Dropping a card

 Formal calling cards once allowed diplomats and officials who detested one another to maintain warm relations.

The two leaders sit, facing, on comfortable chairs with a small, low table placed between them and perhaps an interpreter sitting discretely behind. There are – usually – set smiles, some grave expression and then, of course, the requisite handshake. The problem with the ‘photo opportunity’ is that it sometimes requires people who cannot suffer one another to have to co-exist, at least briefly, in the same place. Today it is email that greases the wheels of diplomacy, as the Wikileaks affair clearly if unhappily demonstrates. In a simpler time the diplomatic calling card – a pasteboard rectangle similar in size to today’s business cards but often bearing only a name – had a comparable role in allowing senior diplomats and other officials to interact socially without actually having to see each other.

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