The Reason I Called This Meeting

Trip Start Dec 05, 2005
Trip End Dec 19, 2005

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Flag of Hungary  ,
Wednesday, December 7, 2005

The worst thing about business travel is the timing. Yes, you're going places; No, you can't have a look around. Next worst: you go places at the wrong time of the year - Hungary in December, Atlanta in August.

Then there's the language gap. Standing in line at the Budapest airport cafeteria surrounded by hundreds of people speaking in Hungarian, German and Slovaki, I look up from my tray of pork and potato to see Rod Serling standing off to the side. "Consider the case of Mr. Bagman - an American sent to Hungary to teach Japanese business practices..."

Actually, Rod fits in well here. The Hungarian dress code hints at a 50's sort of cool. The 50's wrapped in a wool coat.

The Hotel Corner in Komarom is new; I'm the first American to sign the guest book. Since most of the previous entries are in other languages, it's hard to know what they thought of the place. It's nice - the high speed Internet works well, the breakfast buffet only contains a few weird items. The staff consists of two young women who seem more interested in the flat panel TV on the wall playing music videos than bussing tables. But they're friendly enough, chattering away at me in German. Something about 'sleeping.' Something something 'eating.' They both stop to stare at the TV when a video called "Love Generation" comes on. It's about a kid riding his bicycle around the world. This song's a big hit in Hungary, I would hear it and see it many times during the week.

The front desk is also the bar - you can get your key, buy stamps and drink vodka if you like. I discovered why it's called the Corner - it's on the intersection of two quiet streets that explode with activity twice a day. One of those times is 4:00 am, when the diesel buses down the street fire up.

I'm meeting two of my students here, Heremon and Aideen. They're staying at the Corner, and have a car. They're easy to spot in dining area; both smoking post-breakfast cigarettes, wearing black and glasses that would brand them nerds in America. Put shades and a beret on Heremon and he could be a bongo player at the Stereotype Lounge. Here, he's just cool. Heremon and Aideen are electrical engineers from Finland.

The industrial park is about 3km from the hotel, an easy walk if it would quit raining. The weather has been pretty lousy lately, the cars sporting a thin coating of mud. Out the window I see three kids waiting for the bus. As the bus pulls up, they take one last drag on their cigarettes and flick the butts away in unison. They will no doubt exhale into the bus driver's face. Funny what you remember about school.

What little of the Hungarian countryside I've seen in the daylight looks a lot like Eastern Washington in the Winter, if they replaced the tract houses with widely scattered stone buildings with words like 'Gummi Javati' painted on the walls.

Over the course of the week we drove by the Gummi house eight times, enough for it to finally dawn on me what it meant. In the afternoon there's an over inflated truck tire inner tube with the word 'Gummi' painted on it. It's parked on the shoulder of the road, so close that Heremon almost hit it with the rented Jetta one afternoon. Gummi must mean rubber. Looking at the selection of Trabants and other cars sitting on blocks in front of this stone house, it looks like the guy is running a tire shop out of his house. Capitalist.

OK, here we are, in a large conference room at Faceless Corporation, ready to make some changes. I've come halfway around the world to work with these people. I start off with the usual introductions and wondered how to make this all work. I speak American, understand some German. The Finns speak Finnish and English English. The Hungarians speak Hungarian and varying degrees of English and Slovakian. Some Slovakians speak only to each other.

Most of the electrical engineers are Finns, most of the supervisors are Hungarian and most of the people on shop floor are Slovakian.

On the first day, the Slovakians sat together, the Hungarians sat together, one German guy sat by me and all the Finns were delayed at the airport in Vienna.

This is when you earn it.
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