Hello Frankfurt

In less than 24 hours, I will be jetting off for Frankfurt where I will attend SNW Europe and later the launch of Hermes, a storage software development shop, in Slovenia. The first gig on the agenda is a dinner the night before SNW. I have been asked to join another fellow in a 10 minute “light dinner chat” contrasting US views of Europe and European views of the USA.

Wow. That qualifies as a “light dinner chat”? I wonder what a heavy dinner chat would be?

Anyway, I have spent the better part of the last two days trying to get a bead on the US view. I have spent a lot of time surfing the web. I looked at poll data, at news articles, blogs, everything I can find.

You know what? There isn’t one view, because there isn’t one unified American community that speaks in a unified voice.

I do find a lot of ignorant remarks flowing both ways across the Atlantic — mostly from folks who have never actually visited the Europe or the US they are criticizing. A lot of opinions are based on momentary political issues, where there has lately been a lot of fodder for debate. Other opinions are based on experiences, but are so subjective as to not be very illuminating (“We had a rude waiter in France, so all French are rude.”) Others are just folks repeating stuff that other folks have said, whether it is true or not. A few are just spouting off to feel like they are part of the thread.

As someone who has traveled fairly extensively in Europe (and Asia and South America and Australia), I can honestly say that people are people wherever you go. My only prejudice is against assholes, who by the way seem to know no nationality, creed, color or gender.

For the record, I love Europe. The food is great, the views are breathtaking, the history is rich, the people are mostly friendly, language can be a hassle (if it’s one I don’t know), but you can generally get your meaning across.

  • I fell in love with Paris the day that I was taking a taxi from CDG to my hotel in the city and we stopped at a crossing to watch a young woman guide a bunch of little kids, all dressed like Madeline, across the street – all holding hands.
  • I first fell in love with with Germany when my hotel offered me a breakfast menu with three options: an American breakfast with eggs and bacon, a continental breakfast with breads, fruits and meats, and a Bavarian breakfast with pretzels, beer, sausage and cheese (the latter sounded like something I would eat in college many years ago!)
  • Austria stole my heart after a magical night spent at the opera in Vienna, courtesy of speaking engagement sponsored by pre-EMC Legato.
  • The Netherlands seems to keep beckoning me back. I seem to have struck up a friendship with ISIT, one of the largest reseller/integrators in Europe. Despite their strong ties to EMC and Network Appliance, and my frequent criticisms of the marketing of those companies, they seem to want Toigo to help stir the pot at their conferences. Amsterdam is magnificent on many levels.
  • I like Britain for many more reasons than I can enumerate here — most of them have to do with the wealth of meaning and nuance that the Brits can breath into the English language. My prose pales by comparison.
  • Portugal offers fish (bacalhau) cooked a 1001 different ways – all of them delicious.
  • Spain crackles with excitement and vibrance.

Italy, Greece, Ireland and many of the Eastern European countries remain on my short list of places to go. Shortly, I hope to be visiting Sweden and Iceland for the first time. This trip, I look forward to my first trip to Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Satellite view

Frankly, I feel a bit badly when I go somewhere and see the same US brands there as here: McDonalds, Coca Cola, MTV, Levis, etc. I like diversity and it blows my mind to get off an airplane in Singapore and see everyone crowded around a TV showing an episode of the Simpsons! That said, I can also appreciate the small effort made by these brands to fit in: in Dubai, McDonald’s offers something called a McArabia (like a Greek Gyro, but with hamburger patties in the folded bread) — weird, but tasty. At least, they are trying.

I have been told by the Europeans that Americans have no culture. That is probably a correct observation from where they are sitting. Our culture is only a couple of hundred years old; theirs goes back a lot further — and I respect that. But, our music – rock, pop, and jazz – is everywhere I turn. And movies and TV, especially comedies, seem to know no national boundary.

I used to take a lot of umbrage with the one or two folks I would meet each trip who would take meeting with me as an opportunity to deride America. God knows, we have a history that you could criticize all day if you wanted to. I don’t know a single country that doesn’t, by the way. Then, I noticed that when they were done with me, they would proceed to beat up on each other — over silly things like the regional football (soccer) team they favored or other nonsense.

I have come to the conclusion that it is in our nature to find fault with each other. It is in our better nature to find ways to get along and to appreciate what makes us different and special.

That said, what I do carry with me to Europe is a deep concern. I recall clearly, when I was last in France for the Stockage conference a couple of years back, that certain FC fabric vendors were pushing technology that had already been discredited in the USA. It seemed like they were trying to get rid of their old stocks of brochures, dumping them on unsuspecting consumers in European countries. The pity of it was that many French IT folks told me that they usually chose “US technology” over German, Japanese or any other provider because it was widely viewed as the best! (Funny, I thought the parts were all made in Taiwan, Malaysia and China.) I wrote at the time that it would be a tragedy to sacrifice all of that reputation on the altar of the quick buck.

My two cents.

3 Responses to “Hello Frankfurt”

  1. Robin Harris says:

    John, like you I’ve traveled widely in Europe, including living on the French Riviera for some six months. The French, in particular, get a lot of bad press, but I’ve only encountered a couple of disagreeable people in all that time. When discussing politics I take comfort in the fact that in America, 50%+1 rules. Which means I can be in the virtuous 50%-1 that doesn’t.

    In general though I’ve been impressed by how much Americans are liked in Europe, despite our government’s many egregious screwups. I think we are seen as a friendly, big-hearted, doofus: clueless about the real world; but ready to do the right thing once we (belatedly) figure out what that is.

    Europeans have a healthy distrust of elites – including those that want to sell them computer gear – that America is still developing. The example you cite, of vendors selling discredited technology, is part of the reason why. Democracy usually works in the long term. We just have to hope there is a long term.

  2. mike says:

    Hi Jon:

    As you know we just opened our EMEA office in Manchester,UK. Within a couple of days the folks from their Economic Development department based in Atlanta were emailing us and calling us to see how they can help us develop our UK division. Extremely helpful & proactive folks.

    Traveling to visit customers in the UK takes the same amount of time as it does for me to travel to see customers in California. And customers all over understand what value is in their currency. As you have stated so many times – Customers all over understand how the Big three storage vendors use FUD to fudge their performance and value facts.

    The 18 hour flights to Singapore are still exhausting experiences, but as long as you have your IPOD charged & Bose Headsets ready its a lot easier now. No matter which country you are from. In today’s global economy we all have to work together.

  3. Charles says:

    So when are you visiting Sweden Jon? Thought I read something about “..visiting Sweden soon.” If it’s a public-ish affair, I’ll make a point of attending.

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