Friday, March 14, 2008

A very informative business trip.

Just got back from a business trip to Germany and Switzerland and very interesting it was.

First of all on the way out I had to be at Manchester Airport over a hour before the flight because of the security checks. The checks that had me taking off my shoes, not being able to carry a drink and a snack whilst I waited in the terminal. There was even a special look reserved for my textbook on computer security and encryption. However it went quite smoothly and the trip out was relatively uneventful although I think under ideal weather conditions I may have been able to drive in the time it took me to complete the trip.

I arrived in Zurich and what a difference. Walked straight through customs with just a quick scan of my passport. People were all cheerful and everything was delivered efficiently and I was off my flight and out of the airport in 20 minutes and most of that was the bus between the plane and the terminal.

I met up with the rest of the group, they left from Heathrow, at the hotel and our host decided that we should go for a meal in Germany as his favourite restaurant was there. So we all packed up and went to get our passports.

So there we are, a car full of Brits and one Swiss, heading a few miles to the border and as we turn up the German border guard just glanced into the car and to all our surprise, although not our hosts, we were waved through. The car never even dropped below 10mpg, or 12kph or something. We all looked at each other and laughed. Well it's because it's from Switzerland and going to the EU we guessed as we were just lucky.

Well a little later we ended up in a town with a name I can't even pronounce and at an Italian restaurant called Pinocchio after the character. Just like restaurants all over the world it was pleasant and the staff made us all very welcome. We met up with two American colleagues and two Germans who had also arrived for the meeting and were already there waiting due to the miracles of modern technology, cars and mobiles.

The restaurant had two menus one in foreign and one in English for the ignorant Brits and Yanks. The service and meal was excellent although the guy serving us was nowhere near as nice looking as Ruthie. We mainly discussed the Swiss/German way of life and the differences between all our countries. I was surprised to find that although the EU is unliked over there as well it's not with the same intensity as it is over here. Or maybe I just hang out at the wrong places. There are many EU laws that are just ignored in Germany where we seem to get fined for them all. I also learnt a few things about the American way and some of their tax rules.

Then when we had finished and the bill was being paid. I didn't hear what it was in Euros but it came to about £25 each which was extremely good value for money. A good meal and some drinks. Then while the bill was being presented the manager, I think, came around and poured us all a generous shot of Grappa each just as a taster. Our host and one of the Germans declined as they were driving but everyone else gave it a shot and boy now I know why I don't drink it tasted awful. Although everyone else commented on how good it was. Smooth was how it was described although I thought I had just swallowed battery acid. I had one small sip and needed to wash it down with a gallon of apple juice. All gratis as the bill had been totalled and, for the Germans, a generous tip left. Another culture shock. In the US the tipping seems to be between 10% and 20%, with 10% being standard, the base, 15% for good service and 20% for exceptional. One of the many things I learnt from Ruthie. In Europe tips are much lower, between 2 and 3% according to our host. As the CIO was an American and he was picking up the tab for us all he left a 20% tip. I bet they remember his face next time he is in.

On the way back to Switzerland as we came to the border another cursory look and we were through again. Again we didn't even stop. Where was all this security like we have in the UK and the US, why were we not scanned and catalogued like the serfs we are? Jeez, if suspicious looking characters like my colleagues don't get strip searched then what is the point of having border guards at all?

The next day I was up bright and early to a nice view across one of Switzerland's 23 billion lakes and as I had spent the night in a very luxurious room I was expecting the bill to be high. I had a few phone calls as well so when the bill was shown it said 120 and I thought that was cheap. Then it hit me, it was in Swiss Francs. So was actually about £50 and that included phone calls to the UK and Germany. I don't think I can find any hotels in the UK for that even the ones that are smaller than a shoe box.

So off to the meeting we went. The roads were very good. People let us in when we indicated and gave way when it was needed and all in all it was all very civilised. The only speed camera we had spotted the whole trip was as we were leaving Zurich airport and, this was also like the UK, we didn't see one copper on the roads.

