Dear Beverly,

Baron Spitte, the dusty diplomat, told me that one of the greatest hazards of his trade is coping with the gastronomic oddities of diverse nations. Naturally, you wouldn't think "wife of" would have anything to worry about in the United States. I was pretty certain no one would offer us the eye of a sheep because we were honored guests at a formal banquet in Pasadena. Although when we first came to Washington, Popsie Tribble did warn us, "There's a downside to everything. Mr. Ambassador will have to talk about Canada to businessmen in hotel dining rooms across the country. Which means you'll be on the rubber-chicken circuit."

Oh, Beverly, would that it were true. The Holiday Inns, Hiltons, Marriotts, Sheratons and Westins have become born-again hotels. No more chicken and mashed potatoes, no more Irish stew. Mr. Ambassdor and "wife of" have just returned from the western region of this country, and we're up to here in underdone duck breasts and buffalo cheese pizzas.

Beverly, the tribal customs are ferocious.

Let me describe one of our experiences in a remote region of California. It was the fifth day of our journey, and the local chief and some of the elders asked us to a banquet at one of the native restaurants.

"I recommend," the chief said, "rabbit filet and veal liver with honey and caraway sauce. And how about warm duck salad for a starter?"

Beverly, "wife of's" stomach was churning. He noticed my diplomatic silence and tried to be helpful: "My wife usually has duck consomm,e, followed by veal with crayfish."

Now, you might think the latter offering would be acceptable, Beverly, but believe it or not, Mr. Ambassador and "wife of" had eaten something made from duck and veal and crayfish every day of our California trip.

"May I have a small steak?" I whispered.

The chief was horrified. "You want red meat? Nobody in this part of California eats red meat."

Not only did I break a tribal taboo, Beverly, I learned something about official eating while traveling as "wife of." Whatever obscure regional dish I ordered of my own free will the first day inexorably turned up as the only choice on the menu for the rest of my stay. Red fish smothered with pecans in New Orleans, quail breasts with crayfish in Texas and, on a previous trip to California, tepid duck breasts served with blackberry butter and crayfish.

I also have become so obsessed with slow service at large dinners, Beverly, that you may have been right in your last letter when you said, "Sondra, it's time for you to come home."

At a banquet in New York, we waited one hour for the mesquite-grilled lamb chops and only had sweet white wine to tide us over. In Atlanta, there was a 48-minute lapse between dessert and the first speech. (Remember my bad back, Beverly.) In Washington, Sen. Pod's wife, notorious in this town for being a slow feeder, held up the service at our table by eating the enoki mush in her spinach salad one by one. I wanted to slap her.

"Wife of" has become so crazed with the desire for quick service that Popsie Tribble told me a deal of bad will was created between the two countries at our last dinner. We had a party in honor of the 12th most Powerful Job in Washington (that particular week), and I was determined that each course was only going to last eight minutes.

My butler had a stopwatch, there were more waiters than guests, and the meal was supposed to be finished by 9:45, including toasts. Beverly, when we sat down, a third of the guests hadn't arrived.

But wouldn't you know my luck. The chef banged out some rather good high-cholesterol food. In Washington, the rule is people care more about where they sit than what they eat. But that night, the Close-To's, Used-to- be-Close-To's, Powerful Jobs and all "wives of" thought they were at some Chaine de Rotisserie Gourmet feast and wanted to linger over their food. When the waiters removed the New Brunswick caviar before some of the guests were quite finished, I heard a muttering in the room. A waiter had to speak sharply to Dexter Tribble because he refused to let go of his plate.

During the main course (filet mignon with fresh foie gras), I signaled for removal at the eight-minute interval. Joe Promisall grimly held on to his wine glass and Sonny Goldstone actually threw his body over his plate. Mr. Ambassador yelled at me from his table, "For heaven's sake, let them finish eating."

But, Beverly, I was like a mad woman, and at dessert time (spun sugar covering sort of a frozen eggnog) the guests only had time to crack the caramel when the waiters attacked again. A lot of plate-tugging went on, and Popsie Tribble, who never takes dessert, perversely held down her dish with one hand and ate very slowly with the other.

I've got to get over this morbid affliction, Beverly, or Mr. Ambassador says we'll be forced to leave. He's even thinking of making me stay upstairs when we have dinner parties.

Your best friend,

Sondra