Sunday, September 18, 2011

When I arrive, what should I eat? Boerewors? Kadayif?

With all the questions one has to answer when traveling to a new destination,
What should I eat is one of my favorites. It’s much more interesting to contemplate than what vaccinations I need and how many pages must there be in the passport for the visa that’s required.

Because I’m about to embark on a journey that will take me within the span of two weeks to South Africa and then to Turkey food is very much on my mind.  There will be
Boerewors, a spicy sausage to sample in Cape Town and Kadayif, a handmade "shredded" pastry in Istanbul to say nothing of  dozens of other dishes and drinks.  To get an idea of the possibilities two sites I discovered are:  Explore South Africa, ( or (

It’s exciting to have the opportunity to sample cuisines with such rich and long standing traditions.  Settlers and traders brought their food, spices, grains and livestock to both countries.  New foods were added to the traditional meals.  The selections and menus evolved.  History, tradition, culture and contemporary society come to life through understanding the foods of each place.  Sampling, exploring the markets and the restaurants and discovering the answers to What shall I eat? will be a delightful form of experiential learning.

If your travels take you to other places you may may want to check out the website Food In Every Country (  It provides fascinating information about the cuisine of sixty-eight countries and regions ranging from Algeria to Zimbabwe. 

Before you go, now there's one more question to ask?  What should I eat when I arrive?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The new year begins when?

Around the world people celebrate the arrival of a new year on January 1. It seems to be a shared truth that this date marks the beginning of a new year full of opportunity and possibility.  But is it?  Does a new year begin then?  Maybe the beginning of the new year is a matter of choice.  Is that possible?

For my friend Barb Sullivan September 1 marks the beginning of a year.  Just a days ago she began a new year that she’s calling her Year of Opportunities (it is year long sabbatical from her position as Chief of Protocol for the City of Toronto).  In the first post on the blog created to chronicle her experiences she wrote about her idea that September 1 starts a new year ( Reading her post led me to think about the possibility that the beginning of a new year can vary, be a personal choice of both date and way to celebrate.

Of course we all have birthdays that mark the passage of a year, hence a new year begins for each of us on that date, the anniversary of our birth.  But must that be our personal New Year?  Many of us chose to celebrate Chinese New Year as well as the January 1 New Year and for some of us Rosh Hashonah, the Jewish New Year, is the most meaningful of the celebrations. 

As I thought this idea I realized nations have “birthdays” which begin new years for the country and its people.  These birthdays or National days or Independence Days which are marked by special celebrations.  If you’re in the US, Independence day (July 4 ) is a day for picnics and fireworks.  In 2011 Eritrea’s independence celebration included a beauty pageant.  Chile has a week of celebrations that include Chilean cowboy music and fiesta partias (patriotic parties). (  South Sudan will celebrate the first anniversary of its independence on July 9, 2012 with the form of the celebration yet to be revealed.

Each country has a special way to celebrate but all share one common practice, something that’s important for a traveler to know.  On independence day wherever you are, many businesses will be closed.  The dates vary.  Before you plan a trip its useful to find out if  Independence day that will be observed during your visit.  (  Avoid surprises, enjoy the festivities.

All in all there are many days that can be counted as the beginning of a new year.  Follow tradition or create one of your own.  Will you begin a new year once in a calendar year or multiple times?  The decision can be yours. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A New Country Almost Two Months Old

On July 9, 2011 South Sudan, a nation of 8 million people, officially gained its independence.  Once part of the country of Sudan, it now stands a unique nation and on July 14 it joined the United Nations becoming member country  #193.  

Beyond the headline announcing it ascension to this major world organization we can observe other indicators of the existence of a new county.  It has an official name:  Republic of South Sudan.  A flag.  A national anthem.  A motto:  Justice, Liberty, Prosperity.  A calling code ( 211)  and an official language: English. 

On a practical note, a currency was created and issued:  the South Sudanese pound. You can see a photo at the International Business Times  http://www.   On one side the bills feature a photo of John Garange who led the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army and signed the peace agreement that led to the independence voted on July 9.  Although the pound is now in circulation you can’t yet check the exchange rate on the Universal Currency Converter site ( or Oanda ( but check back, the currency is new.

The Republic has a capital city, Juba.  However, it was just announced that it will create a new capital in Ramciel moving over the next three to five year to a location that will provide with ample room for expansion, creation of government buildings and construction of embassies for representatives of other nations.

Looking for background about this new nation?  Find details in the Wikipedia and the CIA WorldFactobook.  Prefer a site dedicated to current news?  You can read current articles on (  or ( set a Google Alert and receive news from a variety of sources.

 If you have followed the recent news you’d know in addition to naming a new capital location, that the struggle with Sudan (the north, the remainder of the original country) over boundaries and oil revenue is on-going.  Further you’d have discovered that the first embassy of South Sudan will be built in Israel although the city, either Jerusalem or Tel Aviv,  has yet to be confirmed. 

