Being British, I have two deeply ingrained traits: 1) I will never complain if someone puts me out. And 2) I am a firm believer in queues being properly maintained.
But last week, as I lined up to enter the United Nations for a tour, there was a clash. An old woman who had been muttering to herself had very pointedly pushed in front of me and – surprising myself – I calmly told her that I had been first, actually.
She whipped her head around.
‘Do you want me to call the police and say you’re stalking me?’ she hissed.
Then suddenly: ‘She’s stalking me! She’s stalking me!’
I stepped back in shock.
‘I thought so,’ she hissed at me again, smug.
Well. I had many, many words for her, all of them rude. But I buttoned it. We were leaving America and entering U.N. territory, where peace reigns. (And for some reason, the U.N. let both of us in – even me, the stalker.)
The visit could only get better – and it really did. With 17 others, I toured the halls, council rooms and art of the United Nations, and learned a lot about its beginnings, how it’s organized, who makes decisions on what… and generally how I’d love to work there.
After a quick introduction to how the U.N. was set up to keep peace after World War II, we were led into the Security Council.
Its 15 members – five permanent members who won the war and ten other members elected every two years – meet here whenever they have a matter to discuss. It’s their job to maintain peace and security.
We also popped our heads into the Trusteeship Council Chamber and the Economic and Social Council Chamber before heading to the main event: the General Assembly Hall – that massive room you might recognize from TV.
We also passed the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was designed by Brazilian artist Octavio Roth.
And there were artifacts showing the effects of war, from bottles warped by Hiroshima to a statue partially melted by the bombs in Nagasaki.
One of my favorite parts of the exhibition was an AK47 turned into a guitar. The piece is called the ‘Escopetarra’ (a portmanteau of ‘escopeta’, which means shotgun, and ‘guitarra’, which means guitar, obv) and it’s the work of César López, a Colombian musician and social activist.
(<< let’s wish that the grumpy old woman in the queue starts following the number one rule of the U.N., illustrated on this mosaic – ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ – eh?)
After an hour-long tour, it was back outside to the cold. While visiting, I had also hoped to spot a section of the Berlin Wall (one of the four in the city), but the garden area was under construction so I’ll have to return to make sure I tick it off my ’30 Before 30′ list.
(Still, the U.N. was also on that list, so at least that’s another one done!)
I would really recommend a trip to the U.N. – it feels a world away from the streets of Manhattan. While there, you could also visit the Delegates Dining Room for a prix-fixe lunch buffet (it’s only $34.99 without drinks), which would be great fun to check out. Just don’t forget to book both that and the tour in advance.
And whatever you do, don’t make eye contact with any cruel old women in the queue.
Tours are an hour long and can be booked on the UN’s visitor website. It costs $18 for an adult, $11 for concessions and $9 for kids. I would really recommend booking before visiting. Even though the visitor center is open on the weekends, tours are only available on weekdays between 9.15am and 4.15pm.