Culture / Travel

Behind closed doors


Today I went to NATO headquarters, but all I can share with you in the visual sense is this photo from the parking lot outside of the entry gates. We checked our phones and cameras at the door.

Last night, I attended a reception at the home of an American diplomat in the tony Uccle section of Brussels. This is what that looked like.


It doesn’t escape me that I’ve been privileged to enter into the milieux of the global political and military elite, an opportunity few experience. It speaks to the prowess of the German Marshall Fund to enable doors to open and lips to loosen.

Since we practice Chatham House rules, I won’t be divulging too many specifics. Here’s an overview; a mash-up of my reception of last night and today’s visit to NATO, followed by a briefing on emissions trading systems and immigration and integration. Warning: any questions below are purely rhetorical.

Point one: the thread through all of it is how people and states choose to navigate the unknown. Do they do it with fear and threats or do they choose cooperation and inquiry?

Point two: diplomacy, military policy, energy policy and immigration/integration policy are about relationships, building a shared understanding and moving past fear that someone will have the upper hand if you concede.

Point three: in Belgium, there’s a complex set of relationships defined by place and language (see yesterday’s post) that contains many layers of meaning. If you don’t fit into the mold in which these factors inhabit, you’re probably not feeling particularly “integrated” into society.

Point four: it’s not just about Belgium. It’s about the European Union, the NATO, sovereign governments and social mores. There are interlocking sets of laws that can sometimes cancel each other out depending on the governance.

Point five: in Belgium, coffee and water is served with every meeting. And there’s usually a little specially wrapped cookie that goes with it. Very sweet.


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