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November 2014

Dancing the Bidding Dance

Back in September, I submitted my bids for my next assignment. My next tour will be my first mid-level tour as a tenured Foreign Service Officer.  And with it comes a whole new world known as Mid-Level Bidding.

For your first two tours in the Foreign Service are "directed assignments". This basically is a nice way of saying that the Entry Level Officer (ELO) has very little say in where you get sent. You rank your bids and provide a wish list, but at the end of the day, you get sent based on the needs of the Department of State. But as a Mid-Level Officer, you do the Mid-Level Bidding Dance. This dance has its own beat, unique rhythm and even a secret language with terms like "air kisses," "winks," and "hand-shakes".

Bidding mid-level in the Foreign Service is a lot like a middle school dance. The boys and girls are sitting on opposite sides of the gym (globe). You flirt with a girl (post), we'll call her Xanadu. Xanadu is shy, coy with a good poker face. She won't let you know immediately whether she likes you or not. So you go track down her best friend from the same class (bureau) -- we'll call her Athena --  "Hey, does Xanadu like me? I really like her!"  The friend gives you an answer, which may or may not be coded language for "you have a chance at a dance" or "no chance, dude". So you pass notes in class to her wider circle of friends and acquaintenances. At the same time, you'll get your own buddies to pass notes to Athena, vouching that you're a swell guy, encouraging Athena to put in a good word with Xanadu. If Athena hints that you have a chance, you might get the nerves to go back to Xanadu directly and flat out ask her, "So, do you like me or do you LIKE me?" Xanadu might warm up and give you a wink and a sly smile. If she really likes you, you'll get an air kiss, meaning you're in like Flynn. But before you can get to the dance floor, out of nowhere, another girl you briefly fancied -- we'll call her Lindsey -- swoops in and asks you for a dance. You've already committed to dance with Xanadu, so you tip-toe around Lindsey and politely excuse yourself back across the gym floor and towards Xanadu's open hand. BUT, it's only 6:30pm, and the school dance doesn't officially start until 7pm. So you stand there looking at each other knowingly until 7:01pm, when she approaches you an outstretched arm, you shake her hand and lead her onto the dance floor.  And that, my friends, is Mid-Level Bidding in a nutshell.  

So where I am now? It's now 6:45pm and the dance is about to start. Most of my classmates have already received "air kisses" and joyfully congratulating each other for finding a dance partner. Other more tight-lipped classmates are keeping their kiss cards close to their vest, lest they jinx the news or upset their jealous classmates in the back of the gym. That's me, sitting on the bleachers, looking nervously around the room, straining through the crowd to spot anyone left without a dance partner. 

Stay tuned...