What else will happen in the months ahead?  What will the stories that we'll read on July 9, 2012, the first anniversary of the independence of the Republic of South Sudan?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

How Competitive is Your Favorite Country?

The World Economic Forum, (WEF) is an independent, international organization, that is, according to committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas. (  They are possibly best known for hosting the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland.  But they do more including preparing a range of research reports.  One of them is the Global Competitiveness Index, a fascinating look at countries around the world.

The 2010-2011 the report ranked the competitiveness of 139 countries with Switzerland holding the number one spot, and Chad coming in at 139.( )
In between  those two we note the US at #4, down a spot from last year, and the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), five of the most talked about countries today, ranked as #58, 63, 51, 27 and 54. 

On the surface this may seem surprising unless one digs into the report and considers WEF definition of competitiveness “the set of institutions, policies and factors that determine the level of productivity of a country”.   The ranks don't consider just one measure but represents a complex analysis of each country.

To develop the rankings countries are evaluated using the WEF’s 12 Pillars of Competitiveness which are Institutions, Infrastructure, Macroeconomic environment, Health and primary education, Higher education and training, Good market efficiency, Labor market efficiency, Technological readiness, Market size, Business sophistication and Innovation.  Twelve areas to consider as you do your own analysis of a country.  The report is filled with interesting observations along with lots of data.   It considers not just these 12 categories but their importance based on the developmental stage of each country.   Take some time and you may gain a fresh understanding of your favorite country.  What is its number and what does that tell you?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Numbers, Numbers, Numbers

No matter how much we prepare for our travels we often find It’s the small differences that can surprise us.  For me, my most recent visit to Paris started with the simple project of buying a bouquet of flowers as a hostess gift.  I stopped at a shop where I'd bought flowers before, selected a bouquet, paid, walked out and then noticed there were only five roses , not six, the half dozen I expected. I checked other bouquets in the display – all five, not a set of six to be seen.  And then I remembered, it’s Paris, flowers are given in odd numbers.  Of course a set of five.  Flowers in sets of odd numbers are normal, appropriate, expected. 

This little insight led me to think about numbers in general as part of a travel experience.  What number is appropriate when giving something?  What are the meanings of numbers?  Is seven lucky?  Is four not?  But that's not all we need to think about.

Let's not forget when we’re learning the basic translations of our polite vocabulary (please, thank you, can you help me?) that we should also pay attention to the numbers.  One to ten as a base.  Numbers as hours of the day – all 24 of them.   Useful to help understand what time a meeting will begin or what that bouquet of flowers will cost. 

To find out how to translate and pronounce the numbers there are all the language sources you'd usually use:  Google Translate, download apps and podcasts through iTunes (, find books, hand held translators, DVDs through Amazon ( or do a language specific web search.  Choices for everyone. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Will I Have Time?

As I am about to pack my bags and head to the airport its no surprise that I’m making my way through the list of things-do-before-you-leave:  pay the bills, pick up the cleaning, send the itinerary to the family.  But these practical steps are only part of preparing for a trip. 

At least six weeks before a trip I set a Google Alerts for my destination – it gives me a compilation of news from a variety of sources.  Tomorrow  I’m headed to Paris so I set an Alert  for France.  This week reading through results  I learned, among other things,  that France risks being assessed millions of euros in fines if it doesn’t improve its efforts to protect the European hamster. (  Will this come up in conversation at a dinner with my French colleagues?  Will I be seen as informed and current on the issues in France?  I’ll let you know.

Thanks to a recent travel article by my friend Ann Beard, the founder of the Protocol & Diplomacy International – Protocol Officers Association ( I was reminded that it import to pack copies of our passport and itinerary.  If you’ve ever had to have a passport replaced while traveling you know it simplifies the process if you can present a copy of the one that has gone missing.  Make copies, scan and email a copy to yourself, send one to someone who can send it to you if all else fails.

But preparation isn’t all about practical to do/not to do lists.  Take some moments and think about what you want to see, experience, investigate.  Even if you know your schedule will only allow 15 minutes for personal time.  For me, heading to Paris, my goal  enjoy some good, fresh French Camembert.  If I’m lucky I’ll have time to head to the cheese shop of Marie Ann Cantin ( at 12 rue de Champs du Mars.  A delightful space, filled with delicious cheese and staffed with kind, helpful people.    Wherever you go decide one thing you’ll do if you have that bit of personal time. Race through an exhibit at a museum?  Visit a famous church?  Tour a historic monument?  Find the best chocolate shop in the city?  Enjoy the adventure, the special moment, the fun of planning.  Who knows if there'll be time but we can hope!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

South Sudan: Almost a New Country, Almost Independent

Sudan before the Split

In a little more than a month, 34 days actually, South Sudan will formally declare its independence. (July 9, 2011).   After years of war, years of waiting, this southern part of the country of Sudan will split off from the North, becoming an independent state. 

