Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Insights on People through Travel

Suitcase : Brown leather travel suitcase with colorful labels isolated on white background  Stock Photo
I'm getting my bag packed for a summer vacation.  I use the word vacation very loosely.  I will be traveling with the family to Europe and will be visiting some clients when I am in Germany, France and Italy.  So you might say it is part work, part pleasure.

For the last few weeks I've been getting my itinerary planned; checking with family, friends and contacts around the globe to see if our schedules can sync up.  Over the last few years WineTalent's client list has become more international, and with that comes more places to visit.  But it isn't about places, but the people who are there.  When I started to think about it, it struck me that what I like the most about traveling isn't the sightseeing but the people who live there.   I like learning about how people in different locals and cultures go about their daily lives.  Getting to meet a local always trumps any tourist destination for me.

Several years ago I went with my husband to visit my nephew in Cairo.  He was teaching at a school outside of Cairo, and welcomed us to his place.  He also joined us on our tour of Egypt.  When we first arrived at the school, we met many of the staff and a few students.  Our accommodations were a private apartment--with air conditioning--that was inside the school compound.  Waking up the next morning we were in a completely different place--new country, new sounds, new smells, new language, new time zone.  Our early morning wake-up call was the morning call to prayer, in Arabic of course.  Knowing that we were doomed to get no more sleep until jet-lag exhaustion hit us again later in the day, we went for a walk around the compound.  Oh, what fun it is to get followed by a pack of jackal-looking dogs!  Luckily the dogs were friendly. 

That trip was a lot of fun.  We met many new people and on our tour we saw some excellent sights.  The snorkeling in the Red Sea was fantastic--the best I had ever seen.  Before my trip I had mentioned it to one of my recruiting friends, Heidi, and she mentioned that a good friend of her's also lived in Cairo.  Heidi introduced the two of us and we exchanged some emails and planned to meet up when I was in the area.  When we were there I contacted her to see about getting together in Cairo when we returned from visiting the Red Sea.  "Oh no, unfortunately we will be vacationing down in El Quseir this weekend," she said.   I told her we were there now, staying at the Flamenco Hotel.  It turned out her family was staying at the hotel right next door--the Movenpick.  Looking at our map--we decided we would swim over.

 Scuba : scuba diving Stock PhotoThis has got to be one of the funniest meet-ups I've ever had.  I had just read Helen Fielding's novel "Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination".  Actually Heidi had given the book to me.  In that book Joules has some funny adventures, a la James Bond.  In one part she has to scuba out of the evil villain's lair.  When I was snorkeling a mile away to the Movenpick I felt very secret-agentish.  While I did not have a tuxedo under my wetsuit--or a wetsuit for that matter--it was fun to step out of the water, onto the beach and settle down for a Mojito with new-found friends.  Talking with ex-pats overlooking the Red Sea has a certain out-of-body feel to it.  But talking with them was very interesting.  If I hadn't of tried to make the connection, I wouldn't have learned about their experiences in Egypt, or have tapped my secret agent snorkeling skills.

I think I have a habit of making connections when traveling.  About a decade ago my husband and I were traveling to France and visited an old family friend of his. Traveling through the back roads of the Champagne region, trying to find a small town was tres romantic, but as with all navigation-intensive trips, a bit nerve-racking. Upon our arrival, we had a very enjoyable visit with someone my husband hadn't seen in over 20 years.  The couple was very friendly, and I think they were happy to have some Americans in the picture for a few days.  They treated us to wonderful food and drink--probably causing me to acquire a fondness for Ricard, but luckily not for Gauloise cigarettes.  We spent Easter Sunday with them, eating a wonderful leg of lamb and toasting with Pommery Champagne.  That has become the standard by which all Easter feasts are now measured by me.

When I was last in Europe, I got to meet up with my long-lost friend Laila in Madrid.  Back in 1990 My soon-to-be husband and I went on a five-month trip of Europe.  Being one-quarter Finn, I had to make my way up to Finland.  But being a college student, I also had no money, and had to camp in Scandinavia.  In Finland my fiance and I camped at a campground in Tampere.  We made friends with the campground hostess.  She was very nice and taught us a lot about Finland and the local customs.  My fiance and I went away for a few days, returning to the campground soaking wet and miserable after spending the night in a ditch--literally.  When she saw us show up, she took us under her wing.  She brought us back to her family's apartment, and then to the family cabin in the country.  As a young romantic, I felt like I had died and gone to heaven.  Running through the fields of Finland brought back all the stories my grandmother had told me nightly growing up.  Wild blueberry picking and Summer Solstice parties were all being realized first-hand by me, there. 

After Finland Laila and I stayed in touch, meeting up in Manhattan in 1993 for a week, and then again in Madrid in  2009.  Having not seen each other in 16 years could have caused us to be strangers again--but not at all.  Upon arriving in Madrid, I called Laila from our hotel room--and she said we were about 6 blocks from her place.  Sheer coincidence.  After unpacking and cleaning up, we headed over to her new restaurant.  Opening the door and seeing her was like seeing a sister.  We quickly got through catching up, and settled into friendly conversations.  She took us on tours of the city, showed us how people lived in Madrid, and taught us how the locals do things. 

While I thoroughly enjoy seeing the sights and sounds of new places, it is the people that really make a tour memorable.  Getting insights into how people go about their daily lives is so interesting to me.  I think that has to be the best part of any trip.  Getting to learn about other people.  And maybe that's why I'm in the recruiting business--learning about people and what type of culture a company and candidate have.  I'll have to do some intensive culture study for the next few weeks to hone my craft!  Bon Voyage Everyone.

Thoughts on recent job postings

Fermentation: The Daily Wine Blog: A Profile of Wine Jobs By the Numbers

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Where's WineTalent

Had a wonderful evening last Wednesday in Napa trying some excellent wines, sampling great food and dancing.  Saw some dear friends, and made some new ones.  Where was I?  Note, the bottles may appear larger than normal!