As I travel across Europe working and walking around the cities, here is what is on my mind:
There is a 1933 song entitled, “Keep Young and Beautiful” by Dubin/Warren that is rumored to have been a favorite of Winston Churchill’s. We know that he was neither young nor beautiful, which shows that he understood irony. I first heard the song covered by Annie Lennox on her 1992 Diva album and wondered what it really meant.
The beginning of the refrain is:
Keep Young and Beautiful It’s your duty to be beautiful Keep young and beautiful If you want to be loved
Odd thing for an emancipated woman like Annie Lennox to sing isn’t it? Well I am currently half way through a two month-long business trip in Europe and I now have a theory.
In Europe, they have seen war ravage their cities. Rather than give up, there was a great effort in the late 1940’s – 1950’s to rebuild and recover. People kept up appearances in the face of despair. In the present, the economy worldwide is scary at best. Athens burns while politicians decide the financial fate of millions of citizens. Everyone I speak to here seems to soldier on knowing that historically things ebb and flow. This mature way of thinking to me typifies what makes a person, city, or country resilient.
Of course London, Paris, and Florence are not the only cities in the world that show this type of grit. We only need to remember March 10, 2011 to witness what Tokyo and Japan’s seaside towns went through to know that some cultures are able to endure, some are not.
I spend a lot of time in my classes discussing cross cultural understanding. It is an interesting topic from a human and business perspective. The fact that I can say the same sentence to one group of people and it will be taken as a compliment, while the same words will be an unforgivable insult to others is a unique challenge in the hospitality industry. Guests from all over the globe meet and attempt to communicate with staff that is usually also made up of immigrant workers. The UN is built for this sort of mingling, but a 20-year-old bellman from Italy, working in France, trying to understand the broken English of an angry guest from Russia, this is an everyday occurrence in my field.
Yes, Si, and Oui – misunderstandings happen, and it is my responsibility to help hotels to work through them.
Two details about the countries I have visited on this trip strike me as valuable for now. I wish the U.S. and other countries would try to emulate:
There is a pride in the product that I do not see in the U.S. consistently. A fruit bowl is artfully set, the waiter passes my dinner companion a flower under the table to give me, and there is a look of delight when I mention a detail that is well done. Nothing is more imperative than pleasing a guest. In contrast, many U.S. hotel workers I meet say, “I wait tables, but I am really a (writer, actor, dancer, or student).” They seem to have been kicked in the gut with the latest economic downturn and a struggling to catch their collective breath. In European hotels I am much more likely to hear, “I am a waiter and I am very proud of the work I do. On my days off, I go to other restaurants to learn more about my craft.”
That passion and effort in European Cities translates to an aesthetically pleasing product. On the best streets in Paris, there is no Dollar Store sandwiched between Gucci and Lancôme. I see a jumbled mix in U.S. cities of elegant and tacky, as if to say, “In the name of freedom, we have no opinion on what is good and what is cheap. You decide.” I like the idea of having standards. I like the idea of knowing that there is an appropriate place for a Dollar Store and a Tiffany & Co, but not as neighbors.
Perhaps you think I am a snob? Far from it – but I have been called worse anyway. Maybe I sound Anti-American for speaking such blasphemy? Nope, I love my country and am proud of where I am from. I just want to see an attempt in the U.S. to look after their businesses and approach each day with passion. As I walked through Harrods Department store, I walked into the fish seller’s section. It is the most beautiful fish market in the world. I thought, ‘I bet they sell more products by caring about the presentation.’ I also thought, ‘I wish this was in my country.’