Since February when the results of the largely peaceful vote were counted the work of organizing a new country have moved forward.   A national anthem has been selected, a new flag designed, a name discussed.   There has even been a study of areas where a new capital, replacing Juba the city that has been the seat of the transitional government, might be established.   This has been a time of great hope. 

Sadly in the midst of the preparations for the arrival of Independence Day fighting between north and south broke out again this time in area of Abeyi.  This oil rich area still has the right to chose whether to be part of Sudan (the north) or the new country of South Sudan. But that choice may not be made by a peaceful vote but rather by violence and ultimately some peace settlement.  (   It is sad that a new country, yet to have the basic structure in place to serve its people is caught in the midst of a civil war again.  At a distance we hear about the fighting.   We know it needs to be ended before South Sudan can really be independent, an active participant in global diplomatic and economic activities.  

What we seldom hear about, or as observers at a distance think about, is all the work, the decisions that must be made to have a country function in our complex systems.  Simply stating that you are a country, doesn’t do much.  It doesn’t create a postal system (or a world recognized postal code), an identifier for a web address, or an area code for a telephone system.  All of this must wait. The key step forward is recognition by The United Nations including being added on the list of the worlds countries that it maintains.   This will occur after July 9. 

Then the International Standards Organization can step forward and create the two or three letter codes that will identify the country (think FR for France, ZWE for Zimbabwe).  These codes are keys to domain names, internet suffixes among other things.  (Think of,,

And don’t forget, telephone  (country codes, area codes) codes allocated by the International Telecommunications Union. Postage stamps must be designed, issued and the Universal Postal Union must recognize their validity so that mail can flow around the world.  How will information flow in and out of South Sudan if these are not established and published quickly?  (For more refer to How to Start a Nation, Trappings of State:

But phones and the internet are just two of the challenges.  How will the airports be identified and how will air traffic controllers engage?  Who will issue passports and what will they look like?

How will trade agreements be established?  There must be a foreign service, diplomats, ambassadors to be appointed.  Although this has started there is much to be done.    The government must win recognition from most, if not all, of the 190 plus countries that exist today.

So many steps, large and small, so many details, decisions to be made.  Step by step over the next days, weeks and months South Sudan will move forward, make the choices that will create the newest country whose national day we can celebrate in a month and four days.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Governments want to know: Are you Happy?

At a time when daily headlines announce death tolls from natural disasters, on-going wars, and disease it is a surprise to discover that governments around the world are asking their citizens:  are you happy?   

For years the idea that individuals, much less governments, were concerned with personal happiness was thought to be a frivolous preoccupation of Americans, especially those in California.  That may no longer be true.  Today governments of countries as diverse as Britain, France and China are evidencing concern and curiosity about the Happiness of their citizens.

For Americans the subject is an integral part of the culture. Their concern with happiness dates back to the words of one of the country’s founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson.   He cited as an inalienable right of all people the “pursuit of happiness”.  These words came to be understood as each person having the right to Be Happy.  That search for that happiness has been the subject of movies, books and songs throughout history and even serious research and studies. There is a  Journal of Happiness Studies that includes articles such as Who is Happy to Work More:  Americans or Europeans?  What Makes Entrepreneurs Happy?

As the titles of these articles suggest that Being Happy doesn't just create smiling people.  Now it seems that around the world there is growing sense that levels of a population's happiness may have an impact on the economic well being of a nation.   According to a recent article in the Economist, France’s President has suggested a new measure: GDH, Gross Domestic Happiness as an alternate to the traditional measure, GDP, Gross Domestic Product. (   The term Gross Domestic Happiness isn’t new – it dates back to 1972 and was attributed to Bhutan's former King Jigme Singye Wangchuck.  President Sarkozy’s idea is new. 

In Britain the government plans to study the happiness of the population to help guide policy making.  According to a recent Reuter’s article,) in 2012 Britain’s Office of National Statistics will conduct a Well Being survey  (  Their plan – to ask 200,000 people questions including:  How satisfied are you with your life nowadays? And How happy did you feel yesterday? (

But the idea doesn't rest just with European Union member countries.    The Los Angeles Times recently ran a piece titled “China Checks its Own Mood” that describes China’s efforts to convey the idea that the government is working to “let people live more happily and with more dignity.”

Does your government want to know if you're happy today? 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

What will I have to pay?

Wherever financial analysis appears - in print, on line, podcasts, the radio or early morning TV shows, there’s likely be to be a discussion of the value of one currency in relation to another.  China needs to revalue, the euro is shooting up, the yen is not moving--- followed by endless of discussions of what that means.  Then, we struggle to understand the implications of all these movements on our business, our national economy. 

However, sometimes our interest in exchange rate relationships is more personal. We just want to know if our favorite snack, drink or gifts we plan to purchase will be more or less expensive when we travel than when we buy them at home.    What will it take to buy a hamburger in Paris?  A martini in Cape Town?   Thanks to the Economist ( or Travel+Leisure ( we can find some answers.

