Diplomats have long lived with the image of doing nothing but going to cocktail parties and living the high life. I'll concede that this reputation is somewhat deserved, but I'll also say that a lot of interesting things can happen at cocktail parties. You can learn a lot just by observing who's there and who isn't, who is talking to whom, and what this person is saying about that person. It's kinda like a junior high school dance.
I attended the Kuwait National Day and the Bulgaria National Day celebrations this week. Lots of people in military uniforms or national costumes (I wonder if I should wear a cowboy hat to the next reception). An acquaintance from a more liberal Arab country was trying to sample some Bulgarian wine while hiding from the diplomats from stricter Muslim countries who kept strolling nearby. It was interesting to listen to a diplomat from the United Arab Emirates comment on his perception of human rights in Romania. But the most tantalizing tidbit was watching a high-ranking diplomat from an EU country firmly, but politely, express his displeasure to the Serbian ambassador about the inadequate security provided to Western embassies in Belgrade during the recent Kosovo riots.
So you see, important diplomacy can take place over stuffed mushrooms and brie.