Isabelle Garachon
Spouse Music

Isabelle Garachon
Spouse Music




By Catherine Vanesse & Christophe Chommeloux

23 January, 2017

For more than a year, warm diplomatic couple Gilles & Isabelle Garachon have represented France in Thailand, making good use of their remarkable people skills. Latitudes talks to this hyperactive ‘ambassadress’ about her daily life…

What is the role of the ambassador’s wife?

It’s not a job in the sense that you don’t train for this position; it’s an activity you learn as you go along. At the beginning, during our time in the Philippines, Gilles gave me confidence by including me in his diplomatic work. Together, we complement one another and try to give meaning to our presence in Thailand. For a long time, the role of the ambassador’s wife was limited to drinking tea with the ladies, and attending Red Cross meetings or charity events. It isn’t always easy to be the spouse, “the wife of”, it’s wearisome because we’re more than just “the wife of” and it’s not easy to leave your country, settle in a new place, quit your job…

You play an active role in representing the embassy. Could you tell us more about your function?

To begin with, I developed communication via the Facebook page of the French Ambassador’s Residence. After a year, we already have 2,200 fans, which I think is a great achievement, especially due to the positive feedback we’ve received. Following that, I opened a Twitter account and so did Gilles, with the aim of developing our image on social networks and informing people of our role as ambassador and ambassador’s wife, so that they don’t think we’re just here to spend taxpayers’ money, drink champagne and eat Ferrero Rocher.

Our mission also consists in building a network within the French community, with the international community or diplomatic corps, facilitating opportunities for people to meet one another, putting them in contact… It also involves showing French people who have recently arrived how things work in Thailand, what the codes of conduct are… or conversely, explaining to the people of Thailand what the French are like.

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Official protocol is obviously very important…

We have a duty to present a positive image of France in Thailand, through receptions, dinners, events, festivals, and other activities linked to network building. To do this work, you have to enjoy meeting and talking to people, and know not to talk only about yourself but to listen mainly to others.

I have rarely been bored at a dinner or reception, I really enjoy getting to know people and there’s always something to learn from the person sitting next to you. We are public figures, and at times we must be careful of what we say, the way we dress, how we behave. But besides these official meetings, there are a lot of informal encounters, for example, having a cigarette with Catherine Deneuve or getting stuck on a bus with Marion Cotillard…

Besides the protocol, it must be difficult at times to decipher the codes of conduct in Thailand…

The fact that we had spent time in Thailand between 1999 and 2003 was an enormous advantage. I was aware of the etiquette, I had experience of interacting with Thai people, I already had a network in place and I had kept in contact with the people I’d met 17 years previously, people with whom I had worked at the Alliance française and who know me as Isabelle not just as the ambassador’s wife. I also speak a little Thai. Gilles, meanwhile, has always followed the country’s history as he is passionate about the region. All of these elements helped us to feel at ease straightaway and I think we gained a year because of them. When we arrived in the Philippines, we had to take time to discover the place, the culture, the codes of conduct, to familiarise ourselves with the country.

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What has changed from your first stay in Bangkok 15 years ago?

Back then, I arrived with a baby in my arms and I fell pregnant with my second child. Gilles was acting as chief advisor to the ambassador and I was working at the Alliance française. We lived in the neighbourhood surrounding the French Embassy, and after 17 years I felt that little had changed. I found the same shops, I went back to the same hairdresser, to the same massage parlour… I found that the Thai people hadn’t changed, they are still just as friendly and smiley.

I also met up with the children’s nanny, who had worked for us the first time and had even accompanied us to Indonesia. Then, we had to return to France and she went back to live in Thailand. We kept in contact and when I returned here, I called her and she now comes to the Residence every Sunday.

On the other hand, Bangkok has changed. Back then, there were no shopping centres and the only rooftop bar was Vertigo. There were only a few restaurants, but now, even if we stay for 4 years, I’m not sure I’ll be able to try them all. Although the number of cars has greatly increased, there were even more traffic jams before, and Sukhumvit district seemed as if it was on the other side of the world…

You change countries regularly. Do you ever feel like settling down somewhere?

There are positive and negative aspects. I’ve got two children, aged 15 and 17, and I try to explain this to them. One of them is always happy to move, but the other, once he’s settled, usually wants to stay. I consider it a great opportunity to change countries every 3 or 4 years, it forces you to live in the present. I avoid making too many future plans and I make an effort to fully enjoy my stay. Often, after 3 years I feel like I’ve seen everything there is to see of the country and community. Although in Thailand, I think it’d be impossible to meet every member of the community, as they’re spread all over the country and very eclectic…

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