Twenty-five years ago, in 1986, the Economist created the Big Max index.  At the most simple level it tells us the price of a Big Mac, in US dollars in over 100 countries around the world. If you look at the chart of the  July 2010 index posted on the currency website Oanda ( you can see that the Big Mac has an average cost of $3.73 in the US.  However if you’re in China you’ll likely pay about $2.02 (the lowest cost of the countries listed) while in Norway the Big Mac is hits $8.16 (the most expensive in this list).  (  The purpose of the chart and analysis isn’t to help us to budget for our visits to McDonald’s but rather to illustrate the relationship, the parity or lack of it, between the currencies of multiple countries.  It’s a serious and interesting study.

There is an also an Alternate Big Mac index reported in 2009 that looks at how long people in 19 cities have to work in order to earn enough to purchase that Big Mac.  In Toronto it's 12 minutes while in Nairobi, it’s two hours.

But as readers of this blog know from an August 2010 post it’s not just our Big Mac that’s used to compare costs around the world.  In  2004 the Tall Latte index appeared, in 2007 it was the I-pod and 2010 the cupcake was the measure.

Today it’s the martini.  The June issue of Travel+Leisure includes the Martini Index.

According to this report in New York a martini will cost $19, $10 in Prague and in Paris, $25.  This report updates Travel+Leisure’s 2005 study of the same drink.  It isn't a surprise that costs have changed.   Six years ago a martini at a luxury hotel in Paris cost $26,  $15 in New York’s and in Shanghai it was $8  (today it’s $13). 

For me what's more  interesting than the changes in cost are the differences in cities listed.  In 2011we  see Cape Town, Singapore, Mumbai or Dubai  none of which appeared in 2005.   Warsaw, Geneva, and Seoul all included in 2005 aren't shown in this year.   In both lists:  Paris, New York, Shanghai, Buenos Aires and Mexico City. 

Martinis, Big Macs, I-pods and cupcakes give us a way to understand not only what a snack or gift may cost but also the relationships between currencies and the flow of travel and business around the globe.  What will be compared next?  What would you consider?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Africa: Land of Opportunities?

It’s easy to think of Africa of a continent of civil wars, famine, epidemics and lost hopes.  But that’s not the full story.  The May issue of Harvard Business Review ( includes an article “The Globe: Cracking the Next Growth Market: Africa” that tells us there’s more to the story than doom and gloom.

First of all, Africa is not one place.  It’s a continent with over 50 different countries, both large and small.  (As of this writing Sudan is the largest but July 9 when it splits in two, Algeria with over 33 million people  moves into that spot.  Smallest?  On the continent it’s Gambia with a population of approximately 1.5 million people.)

This article points out three factors that are changing the view of Africa as a potential market.  There is increased political stability in countries like Angola and Mozambique, reduced inflation and deficits and third more market friendly policies in places like Nigeria and Morocco.  The possibilities are drawing companies from China, India, Canada, France and the US to invest and expand.  (Among US companies Wal-Mart, Coca Cola and Yum Brands all are represented in multiple countries on the continent.)

But having noted that these countries present exciting opportunities the article goes on to caution the reader  to look carefully at each country.  History, culture, currency, income levels vary significantly.  The economies and possibilities differ in many ways.  Drawing on the research done by the McKinsey Global Institute (, the authors divided the countries into four groups based on their economies.    The categories and examples of countries included?   Oil Exporter (Nigeria, Algeria, Gabon and Botswana); Diversified (South Africa, Cote D’Ivoire, Morocco) Transition (Kenya, Mozambique, Ghana) and Pretransition (Mali, Ethiopia, DRC). 

Simply looking at the chart used to illustrate the differences in these economies tells us that no two places are likely to be alike. Differences abound.  But looking forward, asking where should we be in 2013, 2016 and beyond, Africa and its many countries seem to merit consideration.   The challenges of entering these markets will be significant but as this article suggests, the rewards are likely to be significant also.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Do you know your cities?

Major metropolitan areas around the world are often thought of in terms of congestion, population density, as destinations for tourists, centers of political and economic activity.  As drivers of the world’s GDP?  Maybe not so precisely.   Yet what happens in these areas matters today and their impact is likely to increase.  It is predicted that by 2030 approximately 60% of the world population will live in urban areas.

 To begin to understand the contributions of these areas that combine cities and suburbs  take the Marketplace Globalist Quiz: When Cities Rule the World ( published in a recent edition of The Globalist magazine. (    The quiz was drawn from the December 2010 Global MetroMonitor report prepared by The Brookings Institution and the  London School of Economics.  This document details the economic experience of  150 metropolitan areas around the world  - pre, during and post the most recent Financial Crisis/Great Recession.   ( 

The basic query of the Quiz:  What significant economic value do these collections of people, buildings, innovation, commercial activity bring to our world?

Their answer:  46%, almost half of the global GDP comes from these economic centers.  By contrast their populations estimated at 800 million people represent just 12% of our global population.  Relatively few people with significant impact.