The meeting took place at the factory which was in a small town. They make armoured vehicles there. It was unusual in that the factory had expanded to the other side of the main road and whilst I was there I watched forklift trucks and armoured vehicles appear at one side of the street and then cross the road to the other for additional work. People in cars slowed and let them cross the main road and nobody seemed fazed to see heavy machine guns and several tons of armoured vehicles travelling the main roads with them. The testing tracks were several miles away and they just drove there. Can you imagine that in the UK? I was asked did I want a drive? How much time did I have? Sadly not enough so I had to decline.

At one point two light aircraft flew overhead and I don't know the height but they looked like they were just over double the height of the roof. Apparently the third richest Swiss liked planes and lived nearby. The whole situation was surreal. It was like living in another country. Oh wait! Another time anyway.

After our meeting and after a tour of the factory it was time to go. I was a bit apprehensive because I couldn't get a direct flight back and had to fly to Munich first and then on to Manchester whilst my colleagues had a flight half an hour later direct to Heathrow. Before we knew it I was behind schedule and would arrive as the boarding call was made. I had visions of missing my flight despite my hosts assurances it would be fine.

On arrival I abandoned the car for my colleagues to sort out and ran as fast as my chubby little legs would go. So a brisk walk then. Through security in a minute with no hassle, no strip, no shoes off, and got there just as they called for the plane to board. Waited for the bus to take us out and there I was on the plane for the flight. No problems whatsoever. Had to wait 40 mins at Munich for the next leg to Manchester but again absolutely no hassle and the flight was uneventful. Actually sat next to someone from one of our competitors and we swapped stories for the latter half of the flight. Then we arrived at Manchester Airport.

Bam! Straight off the plane into a queue for passport control. Surrounded by 1 million signs that warned about abuse against staff. It hit home that I had not seen that in any of the other places I had been and yet it is a common sign in the UK. The British have always had a tradition of being aloof and yet two other countries did not see the need at all anywhere to tell people to behave. I wonder why we get driven to the state where we are violent to the poor front line staff? After 30 minutes I got near the end and out of the 10 or so slots only two were active for UK and EU passengers and one for non EU where a Chinese lady was arguing with one of our KGB type immigration officers over an anomaly in her application. And there I thought that the Orientals were inscrutable. Her annoyance at the system was apparent to about 100+ people who had nothing else to do but listen to the exchange while we queued at Her Majesty's pleasure and those useless immigration officers just chatted. 10 minutes later I waved my passport to a nice looking KGB lady who waved me through and out the door. Processing time 30 seconds queuing time 45 minutes. I've had flights less than that.

All and all a good trip but all the bad parts of it were in the UK. Funny that.

So here we are implementing security procedures, id cards and a million and one KGB style security procedures and I understand from my American colleagues the US is doing exactly the same and yet the rest of the world seems to be happy with security as it was pre 911. Why is it that we are implementing this oppressive system based on a worldwide threat that seems to only cover the UK and the US strangely enough the main two who were involved in arranging Iraqi freedom. Although we have been told that it is not linked in any way and far be it from me to question our lords and masters.

From what I understand it is only going to get worse for us as well. Although I now see Switzerland is a good place to escape to.


At 3:21 am, Blogger UBERMOUTH said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 3:31 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now you know why I spend more time in France & Netherlands than I do here.

At 5:11 pm, Blogger UBERMOUTH said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 9:38 pm, Blogger Bag said...

Everybody keeps telling me that Switzerland is expensive and maybe it is but from what I witnessed it's miles cheaper than the UK. France beckons.

At 12:12 am, Blogger UBERMOUTH said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 8:05 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shhhh. Don't mention ze vor.

At 9:31 am, Blogger Bag said...

Uber, You a right. Maybe something near the border then so I can pop over for the food yet stay in the cheap hotels with a lake view.

Henry, Now they have Allo allo they will all be talking about it themselves.

At 7:45 pm, Blogger Ruthie said...

Gold star for the American CIO! I'll bet it made their day :)

Interesting how different tipping practices are in the U.S. and Europe...


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