International Security Expert Oriana Mastro

I’m a Customer Service Whisperer

International Security Expert Oriana Mastro | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

Oriana Mastro is a FSI Center Fellow at Stanford University and Defense and Foreign Policy Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Before serving as a panelist for the Zócalo/University of Toronto event, “What Would a New Cold War Mean for the World?,” part of The World We Want series, Mastro called into the green room to talk charcuterie, the last thing that made her laugh, and how to manage your life.

Q:

What's your hidden talent?


A:

My husband says I'm a customer service whisperer—I can get anything with a customer service representative. I have gotten my apartment complex to pay for my dog daycare.


Q:

What's the last good book you've read?


A:

I have to preface this by saying my job is to read all day. So I don't read political stuff for fun. I just read a lot of novels. Flights by Olga Tokarczuk, which is a kind of collection of essays on how travel impacts our psyches, I found very compelling, especially during this COVID time.


Q:

Speaking of travel, you've been all over the world. What is your favorite place to visit?


A:

I’m half Italian, and I’ve been to Italy, like, 20 times. If I could only go one place for the rest of my life it would be Italy. In terms of a vacation, my favorite vacation was to Borneo. I just love traveling in Southeast Asia in general because it’s a mix of experiences. If you're interested in politics and IR like I am, you know, that’s there. You have ancient cultures and civilizations and religions. You have big cities. And you have beautiful rain forests and stuff. And the food is amazing too. So you can get a little bit of everything traveling in Southeast Asia.


Q:

Outside of politics, what public figure fascinates you the most right now?


A:

I love Beyoncé. I love everything about Beyoncé. Also, Venus Williams. Both of them had these Netflix specials about coming back to work after having children that were very inspirational.


Q:

As someone with young kids yourself, what was your biggest takeaway watching these specials?


A:

That honestly it doesn't matter if you're Beyoncé or Venus Williams or just an average person. It is so hard. And the mentality I took from that is like they were so focused, you know, they were like, I'm a warrior. And that's how I think that all women have to think about this. Maybe Venus Williams is prepping for a U.S. Open or whatever, but you have to be just as focused on your health and your well-being and all of this stuff to, like, hold a meeting or to give a talk or to do all these things. What women do is amazing. And you don't really realize it until you have to do it yourself.

Even Amy Schumer had a whole special about how she was just throwing up all day. I traveled the world two-and-a-half times during my first pregnancy; I was so tired. We treat it like this independent quiet struggle—to be professionals, we don't exchange advice and talk about having children and all this kind of stuff. So I really appreciated the celebrities showing how hard it is, even when they have all the support in the world.


Q:

What is the last thing that made you laugh?


A:

My two-year-old—just to see the things that they learn through osmosis, right? So recently, he started playing this game where he lies down and then he jumps up, and runs around saying ‘I'm late for work! I'm late for work!’

When his father told me about it the first time, I was like, 'Where did he get that?' And then I realized every morning when he wants to read some books and cuddle for another half an hour, I'm like, ‘Momma’s late for work. Momma’s late for work.’ So he was mimicking what I do, which made me laugh. I would say that's the last thing that made me laugh.


Q:

You’re currently in Sydney. What’s the best food you’ve had there?


A:

In general, I love like wine and cheese and charcuterie, and they just have really good wine and really good cheese and really good charcuterie. So I partake in a lot of cheese and meat platters with wine.


Q:

What’s something new that you’ve started in COVID?


A:

I have three jobs and two kids. So I’m obsessed with the best way of doing things, and people also often ask me for advice on various things just because, you know, they see I wear many different hats. So I have this hobby blog that I just started, where I have posts about how to prepare for a panel presentation, or how to write a book, or how to use research assistants. And then I also have home ones, like how to deal with your cell phone company, based on the fact that I'm really good at managing all this stuff. I love these types of conversations. It's a passion. One day, I want to like write a book about managing your life.