Which of the countries studied performed best in income and employment growth during the recovery?  Istanbul, Shenzhen, China, Lima, Peru; Singapore and Santiago, Chile.   The best performing area in the US?  Austin, Texas and in Europe,  Krakow, Poland. Surprised?

Wondering about the prospects for your city, one where you plan to open a business,  or to visit for a holiday?  Check out the Global MetroMonitor for all the details and see where the recovery is strong and where the struggles continue.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

From BRICs to BRICS – Five no longer Four

The BRICs -Brazil, India, China, Russia just became the BRICS (note the change in the letter “S”) with the addition of South Africa. According to the Economist ( these five countries represent “around 40% of the world’s population and nearly a quarter of its economic output.”
Already known as an entity with growing influence on matters of trade and development this addition, the move to five from four, is likely to magnify the importance of this group.

According to Brent Radcliffe’s article “The Fab Five:  South Africa Joins BRIC”
(, South Africa’s addition may surprise some.  It’s smaller by population and size of its economy than the original four.  But it does represent a link the emerging economies throughout the continent.  (In fact China and India are already active investors throughout the Africa.  This extends their ties.) Radcliffe points out the addition of South Africa gives this group of developing (and emerging) economies representation on three continents along with a strong presence (Russia) in Eastern Europe.   

While articles will explore what this means for investors, the major industrialized nations, and the world trade agreements there’s another question to consider:  What will this mean for South Africa?  Writing in Times Live,  Abdullah Verachia explores this question in his article "SA needs to step up to the Bric plate."
He considers this an opportunity for South Africa, one that requires thoughtful consideration of how to proceed in order to obtain the benefits of "membership".  He concludes his articles by saying:

“Individuals, companies and countries have to find new compasses to navigate the new economic path. South Africans know the way. It is how we chart that road that will make all that difference.”

We will all watch with interest as South Africa moves from being known to many as the host of a successful World Cup to an increasingly important member of the global trade community.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Where is Orange?

 Walking into the trend area of Linea Pelle, the major leather goods show in Bologna, Italy is like seeing parts of a rainbow spread across the tops of dozens of tables.  Pieces of leather in an extraordinary array of textures and colors are arranged to catch the eye of designers, product developers from around the world.

During the three days of the show almost 6,000 people will view this leather rainbow, note the trends, and then decide what color and textures we’ll see in shoes, handbags, accessories in our stores more than a year from now.  (What we see in Bologna in April 2011 will appear in products in the fall of 2012.)  Attendees shop the booths of nearly 1,000 exhibitors for the leathers, zippers, soles, and embellishments that will decorate handbags, shoes and furniture in the years to come. According to a Florence based consultant who manages footwear production (In Italy and Brazil) for a major American brand,  Linea Pelle has become a must to attend for everyone in the business.

A quick glance around the room revealed an array of colors - corals and reds, greens, beige and white.   There was black and bright blue, even a bit of yellow.  But where was the orange?  I walked the entire space looking for the hot color of 2011 – Orange.  Not there.  Orange nice and bright the color of fruit is THE fashion color at the moment. It has been so popular with the designers that the Wall St Journal even did an article, “Orange Crush” about the importance of this single bright color for spring and summer 2011.

But amidst the hundreds of samples displayed, guiding the creative ideas of thousands of people there was only one small sample in orange mixed with dozens of reds, rose and corals.  A hot color for 2011, invisible in 2012. 

It’s a fascinating experience to walk a show like this.  To see leather cut into tiny strips and woven together into fabric for shoes, pillows or handbags. (We saw samples woven in India, finished in Italy).  To see leather smooth and supple, printed to resemble snake or crocodile, or cut in intricate patterns by lasers.  The variety of textures and colors seem endless. Showroom after showroom filled with rainbows of pieces that catch your eye and stimulate your imagination.  What will someone do with that you wonder as you look at a piece printed with a grey/white/black camouflage pattern (the style is named Vietnam) or a plastic seeming sample that has a page of newspaper embedded in it (Can we make you a handbag with the newspaper of the day you were born?).

Attending this show was a special privilege. It was exciting. Overwhelming.  Inspiring.   But as I left I was still wondering – where was orange, why did it vanish? 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Travel is a Collection of Questions

Paul Theroux writing recently  in the New York Times ("Why We Travel") 
proposes that travel, even when difficult or dangerous enriches the life of the traveler.  I agree.  Our voyages near and far, short and long can educate, inspire and refresh us.

But there’s another side to our adventures.  Travel can also exhaust even an experienced traveler.  Some days I think of a trip as a series of questions:  how will I find food I want to eat?   Is it worth it to keep restaurant cards with notes that say “Great Pasta!”, spend an hour searching to find the place again, only to discover that the chef changed and the pasta too?  Which restaurant will delight?   Do I keep all the other cards or not? 

