A few weeks ago, my partner Sally Stetson and I spent a week in Bangkok, Thailand attending the annual meeting of IIC Partners. Our firm is a member of this global network of independently owned retained search firms and this meeting is devoted to sharing best practices, developing relationships with each other and generally working together to strengthen our businesses. We also do things like elect new board members and select board leadership.
Attending the meeting with us were about 70 colleagues, all of whom own and operate retained executive search firms. They come from virtually every part of the globe: Europe, the UK, Asia, Africa, New Zealand, Australia – you name it.
For those who couldn’t join Sally and me in Bangkok, the following are 18 takeaways from our international trip. What have you experienced in your overseas travels – in Bangkok or elsewhere?
- It is a bad idea to eat a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese after getting off a 15-hour flight over the North Pole.
- Pepto-Bismol is the stuff of life but is unavailable anywhere in Asia. (It is very good to have experienced traveling companions with you who pack lots of Pepto.)
- The airports I traveled through in Hong Kong and Thailand were huge, spotless, beautiful, new and comfortable. If I lived in Hong Kong, I would go to the airport on Friday nights for fun.
- JFK International Airport in New York is cramped, dirty, ugly, old and inconvenient. It feels like we are trying to squeeze another 15 years out of a facility that should have been closed 20 years ago.
- It makes me nervous that emerging economies in Asia have the good sense to invest in their infrastructure and we here in the US don’t. Just look at the destruction Hurricane Sandy caused to our century-old bridges, roadways, railways and utilities.
- Bangkok is world-famous for its colorful street vendors who sell local delicacies. You will pass at least four of these food stalls on each block of the city.
- Visitors should be sure to always pass these food stalls and never actually eat their food. It is perfectly fine for the digestive tract of the locals, but tourists often have some trouble.
- If you have to travel a mile in Bangkok and have the option of being in a car, bus or on your feet, forget the car and bus. If you can take a boat, definitely do that.
- People from Central and South America – particularly males from Central and South America – are extremely competitive, rambunctious and hysterically funny. These traits increase by a factor of five when they drink alcohol.
- Most Europeans try to be nice to their German friends, even though they secretly want to strangle them for having a strong economy.
- People from around the world pay close attention to everything about the United States. Most of them knew more about our presidential election than the average American – by a long shot.
- Virtually everyone at the meeting, no matter where they lived and worked, spoke English quite well.
- None of the Americans (especially me) spoke anything but English.
- The things that make our business challenging, frustrating, exhilarating and demanding in the US are the same the world over.
- iPhones and Blackberries know no national boundaries.
- Cultural differences have an impact on how meetings are run, how decisions are made and how business is accomplished. But so does human nature – which is more or less universal and probably more powerful than culture.
- Don’t ever, ever declare that you are returning to the US with fruit unless you know what the fruit is. It is virtually impossible to come up with a believable explanation for why there is a bag of fruit in your luggage that you can’t identify.
- Think of a different funny souvenir for your colleagues than unidentifiable fruit that looks like something you found in the bottom of a cage of monkeys.