I served in Guatemala in the 1980s. While there, of course, I attended countless, absolutely countless diplomatic receptions and functions. Most have long slipped from my memory. One, however, I always remember when December 7 rolls around.
Among others in the U.S. Embassy I got invited to an event at the Japanese Embassy in honor of the Emperor. You guessed it, the reception was on December 7. A couple of us joked about it, but, off we went. Japanese receptions were always among the best: superb food and drink; everything artfully and tastefully done; and their diplomats were nice, well informed, and seemed to like Americans. As the party was winding down, I slid over to one of my Japanese contacts and kidded him about the date, "You have guts throwing this event December 7."
He seemed perplexed, "We decided to hold it today instead of tomorrow, because of American sensitivities about that day."
Now I became the perplexed one, "What's so sensitive for us about December 8?"
My Japanese friend looked at me as though I were the biggest ignoramus on the planet, "You know, Pearl Harbor attack day."
I couldn't help but laugh at this bit of international miscommunication. I told him, "On this side of the international date line, the attack took place on December 7."
He, however, did not laugh. Mortified, he turned bright red. I thought he would order the entire staff to commit seppuku on the lawn. He was so embarrassed I got embarrassed. He could not stop apologizing for the error; I started apologizing for having brought up the matter. For weeks afterward, whenever he saw me he would apologize; I would apologize, too.
A day after the reception, the Japanese Ambassador sent our Ambassador a bottle of very expensive sake with a long note. Our Ambassador, a wonderful, rough, tough oil man--and a Marine in the Pacific during WWII--called on me in a staff meeting, "What the hell is this about? Why is the Japanese Ambassador apologizing to me?"
He smiled and said, "Ah! Well, then this is yours." He handed me the sake.