Tailored diplomacy

My wife tells me this is a funny story, so I’ve decided to tell it outside the confines of my close friends and family.


Several years ago I was headed to Ljubljana, from which I am departing today, hoping the Slovenes will forget this story by the time I get back. Ljubljana then was the first leg of a Pristina/Sarajevo jaunt. The foreign minister had asked me to come by and talk with his Balkan folks, which I was glad to do.

Slovenia had done well for itself.  It was already a NATO and European Union member. But traditionally it turned up its nose a bit at “the Balkans,” from which it had escaped. It preferred to be regarded as central European. I was happy that the Slovenes were exploring how they could be helpful to their southern neighbors.

With lots of time to prepare for departure, I closed up the small rollie that is the maximum I take anyplace, had a leisurely lunch with my wife, and headed to Dulles in good time for a flight to Frankfurt. Transiting there, I glanced down at the suitcase and wondered why it looked less chock a block full than usual. Sure enough:  I had forgotten my business suits, which were still hanging in a closet in DC, so as not to get wrinkled the night before departure.

Panic set in, but not despair. I sent a quick email to my wife asking for help (T-mobile, which functions most places on earth at minimal cost, really is the provider of choice for international travelers, despite iffy service in DC). And another quick email went to Kosovar friends living in the US, to see if they knew anyone traveling to Pristina in the next day or two. Surely my network would come up with something.

The Galerija Emporium

No answers by the time I arrived in Ljubljana, so I decided to make shopping for a suit the afternoon’s entertainment. Ljubljana is a small town but it took me a couple of hours to case the men’s shops and try on a few candidates. One I found at the Galerija Emporium was really nice.

But it cost $1200. Euroland is not cheap for Americans. So I asked the friendly salesman whether there wasn’t a cheaper source of business suits in town. Sure, he said. Try Zara.

I’d never heard of Zara, as this cheap source of (often too) stylish clothes is kept secret from anyone over 40. But I took the advice and found an excessively fitted suit for a small fraction of $1200.

But they don’t do alterations. Yes, they recommended Maria, down the street in the underpass. But I had better hurry, as it was close to closing time. I found Maria’s shop, with difficulty, but she was only open two afternoons per week. Not my afternoon, of course.

Back to the hotel. Trusty sewing kit at the ready (don’t you carry one?). I gave up on the sleeves–they were too long, but maybe that would pass for stylish. The pants needed hemming, one way or the other. I did my best. Ran out of gray thread. Leaned on the concierge for some more. The hemming wasn’t pretty, but it was better than showing up in the foreign ministry with the pants rolled up.

The meetings went well both there and at the prime ministry. No one asked why my pants looked as if I had hemmed them myself.

Afternoon comes. Time to call my wife, who no doubt has figured something out.

Not a chance. Yes, she got the email, but it was a plea for help from someone who has never asked for help previously. She figured it was a Nigerian scam and didn’t even want to click on it. And no, the Kosovars didn’t know anyone headed for Pristina.

But they had a solution:  their sister would meet me on arrival in Pristina and get me tailored right away.

Comforted, I boarded for Pristina, suited up because the Kosovars are good to me and always bring me through the VIP lounge to a ministry car, whose driver on this occasion announces that I am to go directly–do not pass Go–to the minister’s office.

No time for tailoring, I told my friends’ sister in a quick call, until after the meeting with the minister, who again seemed not to notice that my pants looked as if I’d hemmed them myself.

On my way back to the hotel, I arrange to rendez-vous with my Kosovar guardian angel. I had managed to get 45 minutes between meetings. The shop she takes me to doesn’t look like it is in Europe, but it is open and does alterations. One of the three busy people at sewing machines invites me behind a curtain that hides a back room, where I surrender my pants and jacket.

Standing in my shirtsleeves and underwear, I hear a loud rrrrrrip, as the tailor tears out my hour’s worth of hemming. Now I know the process is irreversible.

Ten minutes later I’m trying on the suit, with pants and jacket sleeves redone perfectly. I race back to the foreign ministry. No one notices that I’ve just had my suit altered.

My wife did eventually convince a colleague coming to Sarajevo to carry my suits and deliver them to me there. I never wore them. I like the Zara suit a lot.

PS: a colleague tells me he ripped open the rear seam of this pants on arrival in a foreign capital. The concierge obliged not with gray thread but with a stapler, employed with the pants still on. That makes me cringe.

PPS: one reader says I might have done worse at Zara.

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