And then there’s the process of getting some place when you decide not to just hop in a cab.  How do I navigate the metro, the bus or the walk?  If I have a destination in mind, and I find my route using a map, directions from Map Quest or Google maps  -  where will I find the names of the streets?  Will they be on a street corner sign?  On the side of a building? Carved in stone?  Written on a metal sign? 

And those queries don’t even touch the basics of how will I open the door to my hotel room?  A traditional key?  A card I slide into an opening placed on the door?  Do I wave the card by a card reader that isn’t identified as such?  (Will my hotel be nice enough to place instructions in the elevator or not?)  And once I’m in how will I turn on the lights?  The TV or radio?  Will there be a clock? 

Outside the room  we wonder how to manage the money that isn’t familiar especially those coins that collect so quickly?  How to tip fairly, to whom and when?  Can we use the words of Italian, French, Polish or Chinese that we practiced at home and be understood? 

Some days travel is an endless series of questions.  But once we find even a few answers we remember the exciting, mind expanding experience that is travel – Adventures big and small that fill our lives with new images, sounds, tastes and knowledge.  Where shall we go next?    

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Giving is Good (but what are the rules?)

As I am about to embark on a trip where I am the banker, in charge of paying the bills and distributing the tips Kevin Salwen’s article in the New York Times “When to Get Your Wallet Out”  caught my attention.  

What to tip, when and how much is always a question as we travel whether its near home or across the world.  We can check out the “rules” by doing a quick Google search for Tipping rules.  Among the guides you’ll find a country by country list ranging from Croatia to Saudia Arabia at   Conde Nast Traveler Etiquette 101 Tipping Guide  A quick read will tell you that in Dubai as in Paris your restaurant bill will include a service charge but its considered polite to add a bit if you think your service was good.

But what these guides don’t tell us is think about the purpose, the intention of the money we give.  Are we just saying thank you for delivering fresh towels or are we aware that we’re providing part of the salary that will feed the family of the person who opened doors for us?  They don’t help us distinguish between being generous, appreciative of service provided and appearing to be a traveler showing off your wealth?   There aren’t any Etiquette 101 practices to address this part of the tipping equation.  As Mr. Salwen points out the decisions are personal based on our budgets often our feeling at any given moment.  Are we trying to invest in the local economy, help the street vendor build his business, establish a relationship that will lead to better service in the future? 

Tipping, giving money for something received isn’t confined to restaurants, cabs and hotels.  My favorite way to support the local economy is to give a “donation” to people playing music in the subway, on a street corner.  They brighten my day (a great service) and I appreciate the effort it takes to perform in public. Plus I believe that the world needs music.  My few coins may help keep it available for other travelers.

Before you board the plane or boat, get in the car, or hop on your bike for the next trip, check out your own philosophy about tipping as well as the standard practices at your destination.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Where is Baggage Claim?

Although Las Vegas now has serious competition from resorts in Singapore, (see the rececent Economist article and other parts of the world it still attracts almost 40 million visitors each year with approximately 5,000,000 coming from places outside the US. 

Looking around at the crowds walking the strip or people in the casinos sitting in front of the tables and slot machines its not easy to identify which countries are represented.  The uniform for everyone seems to be jeans with a top – shirt, sweater, or jacket.  But as you walk around the sounds of the conversations reveal that visitors likely have traveled a distance to enjoy the shows, restaurants, shops and gambling opportunities.  Within hours of arrival the sounds of Spanish, French, and Italian mingled with the bells of the slot machines.  We overheard parts of conversations in Chinese, German, and heavily accented English.   Visitors came from Sweden and Israel and beyond attending conferences, on vacation or following the NASCAR races.

And yet, with all the international traffic the airport (McCarran International which offers lots of slot machines didn’t appear to have a single sign that In any language but English.  Not even as Memphis airport ( did, a sign marking the exit in multiple languages.  While it is reasonable to assume that most travelers know a few words of English, how much more welcome they might feel if signs at the airport welcomed them, or made the search for food, baggage or restrooms a little easier by offering a choice of languages.  

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A new country is coming and with it basketball stars

Sudan Before the Split
In January 2011 voters in South Sudan voted overwhelming (99.57% in favor) to create a new country known at the moment as South Sudan.  Although the votes have been counted the change over won’t be official until July of this year (2011.   Then, Sudan as it exists today will divide into a two countries.  The official name of the new country has yet to be announced.  But changes and planning are underway for this complex undertaking.

A recent article in Addis Neger, an Ethiopian newspaper, discusses some of the challenges that face the emerging nation (
The writer points out that outside its new borders there are regional conflicts that can spill over testing the new government when it needs to focus on nation building.  Further, internally the leadership will be challenged to create a unified culture within a society that has traditionally been built around clans rather than country.

