan Cheyre (this was about a week after 12 Chilean cadets died at Antuco which was plastered all over the media). You couldn’t just go up to him and say “How’s it going?” because you already knew he was felt like shit.
At the table
From one moment to the next we were quickly herded from the cocktail hall to the main dining room because the President was about to arrive and we had to be seated beforehand. Protocol dictates this. Eventually he enters, everyone stands, he does his slight nod of acknowledgement to his guests… I’m sure he paused an extra second or so we he saw me. He was probably thinking… shit, I must tighten security, they let some undernourished homeless guy in (note, I’m naturally skinny despite the excessive amounts of Lomo a lo pobre that I eat and those are not rags, I got MARRIED in that suit. Ok, it’s not a known brand and has a red wine stain under the left sleeve that I have never been able to lick off, but it still does the job, doesn’t it?).
And then came the speeches
I bet you most of the other government officials hate this part and are probably forced to be at the dinner for “diplomatic” reasons.
President: I know it sucks but you have to be there.
Minister X: But these things bore me like shit. If I have to sit through yet another one of these fluffy speeches I swear I’ll set fire to the guards’ testicles so we can go home early.
Speaking of speeches, next to your plate there is a written translation of the main speeches and toasts (as seen below):
You don’t really need to read it since it will always be about how they will endeavour to share more smiley bunnies and rainbow-coloured unicorns between both nations, and that they are not actually nations but incestuous blood brothers… etc.
And then it was time to eat. Fuck, there are more knives and forks next to my plate than in my entire house. Now, what was that rule I had to learn? Oh yes, start from the outside and work your way in… much like foreplay. And out came the food…
We took our small camera and would have loved to have taken photos of the food and of all of the famous people but that wouldn’t have been very classy and we didn’t want to look like a Huaso (Chilean expression similar to saying you’re a clueless hillbilly).
The dinner was delicious, the conversation was awkwardly interesting (chatted a lot to a general of one of the armed forces… so hey, what do you think about this very place being bombed in ‘73).
We enjoyed our night but when I got home I was left with a doubt…
Does the toilet paper come embossed?
Why didn’t I go to the toilet while I was there at the Moneda. I’ve now been left with the curiosity of wondering whether their loo paper comes embossed too? Hopefully I get invited again to find out.
And do you think the President remembers that night?
Since I didn’t spill my Pisco Sour on him or do my living impersonation of the Indio Pícaro in front of everyone (search it in google images if you don’t know what they are), no, it was just another one of those monotonous dinners where presidents have to pretend they like the people that are present and secretly want to go home and curl up in bed.
Have you ever met a President, Prime Minister or Supreme Dictator of the Universe?