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A Rapporteur’s Lot

I have just hit on an idea about what I might do to keep myself busy for the rest of my life: I want to become a United Nations rapporteur.

What exactly is a rapporteur?  You may well ask.  Even I, with my vast vocabulary and intuitive grasp of word-derivations, found myself unable to explain the word’s meaning, so I looked up the word in the Oxford English Dictionary.  There it’s defined as “a person who is appointed by an organization to report on the proceedings of its meetings”.

That doesn’t exactly chime with the role as interpreted by the UN, which uses rapporteurs to report on how various countries are responding to some of the pressing social problems of our times.  But never mind.  What’s in a title, anyway?

Britain is regularly visited by rapporteurs.  A few months ago, a clever lady from the UN named Raquel Rotnik came to our shores to examine whether or not the country had a housing crisis.  I don’t know how long she spent here working on her thesis, but its conclusions were profound and beyond argument: Britain, she discovered, does indeed have a housing crisis. The root of the problem, it seems, is that there are too few houses to go round; either that, or the country has too many people.  I don’t honestly remember which way she leaned.  Either way, the conclusion would be inarguable.  

All in all, Raquel, a job well done.

This very week another rapporteur, one Rashid Manjoo, after a stressful 16-day visit, has ‘rapported’ her findings in an investigation of violence against women.  Britain, Ms. Manjoo concluded, has “a boy’s club sexist culture”.  In no other country that she had previously ‘audited’ had she come across “this level of sexist culture.  It hasn’t been so in your face”.  Ms. Manjoo presumably had The Sun delivered to her hotel room each morning, and then spent useful hours browsing through the top-shelf lad-mags when visiting the shop at the petrol station.

All this sounds like fun, and worthwhile.  And it can’t be too onerous.  It involves lots of travel, which always broadens the mind.  And how taxing can it be to investigate what is widely accepted as the glaringly obvious. 

Of course, there’s the chore of writing it all up at the end of the trip, in order to justify the expense claims, but that doesn’t present a problem to an old Fleet Street hack like me.  And I could probably save the time and effort by writing my reports on the plane before arriving.

I think my first trip will be to Germany.  There I’ll examine why some of the more traditional Teutons are so inclined to dress up in grey uniforms and invade neighbouring countries whenever their leaders tell them they need more living space.  

After that, I’ll pop next door to France to find out whether it’s true that most red-blooded married Frenchmen really do insist on keeping a mistress on the side.  While I’m at it, I’ll find out whether the kept women are happy running around in the boyfriend’s Ferrari and being carted off to tropical resorts.

My final stop will be Italy, where I’ll look into why its citizens don’t seem to feel the need to elect any governments likely to last more than six months in office.

These little excursions will do nicely for a start, and give me much-needed practice.  Then I’ll feel more confident venturing farther afield, perhaps to Brazil, to find out why people in its more remote jungly parts enjoy eating each other or indeed whether they still do.  I’ve also often wondered whether pygmies in central Africa suffer institutional discrimination by being unable to sit on the stools provided in hotel bars. 

There are so many problems in the world that rapporteurs must be in great demand.  Perhaps that will mean I’ll have to go on an interminable waiting list – like all those pitiable Britons who can’t find a place to live.

It’s worth a shot, even so, and it’s not as if I have anything better to do with my time.

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