Monday, April 14, 2014

A Jackpine Savage Abroad

I’ve heard a lot of chatter over the last few years about how people from other nations hate Americans. Or perhaps they hate America, though I’m not sure how you differentiate one from the other. I have no idea how true this is. I have no love for the French, yet my sole opinion is not likely to be enough for the French media to declare that Americans hate France.

In the last decade I’ve done a small amount of business travel. My primary locations have been the UK and India. Perhaps this isn’t a big enough sample size, but I have not felt hated in either country. Quite the contrary, I’ve felt welcomed and have made friends, no French, but a few Brits and Indians. While I’m not particularly fond of any travel, especially when it requires 24 hours of transit, I am glad for the opportunity to see these foreign countries and make new acquaintances.

I’m just a poor country boy from northern Minnesota, but it seems to me that I act the same as most Americans. By that I mean that I treat others as I wish to be treated and try to learn a little about the local culture. Who knows, maybe as soon as I’m out of sight, they spit on the ground and curse the day they laid eyes on me, but I think that would have more to do with my personality than my nationality.

This trip I got to spend a couple days in Bangalore and even got a few minutes one on one with my team members in between other meetings. Then we swung up to Mumbai to meet with an interesting part of the business and I was impressed for a number of reasons. Power is in short supply across much of India, especially in the summer months. Few if any exterior lighting exists in Delhi, Pune, Hyderabad or Bangalore, but Mumbai is different. Skyscrapers are painted in blues, greens and reds. Shops were decorated with string lights of all colors. There is massive construction and new buildings pushing though the desiccated corpses of old neighborhoods.

On my first trip to India a lady at one of the bazars in Delhi told me unsolicited, that all of the whores live in Mumbai. It may be true, but I saw no proof. There were women dressed in western style, and I think that was the basis for the old woman’s judgment. No matter, I doubt I will meet her again so I won’t have to face her judgmental stare.

Next I went to London. It was only my fourth trip, but it already felt like and old friend. I only got to spend a short time with my Britannic coworkers but I made sure I complained about the lack of Diet Dew anywhere on the island. Then I returned home feeling no more hated than normal.

This trip was unusual for the amount of places visited in six days. I made a post of FB about being in Bangalore and being afraid that I would melt. At the time I was dead serious. I remembered my first trip in 2006 when I went to Delhi and felt like I was always seconds away from heatstroke. It was the hottest month and even the short walk from the lobby to the taxi left my shirt soaked through. I’m a Minnesotan. I can handle cold, but not the heat, wet or dry.
Some of my FB friends apparently took my remark for a cloaked brag.

“Hey look at me, I’m traveling internationally and you’re not.”

It never even occurred to me. I may have been looking for a little sympathy since I was dreading the heat, but I don’t think of business travel as a positive thing. The only place I ever traveled for a vacation on my own dime internationally was Mexico, and I think I just finished paying for that trip. It was a good time, but it was a vacation. Business travel is the same whether it’s Dallas or Bangalore. I see the airport, the taxi, the inside of the hotel, another taxi, the office building, the taxi again and so on. Rarely is there any time to see anything else and usually, you are too tired to truly appreciate it.

On this trip I woke up at 2 AM on my first night in Bangalore knowing something was very wrong. I spent the next three hours in the bathroom. Mumbai looked interesting and different from other India cities, but that was only from the view of my taxi or hotel window. London on this trip was no different and then I was on yet another 9-hour flight heading home. The weekend I left was shot and the weekend I got back was mostly recovery for sleep and my digestive track. Some people may still yearn for the experience even as I’ve described it, but don’t think it even comes close to resembling a vacation.

I will say that I’m glad for the opportunity regardless of the discomfort and inability to explore the countries I visit. The reason is the people. I go to these places because people from my company work there, either on my team or from another part of the business. I’m fortunate to work for a great company filled with dedicated and intelligent people. Even though I fall on the side of introversion, I enjoy meeting new people and visiting with the people I already know. Whether it’s learning about a new part of the company or a short one on one with my team members, it makes all the discomfort and time away from my family worthwhile.

Some day, I might even be able to swing some vacation time to see the sights up close and not just through a cab window.

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