ALONSO A. de Toledo, son of the second-ranking Spanish diplomat here, has lived in Spain only four of his 20 years.
He says he doesn't know much about the 16-year-old son of a Soviet official who allegedly attempted to defect last week--but he does know all too well how the temptations of that extra ounce of America's cultural freedom can affect your life.
Just this week, for instance, he got his first speeding ticket. "I got out of it," he said yesterday at the Washington International School, where he is summer camp counselor. "I think you could say for some, not all, they take too much advantage of their opportunities and feel too much at home."
Burger King lunches and Budweiser bashes. The latitude to date and to dabble with Dad's car. Punk rock soundings and glued-on designer jeans. To American adolescents, these are symbols of American life as familiar as Pac-Man.
But to many of the 2,000 diplomatic families in Washington, these are the Eden-esque apples dangling before their impressionable children. Diplomatic parents, many of whom are only here for three-year assignments, say they can cope with bringing up their children in this foreign environment. Or they can until that moment when something goes awry and drives home the simple fact that things are different here.
Last week, the diplomatic community awoke from its August slumber when 16-year-old Andrei Berezhkov, the son of a high-level Soviet diplomat, took his father's car and ran away from home because, according to a letter he allegedly wrote, "I hate my country and its rules and I love your country."
He returned to his family's apartment in suburban Maryland less than 24 hours later. By then, the matter had escalated into an international incident involving the FBI, the State Department, the Soviet government and the White House. The whereabouts of the youth remain a mystery, as the Soviet Embassy continues to refuse American requests to interview the teen-ager.
Yesterday morning, neighbors in the Chevy Chase area were reluctant to talk about the family or the incident, as have been most members of the diplomatic community. One youth, who said his father was with an embassy but who refused to identify himself, said he knew Berezhkov and that he did not seem to have many friends. Another woman working in the building where the Berezhkovs lived, described him as "polite" and "alone a lot."
"I don't think the parents realize until later the things that have gone on that they wouldn't have wanted," says Cathya Stevenson, associate director of The Washington International School here, which has about 175 students whose parents are diplomats. "How do you prepare parents for the American way of life? You can't. It's difficult for them . . ."
Yesterday, on one of Washington's finest summer days, de Toledo and two other children from diplomatic families discussed the ups and downs of their American experience.
"Americans are very warm at first, then, after a while, not so much," says Pamela Rodriguez, 19, an Uruguayan student at George Washington University whose father is with the World Bank. "You can never get too close, just so close and then you have to be on your own."
"Americans look very nice, but when you get to details, they stop," said Nasser Boumenna, 20, son of an Algerian diplomat.
"You have to find your own way here," maintained Rodriguez.
At American University, de Toledo says, relationships are hard to establish when even in the cafeterias, Americans and foreigners dine separately. "It's not all the American kids," he said. "The foreigners may be chauvinistic in a certain way."
They say they're aware that they are, at times, perceived as prima donnas and troublemakers, and they are defensive about the image.
"If they diplomatic children have the money to be at Harvard and have racing cars, then they might be like that," said Boumenna. "Not most of them, though."
"Americans drink to get drunk," said de Toledo. "Foreigners drink to have a good time. We drink regularly, so we drink in a normal way."
"A fun party for us is not a party with 15 kegs," said Boumenna. "We care about what music there is and the kind of ladies . . . Some parents are afraid. From where I'm from there are no drugs, no alcohol. But other parents are more open-minded."
Despite their misgivings about America, all three agree on one thing.
"Once you've traveled so much," said Rodriguez, "you can't go home. You don't fit in there."
Children of diplomats are, for the most part, exposed to the same enticements American teen-agers are. "There is talk at school about some people" who use drugs, such as marijuana and cocaine, says 17-year-old Wilmot Mwandanda, son of an attache' at the Kenyan Embassy.
"Some are into that, some are not. It's not different" from attitudes among American students, Mwandanda says.
"It's a milieu. They live in this milieu, and I shouldn't say I approve or disapprove," says Francois Dopffer, counselor at the French Embassy and the father of three teen-agers. His children "approve of certain things, certain television shows, and they disapprove of others. They are discriminating. We don't interfere."
One Polish career diplomat posted here says he is comfortable with America's influence on his 6-year-old son--just as long as he attends Polish cultural classes at the embassy in addition to public school in Alexandria.
A Canadian counselor fears for the safety of his 12-year-old daughter in Washington. "Let her go to the movies alone--No way!" says Charles Patrick Gossage, minister-counselor for public affairs at the Canadian Embassy.
Ronald van Beuge, economic minister at the Dutch Embassy, points out that most diplomatic children here have already lived in several nations. "They love going to McDonald's," he says of his two teen-agers, "but they've already done that in Paris. America is not really that new to this type of children."
And then there's the West German official who says he is concerned that his children are not being Americanized enough. Yet he sends them to The German School in Potomac, where the majority of students are also children of German diplomats.
"They live another way than they would in Europe," says the official, Gebhardt von Moltke. "We live in a small place near Bonn. The children could go everywhere they want by bike, they didn't have to travel in cars. It's not so easy to get from one place to another. But these are problems you just have to cope with . . ."
The Berezhov episode, while certainly the most celebrated incident involving a diplomatic teen-ager in recent years, is not the first time a Soviet child has created headlines. Three years ago, 12-year-old Walter Polovchak requested asylum in the U.S. after he left his family's Chicago home and moved in with a relative. His parents are back in the Soviet Union and the case is under appeal by the Illinois Supreme Court.
And there have been other well-publicized diplomatic incidents in Washington. Last year, Antonio F. Azeredo da Silveira Jr., the son of the Brazilian ambassador, embarrassed his government when he was arrested and charged in the shooting of a bouncer at a Washington bar. The charges later were dropped.
A few months earlier, Hisham Alhegelan, the 19-year-old son of the Saudi Arabian ambassador, was criticized for accumulating five speeding tickets in Virginia in 1982 and managing--in all but one instance--to avoid paying fines, under the controversial cloak of diplomatic immunity.
The incident caused the Salem commonwealth's attorney to write the ambassador, Faisal Alhegelan, suggesting he "apply a little fatherly discipline." The five tickets were promptly paid, accompanied by a letter of apology from the youth.
The freedom afforded diplomatic children varies significantly from country to country, ranging from the Soviets, who must attend school in the Soviet compound on Tunlaw Road until they are 15, when they are sent back home to study, to Western European children, most of whom attend a variety of private schools in the area. Many of them attend The Washington International School, Sidwell Friends and The Cathedral School.
Janney Elementary, in Northwest Washington, has a large embassy contingent and sponsors an unusual exchange program with the Soviet Embassy school. Students at the two schools work together on special projects and compete in basketball. They get along well, says Janney teacher Barbara Phillips, but "some American students are very disappointed" because the Soviets do not allow their children to communicate with their new American acquaintances."
To help fill a void for the foreign families and children, the State Department in 1961 created The Hospitality and Information Service (THIS). Though it is not an official government organization, the group does help place children in schools and sponsors annual social events for foreign children. The hit of last year's bash was a child who brought his Sony Walkman.
"The upside of bringing up kids here is that they have so many more opportunities," says a West European diplomat who asked not to be identified, "but there is a downside . . . a lack of discipline. They expect a bit more, and we have to deal with that regularly."