Thursday, 3 March 2016

Business travel: the glamour rediscovered

I’d forgotten how glamorous international business travel was, not having done any for a few years.

Fortunately, as I sit at a departure gate in Vienna airport with the prospect of another five hours travel to get home in the small hours, I can console myself for the renewed glamour by remembering the pleasure I’ve had from spending time with a bunch of colleagues: Germans, Austrians, a New Zealander and even an Italian who looked after me brilliantly: he it was who met me at the airport and insisted at the dining table in our hotel last night that there was no point not taking the whole bottle of wine and only having a glass each – we’d certainly finish it. As, indeed, we did.

But that was about the peak of glamour. Otherwise I took a taxi from the airport to an airless meeting room avoiding, in a city full of splendour, any sight worthy of note apart from the Danube (which you really can’t miss and, in my experience, is never blue at Vienna).

From the stifling meeting we got a taxi to the hotel, which we had failed to choose strategically: it took us nearly an hour to do get to it, 20 kilometres away. At one point, we even passed a sign telling us we were entering Vienna. I had no trouble believing we’d left the city, since we’d spent an unconscionable time struggling through traffic jams on motorways to get to that point, and we could have been just about anywhere.

That bottle of wine in the hotel wasn’t an indulgence, but a relief.

This morning we have another forty-minute taxi ride, this time for seven kilometres through the morning rush hour. That took us to another airless room where we spent the next six hours, bar a break for a canteen lunch, in another meeting.

As it happens, the meeting went well. I’d been sent out there because I’d had the misfortune of winning an unenviable, and undeserved, reputation for being a fluent German speaker. It’s one thing to be able to trade a couple of sentences and sound plausible with a colleague met in a corridor; it’s another to stand up in front of a meeting and sound as though you were competent. As my wife likes to ask me, “how can you have spent so long learning German, and even living out there, to still speak it so badly?”

Still, I got through the ordeal, by dint of judicious calls on my Austrian and German colleagues to field any question I felt too hard to handle. That was pretty well any question more complicated than “did you have a good trip in?” I’d learned the word for traffic jam, “Stau”, so I was fine with that.

Fielding the questions in that way had a double benefit: I could dodge the bullet, and even look like a real team player.

We still hadn’t seen any sights, apart from the Danube, which was visible from the conference room window. Though still not blue, it looked increasingly attractive as the meeting rolled on and the atmosphere became stuffier.

The Danube from the terrace of the bar
Majestic and fine – but who ever decided it was blue?
In the end, a small group of us did go for a drink down by the side of the river to celebrate a day that had avoided disasters. That was fun. And, as well as the pleasure of some congenial colleagues, I did also manage to have an Apfelstrüdel yesterday and a Wienerschnitzel at the airport just now, so, hey, I do at least have the sense of having been in Austria.

But glamorous? Decidedly not.

1 comment:

xxx said...

Business travel is only exotic to people who haven't done it.