I can safely say that I have no idea what I’m doing. Like most columnists, I have an ego so large it radiates from me for five blocks in every direction. I believe the area of my ego, if I remember any geometry, is approximately 78.5 blocks (that’s pi – 3.14 – multiplied by five blocks squared). This means I am only qualified and/or likely to write about the quirky things I see in the world — ’cause, baby, that’s all I got.

So I decided to write about my troubles with the State Department because despite — or to spite — myself, I want to join the Foreign Service. To do so, one must pass a written exam, take an oral test (I think it involves proper dental hygiene), and background security clearance. Even though I’m pretty sure I won’t pass the oral part and I know I won’t pass the security clearance, I printed out an eight-page “Suggested Reading List” for the exam. With these books, I may actually make it to the molar inspection.

Unfortunately I have yet to read all or any of the books on the list. Still I feel confident and generous enough to create a sample exam of my own for my fellow Foreign Service exam takers to study so that they too won’t have to bother with this impossible list. (The following sample exam has not been read or approved by any one at the U.S. State Department. All questions and answers are fictitious and any resemblance to real Foreign Service exam questions, living or dead, is purely coincidental and advantageous for the reader.)


1. The capital of Senegal is…?

a. Dakar

b. S

c. Berkeley College

d. Wait, which side of Berkeley?

The answer, of course, is b.

(a) is wrong because Dakar is the capital of Thailand and (c) and (d) are wrong because Berkeley College is only important to granola-crunchers and the Wall Street Journal.

2. What is the function of the President of the United States of America?

a. The same as the function of Conjunction Junction.

b. To conquer the world and universe, in that order.

c. To sign or veto Congressional bills, act as a figurehead and representative of the country, and to look pretty for the cameras.

d. To rock and occasionally roll as long as he is not munching on pretzels at the same time.

Difficult, yes? Well, this is the Foreign Service exam. It’s not exactly the SAT’s or whichever test those whiny New York kids are always complaining about. Most people think it’s (c), and that’s why most people aren’t cut out for the Foreign Service. As America’s chosen representatives abroad, Foreign Service officers must always use impeccable grammar. Do I need to go on?

3. You’re working at the American Embassy in Sri Lanka. While you are trying to explain to a Canadian who has lost her passport that her country doesn’t “count,” a plane falls out of the sky and bursts into flame on the street outside your window. Do you…?

a. Tell the Canadian that this is all her fault?

b. Use the Canadian’s tears to extinguish the flames?

c. Throw yourself on the fire because working at an embassy in Sri Lanka made you coin the term “bleeding cheese monkey” to describe your boss?

d. Ignore the question because there are no streets in Sri Lanka and possibly no embassy?

The answer is (c). Duh.

4. A popular American band is stopped at the airport in Reykjavik because the lead guitarist has an unkempt beard and a funny-sounding last name. Do you…?

a. Threaten to kick Icelandic ass if the band isn’t released immediately?

b. Ignore the problem because you think the band is derivative?

c. Offer the head of airport security a one-way ticket to Barcelona if he looks the other way?

d. Ignore the question because there are no airports in Iceland and possibly no embassy?

This is a trick question. Take a green pen and draw through all the answer bubbles for this one. The computer will know what you mean.

Finally, you will have to write an essay on either why you want to work for the Foreign Service or your thoughts on Yugoslavia. I have provided sample essay answers that are guaranteed to catch the eye of whoever grades your exam.

Why I want to work for the Foreign Service?

I have always wanted to go to Africa and work with the natives there. I don’t want to work with white people because white people spread skin cancer and their governments are all really similar and stable, which is boring. I can speak six different languages. I can say goodbye in Japanese: sayonara. I would not want to work in Japan though because of all the Hello Kitty. Why couldn’t it be Sayonara Kitty?

What are your thoughts on Yugoslavia?

I don’t usually think about Yugoslavia. No one should, except people in Yugoslavia, and even then not very often. I don’t want to live in Yugoslavia because there are Slavic people there and the Slavs are responsible for Communism, Anna Karenina, and Gorbachev. They also wear funny furry hats, and I don’t think animals should be killed for clothes, just food and sport.

Here ends my sample Foreign Service exam. I, like Buddha, wish you two good luck middle fingers up.