30 oktober 2010

Soul and the City

At the risk of sounding redundant in comparison to my last blog contribution....I find myself in another sunny city on the water after another amazingly smooth journey. What's going on?? Where are all the stresses of travel by air! (strange to have nothing to complain about)

Well, I will knock wood, count my blessings, and anything else required to keep the travel gods smiling on me for a while!

It's been 25 years since my last visit to Chicago if you don't count all the hours I've spent in transit at O'hare (I can't believe I just wrote that - 25 years!!). While many things have changed and the city has grown, I find recognition in something that has always defined Chicago for me - MUSIC!

Music permeates the city - soul, blues, hip hop and a light and easy Luther Vandross kind of sound can be heard on the subway (yes, there is a well maintained subway functioning throughout the city that only cost 2.25 USD/ride), several shops (trust me- I've been in lots!), and on the streets as many people walking dare to sing out loud. I've tried singing out loud a few times while walking in Stockholm with my 6 year old daughter. She always says - 'you can't go around singing all the time-people look at us!'. 'Yes they do' I reply, 'but maybe it makes them smile a little too', and then I usually stop singing.

Music, in part, defines a culture. But it is not only the music itself. It's where, when, how it's played and by whom. It seems that in Chicago, music is everywhere. Not only is it said to be the birthplace of house music, it is also home to it's unique blend of Chicago blues, jazz and soul.

I like to sing out loud when I'm out walking and not in a hurry. It's a welcome change to my usual fast, determined walk to keep pace with Stockholm city life. As I walk the streets of Chicago, a city of  almost 3 million people, I hear a lot of them singing out loud. It makes me smile! In Chicago, you don't have to visit one of the many clubs to enjoy the soulful sound of the city. Just walk the streets! Perhaps I'll try singing out loud a bit more often as I walk the streets in Stockholm - especially when I'm with my daughter!

Lynn G.

28 oktober 2010

Gothenburg - Sun and the City

A sunny autumn Gothenburg evening.

Over the last few years I have been in Gothenburg countless times. Almost every time I've been there, regardless of the season, I've been greeeted with a gray and wet sky. At the moment it's that gray sky time of year in Stockholm, so my expectations for something better in Gothenburg were not high. Imagine my surprise to arrive to a city bathing in sunshine!

From then on, everything about my journey fell perfectly into place - out of airport quickly, taxi waiting, traffic to seminar location light! The event I was speaking at was supurbly organized by IFL Stockholm School of Economics - everything set up and ready to go. Even my computer equipment worked smoothly (and for those of you who know me - that is some amazing feat!)

My lecture 'Strategies for Successful Communication Across Cultures'  for about 50 guests was very well received - which made for some delightful conversation over wine with guests after the seminar.

Our discussions included everything from missing work because the dog is ill (not totally uncommon in Sweden) to reinforcemnet of my belief that after all my time in Sweden, the word Lagom can not be translated directly into English. It's meaning is subjective to the beholder - for example, 'lagom size' can be anywhere from 15 employees (the size of Key) to 250 (the size of the consulting company one of the seminar participants belonged to). Some people say it can be translated to  'just right'. Well, my experience in Gothenburg felt 'just right' - so does that mean it was 'lagom'?. No - because lagom isn't always perceived as a positive thing. Sometimes it can mean - good enough or Ok, but not great.

So, I don't want to say my time in Gothenburg was 'lagom'! In fact, the only problem with the evening was that it was over much too quickly! Before I knew it I found myself back on the plane to Stockholm. Although, I must admit, I was happy to be getting home again as I am away a little more often than what feels 'lagom'.

Lynn G.

27 oktober 2010

Correct Bay to Log Island

                                                             A train station. Somewhere.

When I was 11 years old, my parents allowed me to travel by myself on the train to stay with my then 25-year old sister in Wales. To occupy me, my dad gave me a notepad and he told me to write down the name of every station I passed through on my way from Darlington in the north of England to Pontypridd in the south of Wales. As the diligent youngster I was, I took this mission very seriously, and painstakingly wrote down every minor station on that long, windy track down the country.

On my journey back from Mora today, I was reminded of this. The train between Mora and Stockholm stops at many stations before arriving at its destination. As I travelled through the Swedish countryside, I realised how silly some of the place names are when you translate them into English.

Just to mention a few - after Mora, we stopped at Correct Bay, and then Pine Mountain. Next station was Play Sand and then Inland Lake. Animal Ridge is another place, as is Live Long. Honest Mother is another place worth mentioning.

Place names sound funny when you translate them to English don't they? Oh, well, only a few more hours to go till I'm home in Log Island.

Neil S

Mora, Sweden - check your assumptions

                                                        The best, and only, taxi in town.