But for all the difficulties that may be ahead it’s also possible to see opportunities arriving.  In the February 20 New York Times there was an article headlined “Long Arms Reach for the Rim”( telling us of a renewed excitement about basketball in South Sudan.  It tells us that players from South Sudan may now come to join US collegiate and professional teams.    According to the article these players are “versatile, freakishly athletic. ”  They will follow in the footsteps of the few Sudanese players who arrived before. Today only Luol Deng now in his seventh season with the Chicago Bulls represents Sudan in the NBA. Soon he may be joined by others representing country #196 still known as South Sudan.

While it’s easy to think mostly of the struggles ahead for the new country its important to recognize the opportunities will also appear.  Let’s be sure we look for the good news, celebrate it and cheer for the players as they arrive.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Will I Feel Welcome? Be Able to Find My Way?

Arriving in at an airport I’d never visited before  - Memphis, Tennessee ( made me think about the signs that directed me toward my immediate destination – baggage claim.  How would I feel, I asked myself, if I didn’t speak English?  Could I find what I wanted, needed?

Thanks to the graphics along with the English words,  I could easily find my way to baggage claim.  Images of suitcases matched with directional arrows – it was easy.  And to my surprise, when it came time to find my way out the Exit sign was not just in English.  It was in Korean, French, Dutch, German, and Spanish.   An airport that serves 10 million passengers a year, both domestic and international, Memphis knows one way to make its customers feel welcome.   Sadly, this isn’t true at all US airports I’ve visited. 

For the US traveler we benefit from the fact that English is the global business including the business of travel.  In Hong Kong or Florence, Singapore or Paris, you can find your way reading signs in English or by translating the images presented.   In  Los Angeles the International Terminal may have some signs in Spanish, others in Chinese or Korean, but the other terminals like Terminal 5 where I arrived last night  all signs are in English and lack graphic images to guide you.   Not a warm welcome.

Aside from wishing to start a movement to improve the signs in our US airports I am reminded that we travelers need to expand our vocabulary when we travel.   We can’t simply pay attention as to how to say Please, Thank You and I’m Lost in the language of the country of our destination.  To that list we should add Exit, Baggage Claim, and My Bag Didn’t Arrive.  Is it time for a special dictionary for Business Travelers?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Remarkable Business Traveler

Almost 800 years ago, In 1271, a 17 year old named Marco Polo, set out on a business trip with his father and uncle.  Italian merchants and traders they went in search products to offer their customers.  They weren’t the first Europeans to make this journey nor was this their first trip.  But this twenty-four year long journey did more than bring new goods to their market - – it changed the world.

According to  Nayan Chanda author of Bound Together  How Traders, Preachers, Adventurers, and Warriors Shaped Globalization, Marco Polo’s book Travels describing his experiences was “a major building block in the rise of Western awareness about the mysterious Orient.”  It created a new understanding of the world of that time.

To me what is most impressive about his story is the relationship he established with Kublai Kahn, the Mongol ruler of China and beyond.  Due to his language skills, intelligence, and personality Marco Polo was able to gain the trust of this warrior ruler and become his emissary throughout China and regions as far away as India. His was an extraordinary accomplishment  - bridging the differences in culture and experience to gain this level of trust and responsibility. 

His story is reminder to all of us, today’s business travelers, that it is possible to create strong connections, solid business relationships with people whose way of doing things differ from own. That business can take occur in places that are new to us.  Be inspired by the silks and spices the Polo family introduced to Europe!  Patience, curiosity and most of all being there in person make the difference.  Your trips are not likely to last twenty fours years but even 24 hours with a colleague sharing conversation,  a cup of tea or coffee in person – rather than exchange an
e-mails can bring unexpected benefits.

If we follow the example of Marco Polo, go off an engage with people, do business in unexpected places, it is possible that we too can expand our business and maybe we too can change the world.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Jewel of West Africa

Thinking about the country being formed in Southern Sudan made me realize how little I know about the countries of Africa.  So I looked at the globe that rests on my bookshelf to select a country to research a bit - to discover some place new.  Here’s where I looked and a few things that I learned about my country of the week:  Mali.  It's:

Located in Western Africa.  It's landlocked, surrounded by neighbors that include Algeria, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire.

About the size of California and Texas combined with a population slightly larger than that of the state of Illinois.

A republic with a President elected by the population.  The President serves a 5 year term and the current President’s term runs through 2012.   It's citizens can vote at 18.

An associate member of the European Union.  Plus: 

The US has diplomatic relations with Mali. The US Embassy and Ambassador are located in the capital city of Barmako.

It’s home to the famous city of Timbukto (Timbouctou) located on the Niger River, a key place on the trans-Saharan trade routes.

While the official language is French,  80% of the populations speaks Bambara, most commonly used in daily activities.

It’s one of the 25 poorest countries in the world with an economy based largely on agriculture and fishing.  There is a  a small tourism industry said to have significant potential.  But then -

The Lonely Planet guide book ( calls Mali  “a jewel of West Africa.”

