Memo To The UN: Your Template Doesn't Work
By: Rachel Marsden
Living in New York City, you never know who -- or what -- you might come
across. Last week, I found an orphaned document on the photocopier at a Kinko's
store, entitled "Manual of exercises for written communication at the United
Nations," complete with the UN emblem and department contact.
I turned it over to the manager, in case someone down the street at UN Headquarters comes back to get it -- but not before I had a look inside. The introduction, "Welcome to the challenge of writing for the international community," cautions: "You want the recipient to read and act on your message; you do not want your message to get placed at the bottom of the pile because it seemed too complicated or unclear to the reader."
You know, kind of like dictators do with UN resolutions.
I'm glad the UN has finally identified the problem in communicating with the numerous despots on their membership roster:
My favourite part is the section entitled "Tone: Have you used enough tact?" featuring three examples of "tactless" communication, such as: "Your request for overtime payment is completely out of line because the contract makes it very clear that you will not be paid until after 40 hours."
My suggestion? How about: "Overtime? Go &%$# yourself." Or, more relevant to actual UN affairs: "Hey, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. If you don't stop threatening infidels and fiddling with your nuclear chemistry set, you risk becoming Valet-in-Chief of a parking lot."
The French are typically viewed as the world's best diplomats, so here's a good example of tact and tone for the UN manual, straight from the French president:
American journalist Charlie Rose asked French President Nicolas Sarkozy, "Why are you opposed to full EU membership for Turkey?" His response: "Turkey is not in Europe. Turkey is in Asia Minor ... How can you ask me that question?"
In the letter writing section, we get an example letter dated Sept. 4, 2006, addressed to actress Angelina Jolie. It starts: "Dear Ms. Jolie, On behalf of our organization, I am writing to express our deepest appreciation to you for the great dedication you have shown in your work as UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador."
Two pages later, we find the template used for the Jolie letter, which users are asked to cut and paste to create their own thank you letters.
Cool. Here's the first part of my UN thank-you letter, with the non-template part in brackets:
Dear (President George W. Bush), On behalf of our organization, I am writing to express our deepest appreciation to you for the great dedication you have shown in your work as (primary ATM for this white elephant). Your willingness and determination to (help by paying a quarter of our budget while being kicked repeatedly in the face by our members) has won the greatest admiration from all our staff. Furthermore, your efforts have inspired us to make our very best effort to do whatever we can to implement (absolutely nothing).
Finally, the "Report Writing" section gives a sample "recommendation" at the end of a mock mission report. It starts, unsurprisingly, with the directive "continue the suspension of work." Just like former UN/Canadian Gen. Romeo Dallaire's UN-ordered mandate right before the Rwandan genocide was to continue watching while planeloads of weapons were brought in and then used to kill civilians.
And just like the UN will continue to hope there's a chance in hell for world peace when Mideast terrorists use a Mickey Mouse lookalike named Farfur to spew "anti-infidel" hatred to kids on TV.
But keep working on those memos!
PUBLISHED: TORONTO SUN (June 24/07)
COPYRIGHT 2007 RACHEL MARSDEN