One thing I am always reminded of when I travel is to check my assumptions. You don't even have to leave your own country to experience the benefits of doing this.

Today I've been in Mora in Sweden delivering a Cultural Awareness seminar. After the 4 hour train journey northwards, I arrived to a deserted, cold and rainy station. There were no people around, let alone taxis to take me onwards on my journey. A phone number was written on the station wall to a local taxi firm. I dialed them on my mobile. They seemed surprised to hear from me. They said they would 'see if they could send me a taxi.' I hung up.

Ten minutes later, I rang again to check if they'd found me a taxi. Not yet.'Why not?', I asked. 'Well'. they said, 'we only have one taxi in Mora during the days because nobody ever gets off the train at that time'. 'Oh', I said. 'I'll wait'.

I waited 20 minutes in the icy rain for the taxi to fetch me. And I remembered what I should have done. I should have checked my assumptions. I just presumed there would be a taxi rank outside the station to whisk me away.

I was wrong.

Neil S

20 oktober 2010

Chilling out in Finland

Some Finnish babies doing some serious chilling
Like the Swedes, the Finns are very keen on the outdoors. Today, however, I came to understand that they are rather more extreme about it than their Swedish neighbours.

A few months ago, a Finnish friend told me that not only do Finnish children go to school when it's snowing (which is shocking enough in itself for us Brits), but they also have playtime outdoors everyday whatever the weather. There is one exception though - they are allowed to stay indoors if it is colder than -30C outside!

To be honest, I thought this was a little extreme until a conversation I had today made this seem like, well, child's play.

I am running a Presentations course here in Helsinki and I had lunch with two of our contacts from the HR department. Both are Finnish - one a mother and one a grandmother. They had been kind enough to buy a cute summer outfit for my daughter when she was born in May this year and so naturally the topic of conversation soon came round to babies and parenting. I commented on how hot the summer had been, mentioning that it was nice to have spent so much time outdoors with my newborn. They agreed and then asked me if I have a place like a balcony, garden or porch to keep the baby in the winter.

Slightly baffled, my immediate response was to laugh... until I realised it was a serious question. I quickly pulled myself together enough to ask them what they meant.

As it turns out, it is apparently common practice in Finland to leave babies outdoors in their prams for 1-2 hours at a time, often unattended, and at any time of the year including deepest winter. When I asked what the benefits of this might be (suggesting helpfully, 'fresh air'), I was met with, "Well, I don't know, it's just tradition really!".

Confused about the purpose of deliberately leaving one's baby outdoors in freezing conditions, I questioned whether it might sometimes get a bit too cold during the Finnish winter to pursue this tradition. Understanding my concerns, they quickly reassured me that babies are rarely left outside in the cold below -20C. Phew, that's ok then!

I've always considered the Finns to be a cool, calm people - perhaps this is because, quite literally, they learn to chill out from such an early age.

Dave S

Budapest - feeling at home

Lynn and I are staying at the Mercure Korona in Budapest. It's the same hotel we stayed in six months ago on our first visit to the city. Funny isn't it how, when you've stayed in a hotel, and returned home, you immediately banish the thoughts of the hotel staff? You never give them a second thought. You just go about your li´fe as normal, and they cease to exist. And then, when you come back a second time you suddenly recognise and remember them. It can go months, years even before you return, and as soon as you see the staff members behind the front desk, it's like coming home. This happened to us today when we checked in and it was rather fun.

Since we're staying in the same hotel, we also remembered a restaurant around the corner on Szarca utca that was shut last time we were here. We decided to try it out and see if it was open this time. And it was. A modern, fusion restaurant with a taster menu called Babel. The restaurant is contemporary with one wall covered in a glass-fronted fridge holding masses of wine bottles. It was a great dining experience and we strongly recommend the vegetarian menu if you happen to eat there sometime. http://www.babeldelicate.hu/

A short walk back from the restaurant and we were home, stomachs full of lovely food. Full of energy to deliver tomorrow's workshop in Budapest Science Park.

Neil S

19 oktober 2010

Budapest,Hungary, 19 October 2010

We're off today to run a second Communicating Value workshop in Budapest. The first one was run in spring earlier this year. On that occasion, we arrived a day early and spent the day sightseeing and admiring the beautiful towns of Buda and Pest. We ate great food and watched the city life on the streets and the river.

This time, our visit is shorter, although we do hope there will be time to experience more of what the city has to offer. We may, however, be arriving at a city in shock. A week or so ago, a dam broke upriver, flooding nearby villages with toxic waste and killing all wildlife in the waterways. This toxic waste is threatening the river Danube and the capital of Budapest. We hope it hasn't reached the city. In a few hours, we'll find out.

Neil S.