Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Turning The Other Cheek

Americans, if they do it, do it once. The Swiss seem to do it thrice. And a couple of days ago I may have accidentally offended a young French girl by only kissing her once on each cheek. But in my mind she's still the bright little eight-year-old I knew, not the fifteen-year-old debutante she's become. So I'm just relieved that when she turned her cheek to me in greeting I did not freeze in surprise with mouth agape.

I was in Geneva this week, and boy did it feel different from my last trip out of Boston. And that wasn't just because of the pressures of following the correct etiquette for social kissing.

You see, a week ago I was in Cincinnati. I spent four nights there and did not sleep well through a single one. I was kept up by the constant stream of police cars racing past my hotel all night with sirens blaring.

In Geneva, on the other hand, even rush hour traffic is barely audible. Perhaps that's because noone is in much of a hurry. Sasha, a Russian colleague who lives there, told me of her horror story when she gave her leather jacket to the cleaners and it took her six months and an argument to get it back. According to a porter in my hotel, a gentleman with an improbable South African accent, such sloth shows the influence of indolent French culture on Geneva. He clearly prefers Zurich where, according to him, the Germanic character of the people makes things run as smoothly as the legendary Swiss clockwork.

But Geneva's leisurely atmosphere suited me just fine on Monday evening. I took a stroll through the old town with a former boss. She pointed out the sights to me as we walked along cobbled streets lined with the red & white flags of the Swiss nation and the red & yellow standards of the Canton of Geneva.

Afterwards we had a dinner that featured three things I rarely get to enjoy in America: portions that are modest enough that you can really enjoy your food; dessert made of fruits; and exquisite after-dinner espresso.

For three days I drank coffee incessantly from very small cups. I snacked on croissants instead of cookies. I lunched on sliced meats, fruits and cheeses. And I wondered if I too should acquire some European flair and start wearing a snappy summer jacket when I go out.

Perhaps I will; but only after I first figure out if the Italians expect to be greeted with three kisses or four.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Travelling Salesman Blues

Flick. CNN. Flick. The Weather Channel. Flick. ESPN. Flick. Flick. Flick.

Thirty years ago Pink Floyd sang "I've got 13 channels of shit on TV to choose from". Times have changed since then. We now have more than 13 channels.

So this is the glamorous world of executive travel. Meetings all day. A couple of polite drinks in the evening. Then everyone goes home and you're the solitary out-of-towner.

It's still light outside and your feet are too itchy for room service. So you walk around the block looking for dinner. An overly bright gyro restaurant serves you just right. Then you decide to check out the famous local ice cream. It's all right, but you wish the taste of strawberries was a bit stronger. And now you can no longer put off going back to your solitary hotel room.

Flick. Cartoon Network. Flick. TNT. Flick. Flick.

It's no use. The television can't take your mind off the fact that you'd really rather be somewhere else. You switch it off and clip your fingernails instead. It's equally entertaining and vastly more productive.

Thank goodness for the coffee machine in your room. You're in the mood for a bitter brew.

This is the glamorous world of executive travel?

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Out Of The Mouths Of Babes...

"In the morning I sat in my usual place. I giggled with my friends. We acted silly but we pretended to be very serious. That was funny.

One of the kids was sulking. I don't know why. Maybe he had a booboo. But we paid no attention to him, so he went away.

Then someone started a game. We took turns to say silly things that we did not really mean. It was a noisy game and it made the teacher angry.

So we became very quiet. We had break-time and we ate a snack.

Then we acted silly all over again."

"Your pre-school sounds a lot like my office."