What is true loyalty? An example of true loyalty is Daniel Da Costa, concierge at the Austrian Embassy in Washington, D.C.. Daniel started working for the Embassy in 1971 when it still occupied its old building on Embassy row and Daniel was in his 20s. After a change of location, five Austrian Presidents,10 Ambassadors and 42 years, although still enjoying his work, he now feels it is time for him to retire.
Togetherwith his wife Maria, who has been with the Embassy’s cleaning staff for 39 years,he is planning to enjoy hiswell-earned retirement in Portugal,which the young couple left four decades ago. Every person in the Embassy will readily tell you just how much Daniel will be missed. He is known for his dedicated work as a concierge, for his commitment to the security of the Embassy and its personnel, for his invaluable assistance during the many cultural events and for his friendly smile and words with which he welcomed people to work every morning.
On their last day, Daniel and Maria agreed to meet with the Press and InformationService to talk about their work and experiences at the Austrian Embassy.
Daniel, can you tell us about your work as a concierge at the Embassy?
I actually started working as a driver, not as a concierge. AmbassadorGruber hired me back in 1971 when I was looking for a job in the U.S. You see, Maria was already in Washington working for the Belgian Embassy and I really wanted to join her in the States. I was very thankful for the Ambassador to grant me this opportunity; he was a strict, but also fair boss. A few years later I was promoted and since then I have been in charge of security of the Embassy and have been involved in different kinds of administrative matters. I also often helped out during cultural events, which I enjoyed very much.
Can you tell us of any particular experiences that stuck in your memory?
Well, there are many memories that I cherish, but maybe there is one, which is quite an interesting one. I remember the time of the Anthrax scares, when several people lost their lives through that poison, which was being sent in letters. Well, of course we needed to pay attention to that as well and I decided that I should be the one opening the letters that came to the Embassy. I thought somebody had to do it.
Naturally, Iwas extremely careful about it. I was wearing a mask and was opening suspicious letters under a plastic cover. Of course you can also never really know about the other letters but fortunately, nothing ever happened, although we did receive a couple of suspicious letters.
Maria, how about you? Howdid you start working at the Embassy and do you hold any special memories?
I was hired in June 1973 when I was pregnant with our son. Daniel and I had an apartment in the Embassy and this is where our son was raised, so I have many good memories. I also enjoyed watching many of the cultural events from the second floor of the Embassy. My father and brother were musicians, so I always had a close connection to classical music. I remember another funny thing. When we were still living in the old building, the door of the diesel furnace in the basement would sometimes blow open during the night and Daniel would have to go and fix it. I always laughed at him when he came back looking like a chimney sweep.
Daniel,what did you enjoymost about your job?
Well, I always thought my job was very interesting because I got to interact with so many different people. I learned a lot about the diplomatic world and saw manyAmbassadors come and go and I’m telling you, I could write a book full of anecdotes, but who would want to read that? (laughs). I also really liked helping with the cultural events. That was hard work, but being able to see all these great concerts, lectures and exhibits after the work was very rewarding and I was able to meet so many fantastic and interesting people. You see, I didn’t grow up with classical music and never thought I liked it, but through these events I really discovered my passion for it.
So you two really indulged in the Austrian culture. Did you notice any big differences between the Austrian culture and your own? Did you experience any cultural misunderstandings or the like?
Daniel:No, I think our cultures are actually quite similar, I never felt like an outsider. Maybe Austrians tend to be a bit more reserved, but that is only until you get to know them and sometimes that is just an impression you get from people who are confident and have a strong personality.
Maria: Especially the young people are very open and outgoing.
Daniel: I agree. I always go talong really well with the interns. Many of them feel a bit insecure when they start working at the Embassy and I always tried to be welcoming and make them feel a little more comfortable in the new environment.
What are you going to miss most about working at the Austrian Embassy?
Daniel: I will really miss my colleagues and the many great friends I made here.Some of my colleagues, like a former Ambassador, even came to visit us in Portugal where we welcomed him in our home.
Maria: I will also miss taking care of the front garden of the Embassy, it was our hobby.
Daniel:Yes,we really enjoyed that. You know,the pine tree that is standing outside is actually a Portuguese pine tree. Our son brought the seeds back fromPortugal and we raised the sprout in a pot at home before we planted it in front of the Embassy. It’s nice to know that something of us stays behind as we move on.