Thursday, January 31, 2008


On Monday I accompanied a pair of computer-savvy types from a digital signage software company here in Hamburg to a convention in Amsterdam; I was signed on as translator for the boss (he speaks no English).

I had been looking forward to this trip for quite some time, and was a bit nervous about having to interpret on the fly for a company head who would be depending on me for making new foreign business connections.

So after a somewhat awkward 4.5 hours of sparse conversation and nauseatingly rapid ac- and deceleration on the Autobahn West- and slightly Southward through Bremen and Osnabrück--with a brief stop for a questionable meat-filled Dutch pastry--we arrived in Amsterdam. The sky was overcast. Big surprise.

After navigating the chaos of hundreds of laborers scrambling to finish a vast array of display booths in 3 giant halls at the Rai convention center, my colleague and I (the boss and organizer of this trip was off at a meeting) first discovered a problem which would end up cutting short my stay and greatly disappointing all involved:

The Japanese electronics company SANYO, at whose* large display booth our company was a guest, had, through inadequate communication between our boss and their technician, failed to provide us with the space and tools to achieve our goals; namely, attracting customers and demonstrating the software.

[*through a similar inadequacy in communication shortly before we left, my boss referred to a certain Sanyo who would be meeting us at the convention, and who would stay in the same hotel -- thus the person/object confusion]

Having nothing to do that afternoon, I spent the day exploring the city. While I still find the city structure and architecture stunningly beautiful, I had been there twice within the last year and a half, and my opinion of the rampant English language, trash, pot-head tourists, and apparent lack of unique Dutch culture had not changed.

To make a long story shorter: the result of our communication problems left us with 4 screens upon which to run looped company spots; no posters, no separate stand for our brochures, and no laptop with projector to demonstrate the software. Important to add, these displays on which our spots were allowed were the only LCD and Plasma hardware SANYO had on display, meaning passersby were far more interested in their high-resolution, weatherproofing, and touch-screen features than what one small Hamburg software company had to sell.

The result: I had virtually nothing to do. Tuesday I stood around for 8 aching hours eating complimentary cookies and saying, "no, I don't work for Sanyo, but could I interest you in some software". Why, might you ask, was I not translating anything for the boss who was paying me 15 EURO/hour to be there? Well, NO ONE who didn't speak German had anything to say to him.

So, that night I bought a train ticket back to Hamburg, unwound in a Coffeeshop, and passed out in my 4-star hotel room, feeling sorry for the 8 or 10 smug Japanese businessmen SANYO flew out their from Japan to stand around with us. If I had virtually nothing to do, those guys actually had nothing to do (and for 2 more days than I did).

The Dutch word for boring is above: vervelend. In the related German language, the similar sounding word verfehlend means to miss or not achieve something. There was definitely something missing in my Amsterdam experience.


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