In her majesty's service: a keen tennis player, and now a novice snowshoe walker, Sarah Gillett, the new British ambassador in Bern, is taking advantage of Switzerland's outdoor lifestyle--and is impressed by the efficiency and lack of red tape in her new country.

AuteurConstable, Lynne


An ambassador, wherever they are from has a short time in which to get to grips with a new country; they may have to master a new language, get to know the embassy staff, who may have been in situ for years, and fathom the diplomatic and political relationships that they are there to foster--and then they move on.

By all accounts. Her Majesty's Ambassador to the Swiss Confederation and to the Principality of Liechtenstein is well on the way to figuring out her new patch Sarah Gillett arrived in Bern only in December. and her initial impressions of the country are "entirely favourable. It has a geographical and cultural richness that I very much enjoy--I like linguistic communities and Switzerland is unique in that respect."

Early ambition

Gillett comes from Dorset. in southwest England. and knew from a young age what her goal was: "I always knew what I wanted to do--and that was to be a diplomat I wanted to join the FCO [Foreign & Commonwealth Office] as soon as possible and I did so as soon as I left school." However. she says that skipping university was a wrong move, so two years later she took temporary leave from the FCO to study international relations at Aberdeen University.

"I thought that I could miss going to university, but that proved a mistake--the diplomatic service is an intensely competitive environment and if one wants to rise. one has to be as qualified as possible." It is worth pointing out that most UK ambassadors are career diplomats, unlike, for example, the United States. where up to 30 per cent of its ambassadors are political appointees.

Gillett's career in the FCO has taken her all over the world: from Washington. D.C. to Paris to Los Angeles to Brasilia to Montreal. back to London as director of protocol and now to Bern. She speaks fluent French and Portuguese. some Spanish and is now focusing on learning High German before tackling Schwyzerdutsch.

Cultural adaptation

A diplomat's life is a roaming, roving existence: a few years here. a few years there. But between hosting endless drinks parties, invitations to cultural events and briefings about strange local customs, living and working as a diplomat can lead to a great deal of knowledge and insight about a country. "One has to be interested in learning about other countries and their history, whatever one's private views. You have to get under the skin of society in order to see how it operates, and the diplomatic service is a wonderful...

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