Back to school

Over the years I have travelled a lot. Maybe too much really, but that is just the nature of the work. To someone with no experience of business travel, it might sound quite glamorous – all those foreign countries. I will admit that it has its upsides, like having colleagues, who become friends, in many places. But often it is just tedious air travel, into a hot, badly driven taxi to yet another boring hotel. The next day it is another taxi to the office/conference and later back to the airport for more tedium. Frequently the fact that it is a foreign country is just an irritation, as language can be a problem and dealing with foreign currency annoying.

However, once in a while an opportunity arises to make the travel just a bit more interesting …

This week I was attending a conference in Stockholm. I have been to Sweden countless times and I would list it as one of my favorite countries to visit. The language is tough, but I guess I learn a tiny bit more each time I visit. A big bonus of this trip is that I could escape the boring hotel. I have some old friends (by old, I mean that I have known them a very long time!) who live on the outskirts of the city and they kindly offered to let me stay at their house. They are a Swedish/English couple. The guy was a colleague many years ago and his wife is a teacher.

It was the teacher who offered me an interesting opportunity. She teaches Rhetoric at a school and is always keen to have visiting speakers from out in the real world and she asked me to come along, as I had a little window of free time. I had done this before, a couple of years back, so I knew it would be fun and readily agreed.

The kids were around age 16 and all seemed to speak superb English. The plan was that I would give them some guidance on presentation techniques. I did a short presentation to them, during which I made as many mistakes as possible. They made notes of all the mistakes that they spotted and then we discussed my faults. They did a tremendous job of identifying all the fluffs that I had made and I was very impressed. My friend seemed to be very happy with their performance (and mine!).

This was great fun and gave me a feeling that I had gotten just a tiny bit closer to Swedish people and culture than most business visitors are able. An aspect of that culture popped up in an unexpected way. I had commented to the kids that I spoke almost no Swedish – about 6 words and knew how to order a beer. During the discussion, one of the boys asked me how I would order a beer in Sweden. I said that I would normally say “May I have a beer please”. He insisted that I say it in Swedish, so I obliged. I guess that will teach me to show off!

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  • Colin – Terrific post. I am certain those kids took away invaluable nuggets of information from the experience. I don’t know if we could ever pull it off, but if you are willing I would love to explore the possibility of you speaking to the upper classmen at my boys’ school. Logistics may prove impossible, but just in case!

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at https://blogs.sw.siemens.com/embedded-software/2010/10/21/back-to-school/