In a previous life I was an Agricultural Attache at the American Embassy in Paris. I was thinking about that because of all the recent news about the leaked U.S. diplomatic cables. One of the newspaper articles mentioned that a lot of cables mentioned “Codels,” that is embassy-speak for Congressional Delegations.

Codels are a pain in the ass.

Some Congressman I’ve never heard of is going to a meeting in some other country and he conveniently decides he’ll spend 2 nights in Paris on the way. This was a huge problem for the American Embassy in Paris, a ton of Codels want to stop in Paris and then we were supposed to find something “worthwhile” for them to do to cover their asses about the Paris stop.

As a Foreign Service Officer, Codels can only hurt you, they can’t help you.

The Congressmen expected to be treated like they were staying at the Intercontinental Hotel. They expected to be met at the airport, their bags carried, cars arranged to ferry them around Paris. And, now that I think about it, maybe they were staying at the Intercontinental, or perhaps the Hotel Crillon.

And if anything was at all inconvenient for them, they would be very annoyed at me. They often didn’t allow enough time to drive between meetings – drivetime is a constant problem in Paris – and then they would get pissy about the traffic and being late. And I had been telling him for a half hour we needed to leave to make the next meeting on time.

Now, remember, I have a full time job and when a Codel comes waltzing in I have to drop all the work that counts towards my performance appraisal and kiss this guy’s ____ as for a couple of day, plus all the prep time before his arrival. And, of course, Washington doesn’t cut me any slack on my other deadlines just because a Codel is in town.

A Codel could one Congressman or a few. Typically, Agriculture would get one at a time. It could be some guy on the Agriculture Committee or from an agricultural area of the United States who decided to do a layover in Paris on his trip to visit troops some place.

If you really took great care of the Codel, it didn’t help your career, he would never send an attaboy back to your bosses in Washington. Codels were more likely, if they got pissy enough, to complain about you to Washington which was really a disaster for your career.

Fortunately, Agriculture didn’t have a ton of Codels to babysit.

But there was one Codel that was more or less worthwhile. The Chairman of the House Ag Committee, Kika De la Garza, was in town for some meetings that were not completely fabricated for CYA and that helped my attitude toward the visit. He was meeting with his European counterparts at some big meeting of European legislators. There were other Ag Committeemen on the trip but they were surprisingly compliant because, apparently, they didn’t want to look like jerks in front of De la Garza, their committee chair. I wasn’t honchoing his program, my boss was, because De la Garza was so important. I was just a gopher making sure the cars were staged and ready to take them to the next place, or some such.

Well, it turned out De La Garza was actually a pretty nice guy despite being a Congressman. Texans! One of the Marines at the Embassy was from his district and in an amazingly inappropriate move he asked De la Garza if he would call his family when he was back in Texas and tell them their son was doing fine. It turned out De la Garza actually did it! Although, the Marine was mortified because when De la Garza called his parents’ house, his little sister answered the phone and thought it was a prank call. Wow! Kika was so famous in his district that even school girls knew his name! Amazing.

Anyway, I had forgotten how much I disliked Codels until I saw them mentioned in the news recently.