Brian & Ann's European Experience

Monday, May 02, 2005

The Road to Heidelberg

Last week my company had its Global Marketing Meeting. About 100 employees from at least five different offices in four different countries were gathered in Heidelberg, Germany.

The Dordrecht marketing staff rented cars and drove. The meeting where the travel arrangements were planned was held in English for about five minutes until I mentioned that I neither have a valid license to operate a motor vehicle in Europe, nor know how to drive a stick shift. After that the meeting carried on in some unintelligible language (Dutch) and I sat patiently waiting for someone to give me the recap. At the end I was told when and where to be on the day we left and that was enough for me.

My brain usually drops out much of the detailed data it finds uninteresting (like when taxes are due, how long it’s been between oil changes, how to cook food, what my Social Security Number is, and what medications I am allergic to), so whenever possible I like to reduce my action items to just showing up. Like someone (probably in the Army) said, life is decided by those who show up... and advance preparation is highly overrated.

So Monday morning I fulfill my obligation, lugging my suit bag the one kilometer (half a mile) to the office on foot, where I find out two things: 1) my brain did its job again by forgetting that the dress code was ‘business casual’ and I only packed suits, 2) I am going to spend the next six hours packed into a European rental car with four Dutch women.

Now, in case the severity of the situation escapes you, let me remind you that the height of the average Dutch woman is 5’8”, and at least two of the women in our car were 5’10”. The average European car on the other hand is only three feet wide. Okay, maybe three and a half.

But honestly, the Dutch in general are very outgoing and forward people, so you can have some pretty interesting conversations when you’re stuck in a car with them for six hours. I got the low down on the biggest domestic problems facing the Netherlands today: the aging population, environmental pollution, and Suzanne (who I know think is crazy) said that we weren’t treating the disabled with the right amount of special care they need – now THAT’S Dutch for you.

We had a group discussion sparked by an article in my Businessweek magazine about the use of blogs as community-building devices for our scientific journals. I will probably put it all down in a memo to my boss and claim complete credit for all the good ideas.

I also had a very interesting discussion with Dianna about the cyclical nature of economic improvement vis a vis the rise of China’s economy and its inevitable fall to the same outsourcing pressures now affecting America and Europe.

On the way there we stopped at a gas station to pick up some porn. I mean gas. To pick up some gas.

Just so you know, filling up a gas tank in Europe will generally cost you on the order of 50 Euros. That’s about $65. Think about that next time you fill up your Taurus or Camry at your local Exxon or Mobil station for $2 a gallon.

Overall it was a very nice trip. Other than the fact that they made me listen to Annie Lennox and Suzanne (the crazy one) said she doesn’t like U2 (further proof that she’s nuts).

I have to say thank you to Christel who drove the whole way. I took a plane back, but that was only because I was staying an extra day. I wouldn’t have missed being sandwiched in between all those Dutch women for any other reason.



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