Friday, September 24, 2010

Doing Business in Europe is Hilarious

Before I get into the chalet-hunting and the Tuscany trip, I have to pass these two little tidbits along before I forget.  I have written very little about the reason we were sent over here in the first place:  Mr. Big’s job.    There is a reason I don’t write about Mr. Big’s job very much.  A) because he gets pissed when I write about it and B) because it is kind of boring.  Well, not kind of boring, MAJORLY boring.  However, just recently two things happened that made me chuckle.

Mr. Big works for an American company that had a small to medium-sized global presence.  Well, his company bought a ginormous German company and now their presence in Europe is really, really big.  All good.  Mr. Big was sent to Switzerland to try and make all of the employees of the former-German company come together with their new American friends and be one big happy family.  It is no secret that Europeans and Americans conduct business differently.  Americans live to work and Europeans work to live.   So, Mr. Big has his work cut out for him.  Americans might think that they are culturally very close to Europeans, but that is not true.  There are huge differences.

Take, for example, The Whorehouse Controversy.   In a beautiful, historic town in Germany along the Rhein river, Mr. Big’s company has one of their factories.  It is a lovely, old, brick factory and it’s been there forever.  It reminds me of those old cotton mills up in New England that developers convert into trendy loft apartments.  Anyway, this factory is situated rather close to the red light district in this particular town.  As a matter of fact, for as long as anyone can remember, there has been a whorehouse located directly behind the factory.  Note that keyword, behind.  In other words, the “girls” did not bother the people in the factory and vice versa (or so they swear).  Actually, the folks who work at the plant know that if they ever need a cab, they just run half way round the block to the whorehouse and they can always find an empty taxi that has just dropped off a customer.  As far as whorehouses go, Mr. Big tells me, as I have not seen it firsthand, this one is rather discrete.  The only advertisement of its’ services is a big, red, neon heart over the door.  Swear to God.

Anyway, fast forward to two months ago when the city council of this town decides that the red light district is getting out of control.  Now, remember, prostitution is legal in Europe.  Apparently, their red light district was experiencing urban sprawl and encroaching on other neighborhoods.  To rein in this rampant growth, (at least one industry is experiencing rampant growth!), the city council decides that they will build, at their expense, a new, improved No-Tell Motel DIRECTLY ACROSS THE STREET FROM THE FRONT DOOR OF MR. BIG’S FACTORY.  And, get this.  It is not actually going to be a house, as it were.  The plans call for a series of modified shipping containers stacked four across and three high with individual entrances, furnished inside with a mattress, a lamp, and, one would hope, a sink and a toilet.  Not unlike those FEMA trailers they handed out in New Orleans after Katrina.

Mr. Big, of course, goes apoplectic.  The Europeans are like, what?  What is the matter, Mr. Big?  It is right there in the existing parking lot, convenient for the men to get in and out, no?  The girls, we think, will stay mostly inside and only come out for cigarette breaks, no?  What is the problem, Mr. American Uptight Puritanical Corporate Person?

Mr. Big’s company did protest, but they lost and the whorehouse is a-comin’, (no pun intended).  I cannot tell you the number of jokes that are going around the water cooler at the company headquarters in the US about their factory in Germany that comes equipped with its’ own special stress-relief and wellness program.  I’m sure they are all talking about Mr. Big’s crème de la crème expat assignment.  Not only does he get to live on Lac Leman and buy a ski chalet in the Alps, but he also has Happy Hooker Availability approximately 18 feet from one of his desks.

Another thing that Mr. Big inherited when his company bought the big German company was a sponsorship to a professional ice hockey team in the Czech Republic.  This is a VERY BIG DEAL.  This team plays in the Czech Republic for the equivalent of the National Hockey League in America.  As a matter of fact, Dominic Hasek was on this team last year.  Even I, who couldn’t care less about ice hockey, have a signed jersey from Dominic Hasek.  I have never worn it because it is not really fashion forward, but I do own it.

Representing the Czech Republic and Russia and Poland and other countries that Americans have never heard of like Moldova is Mr. Big’s Eastern Europe Guy, Vladimir.   Vladimir is a hoot.  First of all, English is, I think, his 7th language.  He does not have a great grasp on the parsing of verbs in English, therefore, Vladimir only speaks in the third person.  A conversation with Vladimir goes something like this:

Vlad:  Oh, lovely wife of Boss, Vladimir is so happy to see you!

Me:  Well, thanks, Vlad, it is good to see you too.  And how is Mrs. Vladimir and the boys?

Vlad:  Mrs. Vladimir fine.  Boys fine.  Vladimir also fine.  You would like a Vodka?

Me:  No, thanks, Vlad, I’m good with this wine.

Vlad:  Vladimir is having a Vodka.  Vladimir would like to get you a shot, or, uh, what is the word?  A shooter.  Vladimir would like to get you a shooter of Becherovka.  This is national drink in Czech.  You try it.

Me:  Thanks anyway, Vlad.  This is a business dinner and I’m trying to be a good Corporate Wife.  Puking is not on my agenda this evening.


I’m telling you, if I brought Vladimir back to America, he would have his own reality TV show inside of a week.  He’s like Borat except not as creepy.  So, back to hockey.  Vladimir is upset because The Company always plans their meetings/planning sessions/etc. in WESTERN European cities.  He wants The Company to come to the Czech Republic for once.  Vladimir thinks his district is like the red-haired stepchild of Europe.  He has these big plans to do their giant yearly get-together next year (140+ people) in Prague.

Mr. Big is OK with that, I mean, Prague is fabulous.  Then, Vladimir has another brainstorm.  Vladimir will combine a trip to one of the hockey games that The Company sponsors for all 140 people in the meetings!  Vladimir is so excited!  Until Vladimir looks at the hockey schedule and realizes that the dates of the games and the dates of the meetings do not coincide.  Not even close.  Oh, well, there’s always 2012, Vlad.

Y’all.  Last Friday evening, when Mr. Big and I are driving through Italy, Mr. Big’s cell phone rings.  It is Vladimir.

Vlad:  Boss man!

Mr. Big:  Well, hello Vladimir, what’s up?

Vlad:  Boss man, Vladimir has solved problem with hockey game.  Vladimir is here in meeting right now with owner of hockey team in Praha!

Mr. Big:  Um, OK, Vladimir, that’s great.  What have you done?

Vlad:  We change schedule of hockey league to provide game for The Company!  Here, here is Mr. Owner Boss of Hockey Team to speak with you!

Y’all.  He CHANGED the league schedule in all of the Czech Republic so that everyone from The Company would come to his hometown for their meeting.  Picture for a moment, if you will, if some sales guy in America called up the owner of the New Jersey Devils and said “Hi, would it be possible for you to switch your schedule around to accommodate my strategic planning session of 140 people?”  For the love of God, Vladimir, you are a crazy person!!  Next time I see you, I WILL have that Becherovka!

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