American Diplomat podcast
Because I promoted the How Did We Not Know That podcast I should probably also mention the American Diplomat podcast. It’s hosted by a retired career diplomat and former ambassador. It’s a little funny and a little more informative.
One of the episodes that spoke to me most is, of course, one about the work consular officers do. It’s called “Trifecta” and was published on March 4. The host talks to a Foreign Service Officer named Andrew Byrley, who has about 10 years of experience. He emphasizes the American citizens services part of consular work, which makes sense. No matter what’s going on somewhere (a pandemic, for example) a consular officer’s main mission is assisting, protecting, and informing U.S. citizens.
How many Americans are overseas depends on the place. There are big tourist destinations, like Mexico. Boy, do those U.S. travelers need our help often when they lose their passports or wind up in jail. Then there are the overseas retirement communities like (I had no idea) Belize. There are also lots of American soldiers living in countries like Germany and Japan who marry local girls and make babies—not necessarily in that order. To make all of that stuff legal, they need us; consular officers.
It may sound bureaucratic, but it’s kind of a big deal. When an American brings a new baby to the consulate my job is to basically inspect that baby and to use my special powers to give that baby U.S. citizenship. On the other side of the spectrum we deal with folks who want to renounce their citizenship—for tax purposes mainly. You have to sit these people down for a conversation and explain why they should sleep on it and come back tomorrow.
Basically, the episode about consular work reiterates it’s hard to describe what, exactly, a consular officer does. Exercising special powers and solving problems. But what kind of problems totally depends on where you are.
When you work in a country with lots of elderly Americans, you may be making quite a few calls to notify next of kin of someone’s death. In some countries it’s not uncommon to deal with Americans who got robbed by pirates! Or you have to call hospitals to find a missing person. Or check to make sure someone didn’t commit suicide. Fortunately here in Germany, where I’m currently working, I’m mostly inspecting babies. The COVID-induced baby boom is real!