Norway’s ambassador to Afghanistan stirred up a storm of controversy this week when he wrote about his passion for good food and wine, and how he had to train his cook in Kabul, on the Foreign Ministry’s blog site for diplomats. Hattrem’s blog was viewed by many as being not only undiplomatic, but also in bad taste.
Ambassador Tore Hattrem probably had no idea that reaction to the importance he places on eating well would boil over. By Friday afternoon, his blog item had attracted 209 comments, a new record for the ministry and the overwhelming majority harshly critical. That compares to just one comment on the blog from Norway’s top diplomat Madrid, none on the blog from Haiti and one on the blog from the United Nations.
Menu preparation every morning
It all started on Wednesday, when Hattrem published his blog item (external link, in Norwegian) on the ministry’s “Norge i Verden” (Norway in the world) portion of its website. The cook in the ambassador’s residence, Hattrem said, “is one of the persons I have a lot to do with,” because of Hattrem’s need for good food. “Every morning we draft the day’s menu for lunch and dinner, regardless of whether (the meals) will be with or without guests,” said Hattrem, who otherwise is responsible for being Norway’s top representative in the war-torn and impoverished country.
He went on to write that: “If I don’t get good food, I lose weight. I simply eat too little. During a former posting, I lost five kilos in three months because the cook didn’t make good food. My wife had to step in and give the cook a strict learning plan.” Then he got around to how he’d been training his new cook, Abdul, and how they’d made Coq au Vin together. Abdul couldn’t taste the dish, however, because of the wine used in its ingredients.
‘Elitist, embarrassing, arrogant…’
The blog item was picked up and shared on a social media site by author and journalist Aslak Nore, a former member of Norway’s Telemark Battalion who has worked in Afghanistan, and that set off an explosion unlike any Hattrem may have experienced in Kabul. “EMBARRASSING!” wrote one contributor. “Disgustingly elitist!” wrote another. Others noted how Afghanistan tops the world index of food insecurity, how it was “arrogant” of Hattrem to write about his need for good food while many Afghan citizens lack food, and that he lacked respect for the country where he was serving.
“Tasteless from one end to the other,” read another comment. “You (Hattrem) have completely misunderstood your role as ambassador.” Added another: “It’s not me you’re representing out in the world!” Others worried that his publication of a photo of Abdul in the ambassador’s kitchen could endanger his safety in a country where those associating with western forces can become targets themselves.
Harshest of all was the comment from a writer who identified himself as Erik: “I didn’t serve in Afghanistan so that you could eat Coq au Vin made by your own cook. I lost a comrade, you lost five kilos. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
Inspired by Care Norge’s leader
Hattrem wrote that he’d been encouraged to write about Abdul “and his way to the perfect Coq au Vin” by none other than the new leader of humanitarian organization Care Norge, Toril Skogsholm, a longtime politician for the Conservative Party and former Transport Secretary. She’d been a guest at the embassy dinner, and also ended up being peppered by negative comments from many of those objecting to Hattrem’s blog.
Responding to some of the comments, Hattrem said he could understand the reaction, but had earlier written about other aspects of life in Afghanistan including terrorism, the Taliban and the country’s proud history.
Hattrem did receive some words of support. One writer, Eirik Bergesen, claimed that Hattrem is “one of Norway’s best and youngest ambassadors who, despite his desire to eat well, makes a strong contribution … in one of the world’s most difficult areas.” A few others attributed the flood of criticism to the unwritten law called janteloven, that nobody should be better than anyone else and those who are should be brought down to size.
That prompted another writer to comment that “normally I’m an arch opponent of anything that has to do with janteloven,” but he felt Hattrem’s blog crossed the line of decency: “It’s an insult to the Afghan people who are hungry in a war-torn land.”
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