Where to find this basic information (and much more)?  There’s Wikipedia for an overview.  For facts and figures read through the CIA World Fact Book ( and the Background Notes prepared by the US Department of State ( - check the section on Countries and Regions.  Add to those basics a Google search for Mali and uncover a variety of sites including Geographia ( that tells us “Mali is a nation of unusual interest and charm.”

Small, poor, landlocked, member of the EU, engaged with the US and a jewel of interest and charm.  A multi faceted country.  It's place to explore on paper now and some day - to visit in person.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Will your husband object to your commute?

Not long ago three visitors from India participating in an International Visitors Council program ( joined me for dinner and informal conversation.  It’s always a special evening when I am able to host people visiting Los Angeles.  They are professionals known to be leaders in their field in their country. The visits are organized by The National Council of International Visitors ( working with the US State Department. At IVCLA we call it Citizen Diplomacy.  It’s individuals coming together sharing their ideas, experiences, professional observations.  For me, it’s also an opportunity to make new friends.

That evening our conversation included discussions about what surprised them during this, the second week of their first visit to the United States.  “You don’t ask as many personal questions as we do at home” was the observation made by the woman in the group.   She went on to say that in India within minutes of meeting her I would have inquired if she was married, had children, and if not, would ask when she planned to start a family and offer advice on child rearing.   In addition she said that during her job interview she was asked if her husband would object to her having to commute and to travel. It’s impossible to imagine moving so quickly to personal topics here and to say nothing of the question asked during her job interview.  We might view that as a lawsuit waiting to happen.

She pointed out that Americans coming to work in India should be prepared for these inquiries. They need to know  not to take offense but rather to understand that people are trying to get to know you, to build a relationship with you. Business depends on relationships and answering questions that can’t be asked in Los Angeles may be essential for moving your business forward.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Will the world have country #195?

It appears that the world is about to welcome a new country.  As this is written the results of a vote on a  referendum on splitting Sudan into two autonomous countries are being counted. A process that began in 2005 ending Sudan’s civil war is concluding and the world is likely to add one more country, number 194 (Today there are 194 countries without including Taiwan). While the vote count will not be final until February early polling indicates that the south will split from the north.

Think about what it means to create, organize, lead a brand new country. Consider the multitude of complex, historic decisions to be made. The acting government in the south, known as the Autonomous Government of Southern Sudan, has established much of the framework of a new country.  However, their work will continue and expand if the voters confirm the split.  There will be more laws to be put in place.   Public safety, health, welfare and educational systems must be managed.  But operating systems, infrastructure aren’t the only matters that need to be addressed. 

What will the country be called?  What will it’s flag look like and what song will be the national anthem inspiring its people?    According to the site Nation Branding a country having the opportunity to consider and select a name is an unusual opportunity.  Their article tells us that names often arrive “accidentally” by reference to a local word or physical characteristic of the area.  But today if Southern Sudan becomes a new country, it has the opportunity to name itself, to create its image (brand).

The government will be tasked with defining its role in the world, deciding how to relate to its population, neighbors, friends and former enemies.   At the same time they must design a flag and select the national colors.  Each decision will make a statement about this fledging country.
What an amazing responsibility and how interesting for all of us observing the transition.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A New Year is Coming

Just a few weeks after the January 1 celebration of a new year we have the opportunity to reflect and celebrate again.  In 2011 February 3 begins the 15 day celebration known as Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year, Spring Celebration.   On that date we will transition from the Year of the Tiger to the Year of the Rabbit.

No matter the dates, or the names of the year, tradition requires that certain foods be part of the celebration, foods that will (hopefully) bring good luck, good fortune.

In some cases it’s the appearance that make the idea clear.  Plan to share a dish of noodles representing long life – and be sure not to cut them.  For other foods is how the spoken name of the food sounds that links it to the idea of good luck.  For example words tangerines and orange remind one of the words for luck and wealth.  Fish, an important dish for family dinner served on the eve of the new year may call to mind surplus, abundance and a wish.

Although we often think of Chinese New Year as parades, dragons and fireworks, it is a time for being with ones family, welcoming the new year.  Enjoy the special foods that are part of the holiday tradition and look forward to a year of good fortune.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Nollywood: That's Where?

It’s likely most people know that Hollywood, the original home of the world’s film industry, is in the United States and that Bollywood is the dynamic film industry in India.  But do they know about Nollywood?. That is the informal name the popular film business of Nigeria.

If film fans  live in any country in Africa, it’s likely they will recognize the title.   According to a recent Economist article this segment of the world film industry creates as many as 50 full length movies a week.   ( which are widely distributed throughout the continent.  Further it tells us that the success of  these Nigerian films  has encouraged the film industries of South Africa, Tanzania and Cameroon. In the future we may hear of and celebrate awards to movies from Ghallwyood and Lolliwood  -- the growing film industries of Ghana and Liberia.

For the consumer, the film fan, this is all good news.  More films, more choices, more stories told by people with varied views of the world and that give us all more opportunities to understand our world.   Let's wish for wide distribution of films from around the globe.