Friday, September 14, 2007

Dinner with the Austrians

We had visitors from an Austria business school today. They'd been traveling to schools in Boston and now in the UK, sitting in on lectures and interacting with the students to get a feel for the programmes in these places. This morning we had Leadership Skills, which was covering individual beliefs and values today, and the impact your personal belief system can have on you as a leader. Leadership lectures are always extremely interactive and they're very casual, so they fell into the groove easily. We did an exercise where we responded to specific statements such as, "I believe in equal pay for equal work for women and men, regardless of the circumstances," by moving to sections of the room marked strongly agree, agree, disagree, and strongly disagree. Not only was it interesting to see the opinions of the people you knew, it was fascinating to see how cultural differences came out, as Indians, Austrians, women and men showed national and gender opinions, as well. Two of the Austrians emerged as more liberal than many other Europeans, one fell in line near the English, and one seemed to be a neo-con on steroids. I was a bit shocked to see him standing alone by the strongly agree/disagree poles a couple of times, but bless him, he had the guts to state an opinion among strangers.

In the afternoon, we did four hours of Managing Strategic Innovation. The room was hot and smelled of acrid BO (which, sadly, we suspect came from one of the people in the room), so it was not the best foot forward for us. In this course, we have teams to work on projects during lectures, and so they formed their own team and analysed the case study. When we came back into the room to present our analyses, they took their turn. The neo-con did the talking. Between the accent and the content, I don't think any of us actually followed the train of thought, but at least he tried. The lecturer finally interrupted him for the sake of a timely finish.

When other B-schools visit, it is tradition to take them to dinner and entertain our guests. Unfortunately, England was playing South Africa in the Rugby World Cup so all of the men bonked off to the pub to neck beers and shout at the tv. This left the women in the group to take the Austrians out for the evening. I'd intended to go home and get a decent night's sleep, but my friend T got stuck coordinating things and couldn't find anyone to attend. I couldn't leave her by herself with four men for dinner...I mean, if they were nice it wouldn't be a problem, but if they were creeps it would suck. And it can be a lot of responsibility to engage four people with good but not perfect English in a dinner's worth of conversation by yourself. So I agreed to go with her.

We went to the Swan at Salford, a local gastropub that is always a decent option. Our dates for the evening were C and Ch from Tyrol and S and O from Innsbruck. O tried to explain that Tyrol was actually not Italy but occupied Austria. I laughed, thinking that was hyperbole. It wasn't. O demanded to know why I was laughing. He demanded to know how I could condone the fascist acquisition of a part of Austria's history. Oops. I guess I figured that fascist occupation would have been remedied after the war. I changed the subject.

I had a lovely conversation about art and travel with the Tyrolians. They were both deadly handsome. C had a mischievous twinkle in his eye and one of the finest profiles I've ever seen. Ch had one of those warm, luscious, eye-holding gazes that make you feel like you're the only woman in the room. And when he grinned there was a faint glint of braces shining through. Swoon.

We went through to dinner and I was seated by C and S, with O across the table. S looked very German with the blond hair and the tiny glasses. His English was perfect and he was an engaging conversationalist. He was a bit more formal than the others, but he made up for it with warmth and empathy in his chatter. I liked him immensely.

O, on the other hand, talked about kissing exhaust pipes. It took a bit of clarification to understand he was talking about people who smoke. His companions were on their way out for a cigarette, and he was touting the benefits of being a non-smoker. He would taste sweet and lovely. His friends would taste like ashtrays. He told a delightful story about the extraordinarily beautiful woman that he'd decided to kiss, only to find out she tasted like a tail pipe. I asked how he knew what a tail pipe tasted like. C laughed heartily at this. He explained that this is why they all hate O. I figured he must be joking. I mean, would you actually tell a stranger that you hated a colleague while your colleague was sitting next to you taking part in the conversation?

Turns out they would. O assured me it was true. When the others got back, I asked them if they really hated O. Without hesitation they said, "Absolutely. He is...(how you say)...a big asshole."

Huh. I guess I'd picked up on that, but didn't think I should bring it up.

As the evening went on, we had lively conversations about politics and taxes and economics and how to develop policies (both national and corporate) that are both economically sound AND humane. S showed great pathos, much wisdom. Ch got dreamier by the minute, with his high morale convictions and sanguine humour. O got more beady-eyed and petty by the minute...apparently everyone who doesn't work in Austria is living the high life on his dime, and women don't have to make as much since they aren't the heads of households and all those ethnics keep moving to Austria for welfare and then take their jobs. And he does not apologise for his love of sexy, beautiful, sexy women. Not one bit. (Did I mention he likes the sexy, sexy women?)

C kept leaning over and whispering in my ear, "See, this is why we hate him."

Yup. I see.

All in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and I am very glad I went along. When dinner was through, T and the boys returned to campus with a text message to notify the rugby fans that it was time to share the hosting when they got back, and I drove home for a bit of reading and that sleep I'd been hoping for. I was tempted to head back to campus myself, what with engaging S, charming C and disarmingly handsome Ch still in the mood for chatting and drinking, but I figured that no amount of conversation was worth dealing with O.

I mean, he loves the sexy, sexy women and, as illustrated below, I am a HOT CHICK. Better safe than sorry.


kirelimel said...

Why am I imagining O looking like Mike Myers as Austin Powers but sounding like Mike Myers as Dieter?

Melinda June said...

Sounded like Dieter, looked like Austin Powers except taller, skinnier, buzzcut hair, german glasses and better teeth.